This summer we are driving through five different states in order to visit my family and the Mister’s family. That is a lot of miles. And when you have a toddler in the backseat, that is a lot of miles. We wanted to try and figure out the best way to make the drive and still be able to keep our sanity. We did half of the trip driving through the night, and half of the trip during the day. We learned a lot, and we learned which way is better! So we came up with a few tips on how to take a road trip with a toddler!
1. Drive at Night. The most important, helpful, and best tip I can give you is to drive at night. This is great for multiple reasons. First, your toddler can sleep the whole way and you won’t have to worry about feeding him, listening to him cry because he wants to get out, or taking him out every time you stop to get gas. We first drove through the night over Christmas last year and it completely changed our road trip. The Mister and I were able to enjoy each other’s company, Little J slept the whole way, and we only had to stop to use the bathroom and get gas. Another good thing about driving at night is that as long as you bring some snacks, you don’t have to stop and buy a whole meal (or two). So the only times you do stop can be to fill up and then you can get back on the road quickly. Saving time and making things easy! Also, don’t try and sleep for a few hours and then wake up at like three and then leave. We did this thinking Little J would go back to sleep in his car seat and he just sat and stared around for two hours. Then he only had two 45-minute naps the rest of the trip. He was good, but not every toddler will be good, so just plan ahead and get them to fall asleep in their car seat instead of crib in the first place.
2. Bring New Toys. In the chance that you can’t drive at night, or that your child wakes up, make sure you bring a new new toys to distract your little. New toys are always great for long trips because toddlers seem more keen to play with them than their toys they already have. So a new toy can help distract your toddler from the fact that he is in a car seat (and has been for several hours).
3. Put Him in Comfortable Clothes. If you are going to be driving through the night, I highly suggest just putting your toddler in some pajamas. If not, other comfy clothes (like stretchy pants and a light t-shirt) are the best thing to dress your toddler in. Car seats straps are supposed to keep them in there tight and snug, so you want to give your toddler the comfort you can by dressing them in comfy clothes. I don’t know about you but I am always in a better mood when I have comfy clothes on in the car. Why would a toddler be any different? You pretty much want to take away all variables that can cause problems on a road trip.
4. Bring Snacks for You and Your Toddler. Before you leave, make sure you have good, healthy snacks to keep you and your toddler full and happy. My husband and I usually bring a cooler with drinks and a bag with different snacks. That way, we won’t have to buy things on the way. The key here is variety. Bring both salty and sweet things. This is true for your toddler’s snacks, too. Sometimes Little J is particular about what snacks he will eat, so you want to make sure you have a lot for them to choose from. Hopefully you can drive through the night and won’t have to worry about feeding your toddler, but you will still need to eat so make sure you have some good energizing snacks.
5. Have Some Car Games Prepared. This is more for the adults in the car who are driving, but it always helps have some fun car games to help keep you awake while driving at night. There’s the alphabet game (a little harder in the dark), the person, place, or thing game (our personal favorite), 20 questions, or the picnic game. Having a game you can play helps keep your mind active so you are less likely to get drowsy and fall asleep. Which obviously is bad on any road trip.
6. Leave Room Next to the Car Seat for You. Whether you are driving through the night or not, you want to make sure that you leave a seat open next to the car seat in case your little wakes up or just gets super grumpy. You want to be able to sit there and keep your toddler busy and happy if the need arises, and if you have packed the backseat full of things, you won’t be able to fit and you may just have to sit there listening to him cry and scream. Ideally, you won’t be sitting there for much of the trip, but you want to make sure that if you have to, you have a space that you can sit and occupy your toddler.
7. Have a Changing Station in the Car. This may seem unnecessary when there are changing tables inside gas stations and rest stops, but if you are driving through the night, this is important. Taking your baby into the gas station with all those bright lights is probably going to wake him up and make it harder for him to go back to sleep. Ideally, your toddler will sleep through the trip and won’t have to be changed until he wakes up, but if he wakes up in the middle of the trip with a poopy diaper you are obviously going to change it. And it’s much nicer to have everything you need and room to change him right there with you. Even if it is just in the seat next to the car seat. Less stimulation while awake means an easier time going back to sleep.
8. Darken the Window. One thing we noticed when driving through the night was that sometimes when we stopped to fill up with gas, the lights from the gas station would shine down right onto Little J’s face. So something you may want to consider is rolling a towel or small blanket up in the window so that when you stop (or there are lights on the road), they won’t shine right in your toddler’s sleeping face. If you aren’t driving through the night, then you probably don’t want to block your child’s view or they won’t be as happy, but if you are driving through the night (the easy way to road trip), then darkening the window is a good idea.
9. Have a Backup Plan. What do I mean? I mean bring the one that that you don’t like to let your child have but that will calm him down instantly. For us, it’s the iPad and episodes of Bob the Builder. I don’t really like letting him play with it, but there was a point when we had about 45 minutes left in our drive and he was just not having it anymore so we gave him the iPad to watch some Bob and play some fun games he likes (check out Sago Mini). It worked like a charm. And yes, this is the last resort.
Do you have any other tips for taking a road trip with a toddler? I promise driving through the night will be the best way to go! It will revolutionize your drive!!