HOW TO SURVIVE TRAVEL WITH TODDLERS
By Tamara Bowman
The first road trip we took with a preschooler and a potty-training toddler took double the time it should have taken. Maybe even triple! We stopped every half hour on our way to the White Mountains, so it turned out to be a very long adventure.
Our trips haven’t always been easy, but I’m grateful for every single one. I know how memorable family trips are, so that’s why I’m sharing my tips on how to make traveling with toddlers as easy as possible.
First of All, Why Is It Challenging?
I’m so glad you asked! There are countless unpredictable moments with toddlers that you need to be prepared for. When your four-year-old needs the bathroom, for example, and you’re stuck in terrible Cape Cod traffic, things might feel a little tense. Traffic happens, of course, and so do accidents (of all kinds) but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be ready for success.
How to Prepare with Food and Drinks
The secret trick? Snacks, snacks, and more snacks! We have tried it all and even though I don’t recommend unhealthy snacks, sometimes they do the trick. With that being said, make sure to have healthy options too. We keep a cooler full of yogurt or fruit/veggie pouches, as well as carrots, hummus, and sliced fruits. I love to make snack-packs using toy organizers, which make it fun for kids to sift through. I always have pretzels, dried fruits, grapes, small oranges, sliced bananas, and crackers handy too. We’ve also used clean coffee creamer bottles for a spill-proof way to tote dried snacks.
We make sure each kid gets a fun reusable water bottle to avoid any sticky or sugary drinks on long road trips.
In terms of meals, I’m old-school like my mom. I don’t like to stop at rest areas for fast food. I pack creative lunches—like funky shaped sandwiches, cheese slices and sticks, and any of the aforementioned snacks—almost like I’d pack for school lunch. These are made for longevity and fun, which is why they work well on road trips. I find that variety, mess-free foods, and healthy choices are key.
Ideas for Entertainment
Personally, I love this topic because I grew up with four siblings and the seven of us went on many road trips. My dad’s trick was to always drive at night. He didn’t mind it and most of us would sleep through the whole drive. I do this when I can, or I leave at off-hours—as less traffic means a better trip!
I also suggest following a consistent naptime and nighttime routine with toddlers in the days leading up to the trip. The best time to travel might be just before naptime, especially if your toddler is a good napper and can sleep during the drive. Another thing we love to do is handout one new toy right before a trip—or even more fun—hide it in the car and have them guess where it is. This provides toddlers with substantial entertainment. We also love to listen to toddler-friendly books on tape, or CDs, and have some car games ready, like 20 Questions or the Alphabet Game.
What to Pack For Safety and Cleanliness
Since we travel with pets and kids, we always keep baking soda in the car. It helps to soak up spills and odors. We also pack a sealed bag with plastic utensils and napkins, for eating on the go. And we keep an empty tissue box full of plastic bags because they come in handy for motion sickness incidents, soiled clothing, trash, and other unexpected accidents. We also put a trash bag inside a large cereal container (to create a trash can that won’t stink!)
Another must is to always keep a first aid kit complete with bandages, sterile wipes, painkillers, bug bite relief, motion sickness medicine, antihistamines, tweezers, scissors, tissues, hand sanitizer, cotton balls, a thermometer, and aloe.
Some Bonus Hacks!
First of all, take care of yourself! Make sure, as you do with your kids, you have snacks, water, and enough sleep. You’re going to need it! If you have at least two adults traveling, leave space in the back seat where one can sit next to your little one, in case they get scared or cranky. If you’re traveling at night, put your toddler in pajamas so they are ready for bed when you arrive at your destination. You may need to do a diaper change, of course, but try to do that before you arrive, if possible. Make a changing station in the back of your car with a mat, wipes, and diapers.
Plan for stops. Map out rest areas ahead of time. Make sure to also map out points of interest. Toddlers are curious and easily engaged with nature. And this can be fun for the whole family!
Lastly, make sure you have roadside assistance! That way you have a solid plan for road trip flat tires or other potential problems. This is especially important when traveling with kids.