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We recently went on a family vacation to Missouri over 400 miles away. Knowing that the drive would take over six and a half hours, I wanted to be as prepared as possible since we were traveling with an eight month old and a two and half year old.
In the days leading up to leaving, I was excited to be getting away for a week, but I was equally nervous about the drive. How would the girls do? Would they be bored? Fussy? Sometimes we can’t go 30 minutes across town without a meltdown in the car; how would we make it over 400 miles?!
But, we made it, and it went so well! The girls did awesome! Both were happy and content for the majority of the trip.
Road Trip Tips – Traveling with a Baby & Toddler
After numerous road trips, we’ve been able to see what works and what doesn’t. I thought I’d share some road trip tips here in case you’re heading out on a road trip soon.
Before you leave
1. Talk up vacation. In the week leading up to our trip, we really talked up our vacation. We let our toddler know we were going on a fun road trip. We talked about where we were going, who we’d see, and what we were going to do. She began to get excited. When it came time to leave, she had an idea of what was going on. We continued to talk about the trip during the drive to help maintain her excitement.
2. Purchase a new toy for the car ride. We bought a new toy for our toddler and some new teethers for our baby. I saved them for when they began to get antsy in the car. We were able to go four hours before I gave our oldest daughter her new toy. This gave her something new and exciting to play with for the final leg of the trip on the way there.
3. Download shows to the iPad. I downloaded a few of our daughter’s favorite shows to the iPad ahead of time as backup for whenever a meltdown was near. I used this case to set it on the center console, and it worked perfectly. She watched two 30-minute shows on the way there.
4. Pack a diaper bag with at least one extra outfit. I packed the diaper bag with one extra outfit for each. We ended up needing an extra outfit for our oldest on the way there and for our youngest on the way back. Having the extra clothes easily accessible in the diaper bag made it much more convenient than having to dig through the luggage to find their clothes.
5. Clean the car. You’re going to be in the car for a long time, and it’s probably going to be crammed full of stuff. Take some time before you pack it to wash, vacuum, and wipe down the interior surfaces. Make sure the car seats are clean and ready to go as well. It will make being in the car for an extended period of time more enjoyable for everyone.
6. Perform vehicle maintenance. At the very least, fill up the gas tank, get an oil change if needed, check the tire pressure and tread, and have your vehicle checked out by a trusted professional if you have any concerns or if there’s a check engine light. Make sure your windshield wipers are working well and there is plenty of wiper fluid. Also, make sure your vehicle registration is up to date and that you have a current copy of your auto insurance available in the car.
On the road
7. Stay organized. I kept this organizer in between the two back bucket seats with diapers, wipes, ready-to-feed formula, snacks, cups, bread, peanut butter, plasticware, paper towels, plastic grocery bags (for trash), a couple of large trash bags, books, and toys. We had a small cooler with baby food, jelly, bottled water, and Gatorade. I also had the diaper bag stocked so we could easily take it in with us to restaurants when we stopped. For the baby, if he/she uses pacifiers and teethers, have plenty of extras on hand. Every time you stop, throw away trash and reorganize.
8. Comfort is key. Dress the kids in comfortable clothes and make sure you’re comfortable as well. Place sun shades on the kids’ windows, and take along their favorite stuffed animal and anything else that will help them feel more comfortable. Socks are a must.
9. Talk about what you see. We did a lot of talking in the car, especially in those first couple of hours after we left. We talked about the trip and what we were going to be doing over the next couple of days. We talked about what we saw outside like the different kinds of animals (cows, birds, horses, etc…), big trucks, and airplanes. On the way back, we talked about all the things we did on our trip and again, looked for stuff outside.
10. Play songs the kids enjoy. Bring a sing-along CD or play some fun music from your playlist that your little ones enjoy. Sing and dance along with them.
11. Leave in the morning. We left around 10am, which is near the time that our baby takes a morning nap. She fell asleep soon after we left. For older kids, mid-morning tends to be a better time to travel because they are well-rested from the night before but also have had some time to burn some energy before leaving. Traveling late in the day can lead to more meltdowns simply because they’re bored and getting tired.
12. Stick to the usual routine when possible. We wanted to leave between 9 and 10am so our youngest would sleep on the road for her first nap. We used this portable, soothing sleep miracle product that she’s used to associating with nap time. Then, we ate lunch around the time our toddler is used to eating. After lunch, she watched a show, and then we told her it was nap time in the car. She had her favorite stuffed animal with her and a blanket. It took her a while to finally fall asleep, but she eventually did.
13. Stop at least every two hours when the kids are awake. We left at 10am and stopped around noon for a 30-minute lunch. Then, we stopped around 2:30pm for gas, a snack, and a restroom break. Our toddler ran around and was able to burn off some energy. Restaurants with play areas like Chick-fil-A are great for that. Then, we arrived at our destination around 5:45pm. The girls fell asleep on the last leg there so we drove three hours straight.
We were relieved the trip went so well. I know they may not all go as well as this one, but being prepared certainly helped.
What tips do you have for road tripping with small children?