We just returned from a great 5 day trip to Breckenridge, Colorado. Even though I didn’t get to ski (thank you very much, Baby 2.0), I had a good time in the mountains and spending time with good friends.
This was the first family vacation we have taken so we were a bit nervous about the traveling portion. Mapquest told us it would be a 12+ hour drive to Breckenridge. With a squirmy toddler and a pregnant mama, we anticipated this trip taking longer than that. Thanks to some friends who had recently done similar trips with their little ones, I had some great tips and tricks to make the car ride much more pleasant than it would have been if I had not taken their wise counsel.
Practical Tips and Tricks for Traveling with a Toddler
I can’t promise the following things will work for your toddler- I am only speaking from my personal experience. You have to take into account your child’s interests and temperament and plan from there.
We left at 3 a.m. Our hope was that our daughter would sleep the first chunk of the drive. It KINDOF worked. She was pretty wound up when we got into the car and eventually fell asleep for a short nap but we liked how this first part of the car ride was a “quiet time” where we played soft music, talked in low voices, and just let her sit in the back without much stimulation.
Get out of the Car for Meals
After about 3 hours on the road we stopped at a Cracker Barrel for breakfast. This worked well for a lot of reasons. First of all we were able to let her run around the store part of the restaurant and play with toys and enjoy a new, stimulating environment. It also was nice to not eat fast food and gave the parents a chance to take a break. We did a similar thing for lunch. At the Subway we ate at, I was encouraging my daughter to run laps around our table. Whatever works to burn some energy, right? Stopping for meals made a BIG difference for all of us.
I borrowed some toys from two or three friends and stashed them away until the car ride. When I brought out the “new” toys, they entertained her for longer than the ones she had played with multiple times before.
Check Out Library Books
Again, the novelty of books she hadn’t seen before worked well. My daughter loves pop-up/flap books so I had the librarian help me find some in that category. She loved them. I’d suggest taking the time to find books that you know you’re child will be interested in and excited about.
Have Snacks Available
We try not to do a ton of snacking between meals but when on a 13 hour road trip, we chucked this idea and stashed the car with lots of handy snacks that she enjoyed. I especially liked crackers or things that took a little work to eat. This was just another tool in our toolbox to keep her occupied.
Watch Some TV (and Don’t Feel Guilty)
I don’t know if this is good advice but I can say we watched a lot of DVD’s and our car ride went A LOT smoother because of it. I have no regrets about it. Thanks to Elmo, Dora, Blue’s Clues, and a few other random DVD’s we borrowed from friends, our trip went a lot faster than it would have if we hadn’t. I’m well aware that up until a few years ago, kids traveled without the luxury of shows to watch but I figured if it works, go for it. It also made the trip a lot more enjoyable for the parents and I think our attitude and mood is a huge factor on how well the trip goes.
Mix it Up
Sometimes I sat in the back with my daughter-sometimes I was in the front. After a show or two we’d have snack time. Then move on to new books and toys. We’d then make a stop, get out, move around, and get back in the car and find something new to do. At one point I even found myself playing peek-a-boo with her behind her carseat. Yes, it took some work and energy to keep the activities fresh but I’d rather do that than a have a cranky toddler behind my seat for 12 hours.
Have Realistic Expectations
Rachel wrote a great post about Less Stressful Travel with Little Kids a few months ago. She shared about the importance of having the right attitude and expectations when traveling with little ones. I read her post before we left for our trip and it helped me a lot. I suggest you read it! Also, if you check out the comments on her post, there were some GREAT trips from moms who have traveled with kiddos (thanks Darcie, Carla, and Kelley!).
Like I said, we had a great trip. Most of the information shared above was gleaned from other moms so I can’t take too much credit. I just thought it’d be good to share the traveling wisdom with anyone else who has a trip lined up in the near future. Happy travels!