Traveling With Your Toddler
I’ve driven a lot with my toddler. Our family lives approximately 6-6.5 hours away and we’ve logged a lot of miles traveling to see them. Newborns will generally sleep during a car ride but what do you do when your child suddenly wants to be entertained all the time? Below is a list of ways I make our trips less of a pain in the butt.
Timing is Everything
Unfortunately for us, we generally have to hit the road before 8:30 AM in order to miss the LA traffic. This means we have time to get up, get dressed, eat, pack the car and go. It also means that my toddler, who just woke up and is full of energy, is being confined to a car seat for three hours until we stop for lunch. Not fun. The return trip is much better, as we get to wait out the morning commuters and leave at a later time.
The best thing to do before any long car ride is to get your kid out and let them run around a bit. Take them to the park! Let them walk instead of using the stroller! Anything to let them get the wiggles out!
Also, try to plan your trip to include nap time. Most kids have no problem falling asleep in the car. If you can, try to time your journey so that nap time falls during your travel. Keep in mind that some kids will wake up if you have to stop the car, so time it for a leg of your journey when stops will be minimal or nonexistent.
Avoid High Traffic Times
You’ll be more stressed and your child is more likely to be bored. After all, the scenery is not changing and your child is less likely to be able to sleep through stop and go traffic.
Put Everything Within Reach
If you’re traveling solo you’ll need to plan ahead. Put anything and everything that you’ll possible need to hand to your child on the front seat. The last thing you want to do while driving is try to reach the floor or some other inaccessible location. Snacks, books, toys, etc. all need to be on the seat! Make sure your child’s car seat is situated such that you can easily pass an item back.
Keep them Occupied
The key is to have a wide variety of things for your child to do, but don’t give them everything all at once or right away! Don’t use your best items at the start of your journey, as you’ll have nothing great at the end for when they really get fussy. Drive for as long as possible with the minimum amount of entertainment- you and stereo.
Stuff I use to keep V occupied:
– Song (lately not so much, she yells at me to stop)
Books shouldn’t be too bulky. It’s better to have a lot of smaller, lightweight books than a couple of massive ones. Toys should be interactive and not often used. Magnetic doodlers are great for car rides, as are those stretchy, weird, tactile balls that kids love to poke, squeeze and pull. Novel items are going to retain your child’s interest for a longer period, so either buy a few new toys, bring toys your kid hasn’t used/seen in a while, or have a specific set of cool toys that can only be played with on long car trips.
The tablet is my secret weapon. Whether or not you can use one depends a lot on your child and your car. We tried a holder but my car is too small and V could easily kick the Kindle. She’s since had more experience with it, so I just hand it to her with Sesame Street playing. The only problem is that she’ll occasionally (or frequently, depending on her mood) skip ahead in the episode or back out to some other menu. This is the reason I choose a TV show instead of a game- I don’t want to encourage her to touch the tablet and accidentally go into some other program. Tablets are a lot better if you have a second person in the car to fix issues like this and hand the tablet back. Make sure you pre-download anything you need. Many tablets are WIFI only and you may not have that on the road. You may not always have good 3G/4G coverage either.
Remember: don’t give your child everything at once! Start with song/music. When the kid starts to fuss, offer a snack. When they fuss again offer a toy or book. ONE at a time! Eventually you’ll run through you’re entire inventory, but you want to stretch it out as long as possible.
One last word of caution: keep in mind that anything not nailed down can become a projectile during an accident. Just food for thought.
Keep Stops Minimal
You don’t want to be constantly stopping. On my trips, one short stop can add 15-30 minutes time to our trip. It’s better to get to your destination quickly. For us, the last hour or two are the worst (hours 5 & 6). Sometimes I’ll stop to give V a break, but I try not to. It doesn’t matter how long you stop- your child is going to just as fussy, if not fussier, as soon as you stick them back into the car. We typically have a 45-60 min lunch stop and perhaps one other stop to use the restroom.
This blog post was inspired by Baby Making Machine.