Let’s be real: Road trips are absolutely no fun at all when there’s a cranky toddler involved. The great news is that it usually only takes a little bit of proactive thinking and action to prevent a good road trip from being spoiled. Despite how you may feel at times, toddlers are actually pretty easy to figure out. Most want to be fed immediately when they’re hungry, need more sleep than they would like for you to think, and don’t like to be bored. Those things are your key for a fun and easy road trip with a toddler.
Time it strategically
Depending on the length of trip or where you’re going, you need to time it so that your toddler sleeps. If you’re in it for the long haul, driving 10+ hours, consider leaving at night, when your toddler knows it’s time to sleep. Of course, you’ll need to condition yourself to do this so that you and your spouse are completely awake (and enjoying the quiet time). If the trip is a little shorter, try leaving right before nap time. This will keep them zonked for at least an hour or so on a peaceful ride. Just in it for a couple hours? No question – leave after nap time. Your child will be rested and up for a couple hours in the car seat without sleepy fuss.
Keep an arsenal of snacks
It wouldn’t be a bad investment to purchase a cooler that fits in the car that will keep things cool over several hours – yogurts, cheese, juice boxes and fruit to name a few. Also have a little baggy full of your toddler’s favorites – goldfish, pretzels, and cheerios could be a few. Always be ready to hand a snack back to your little scavenger, who seems to want food every 15 minutes. This will do two things: Eliminate “hungry toddler” all together (who can be terribly unpleasant), and it will save you money from having to stop for fast food, which is typically more unhealthy anyway.
Be ready to entertain
Boredom is a killer for fun road trips. Toddler’s just don’t understand the notion of looking out the window at the pretty ocean, or carrying on a two-hour conversation. For that reason, bring any and all toys that your little van can fit. Here’s the key: Don’t put them all in your toddler’s eye line. Whip them out, one at a time, as he or she gets bored of the one before it.
Ideally, you’ll want to bring things that are great for car rides: interactive games, books, and sing alongs are great options. Steer clear of things with falling pieces (like puzzles or blocks), as you’ll be picking up pieces for the duration of your journey in order to keep your little one happy. If all else fails and you have the option, have the iPad or other handheld device ready with some already downloaded movies that your toddler will love. No one will judge you if all else fails and you need a little peace and quiet.
See? With a little proactive effort you can eliminate the majority of problems that you would potentially encounter with a toddler in the car.