road trip with toddlers

By Johora Warren

My husband brings in the mail. As he drops it on the table, I look down and my heart stops. “Is that what I think it is?” My eyes locked on the rectangular envelope with our address neatly scrawled on the front. “It appears so.” He carefully opens the envelope and pulls out the graduation invitation from one of his cousins (who is NOT local). We stare at each other knowing what this means …. a road trip with toddlers.

I go through the stages of (road trip) grief:

  1. Refusal: “We ain’t going!” (We quickly nix this as we already missed the LAST family function) 
  2. Desperation: Frantically look up prices of flights, train, bus, boat, magic carpet (all of which are either ridiculously expensive or “fictional”. *sigh*) 
  3. Acceptance: We begrudgingly accept that there are moments in life we cannot miss, despite how uncomfortable/difficult it can be to make it work. 

To start, we have two children-one in diapers, and one who is in the process of being potty trained. (I.E.- The longest year of my life) We develop a plan that will keep all of us sane. This plan includes carefully crafted strategies that ensure maximum comfort and minimum potential of TTs. (Toddler Tantrums). 

First: We clean out the car.

We need as much space as possible to stretch out as much as we safely can.

Second: It’s all in the timing.

We strategically plan travel around bedtime or nap times to ensure our children aren’t too off schedule. This helps the driver (my husband) enjoy listening to his Outkast albums without the added vocals of our children screaming and it allows me to get some much needed rest. (Face it: Road trips are one of the few times this mama can get some sleep while my babies are safely strapped in and not, oh, I don’t know, climbing on top of my head or something equally obnoxious.) 

Johora and her husband spending some quality time on their road trip with their toddlers in tow

Third: Snacks.

Go ahead and stock up now. Sam’s, Costco, wherever, whatever, buy all the snacks. You hear me? All of them! Buy the ones your kids like, the ones you like (cuz whatever you eat always looks delicious to them, it’s like they’re programmed or something to believe this) and the snacks they don’t know they like yet but for when they get bored of the snacks previously mentioned. 

Fourth: Be prepared for stops more frequently than if it were just the two of you.

The bane of a toddler’s existence is sitting still. After about an hour they are ready to get up and move about. Anytime we stop for gas, we allow the kids to walk around for a bit to stretch their legs. Similarly, when it’s time for meals, we’ll opt to go inside rather than a drive-thru. Diaper rash is uncomfortable for babies so align stopping with diaper changes (about every hour and a half to two hours). We also will stop if one or both of our children cry for longer than 10 minutes or so in order to hold and comfort them. Children this young tend to not have the communication skills needed to convey their feelings. Rather than try to power through, ignoring their cries, we find the nearest rest area/parking lot/etc. to remove them from their seat and calm them down. Sometimes all they want is a hug! 

Fifth: Go ahead and prepare your spouse now for the influx of brown boxes to your door because Amazon is going to become your best friend.

A road trip getaway with toddlers requires activities- LOTS of them. Having a wide variety of activities will battle those boredom blues, thus halting a TT in its tracks! Stock up on mess-free markers, coloring books, flash cards, small toys (such as mini-figures of their favorite characters) and a tablet with comfy headphones. (Unless you WANT to hear “Baby Shark” 15 times in a row… to each their own.) Netflix also offers downloading of certain shows and movies that can be viewed offline! Prior to leaving, I’ll usually download a movie and a few different episodes of shows. Then, prior to returning, I’ll delete those and download new content if they grew uninterested in them. This has saved us more times than we can count! 

And finally, 

Sixth: Pick and choose your battles.

Whether it be a little longer than usual tablet time or stopping for French fries AGAIN (seriously, how many French fries can one child consume?!). Staying in a cramped space isn’t ideal for anyone and it’s easy to get on each other’s nerves. Being willing to bend will alleviate a lot of unnecessary stress. And don’t worry- watching Frozen on the iPad for the 3rd time in a row will NOT hinder their chances at getting accepted to an Ivy League school! 

That was a load of information, but trust me- I’ve been on several (initially unwanted) road trips with my littles with the longest being a whopping 14 hours to St. Louis! With a bit of a planning, you’ll be driving cross-country in no time. (Or at the very least, outside of city limits)


For other road trip ideas check out Road Trip Down the East Coast of Florida!

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