Road trips with a toddler or infant are a special kind of hell that combines repetitive noise-makers, hysterical screaming, and an undetermined amount of fecal matter wherever it chooses to seep. Even though I find myself preparing for a trip almost every month, I am still far from being efficient at it. I always find myself scouring Pinterest for the latest ideas from moms who feel my traveling pain. My last trip with a toddler (six hours each way, BY MYSELF) was WAY more enlightening than anything I had read before. Hopefully someone else can benefit from my knowledge, and learn from my mistakes.
10. Give yourself time to prepare.
Last week was absolute chaos for the Barber Bear Family! It started with our horrific Hematology appointment on Monday (which I mentioned in The Riley Report), followed by Ross’s business trip to New Jersey on Tuesday. Before he could even get on the plane to head home, Riley and I were packed up and headed to see my family in Lubbock. This schedule set up was NOT a good idea. I was over-tired and frustrated, which only made the whole trip more difficult.
9. Pack practically, not like you’re moving away.
If you know you’re going to go shopping on your trip, maybe don’t pack those “just in case” pants that don’t really fit you right, anyway. Don’t worry about making sure the wee ones have extra pajamas handy. Just reuse onesies and t-shirts. Whatever saves space, do it. Just don’t skimp on your necessities. I know it takes a lot of work to get that perfect Instagram selfie. You do what you gotta do, Girl. (I plan to post more tips on how and what to pack for you and your kiddo at a later date, so make sure to check back in for that!)
8. If at all possible, recruit a sidekick.
Seriously, road trips with a toddler in the car are so much easier with an active partner. If that means you need to invite your BFF on your family vacation to help you handle the turdler (toddler who is a turd), do it. You will have to stop less frequently, you won’t have to set your kid on the bathroom floor in the gas station (so gross), and you’ll have someone to help take over when you “literally can’t even” anymore.
7. The longer they sleep, the farther you’ll get!
Every week, our local library hosts a Preschool Story Time. It just happened to have first responders featured on the morning of our trip! (My husband and I are avid supporters of our local law enforcement, EMS, and fire department, so we get a kick out of events like this.) I planned to hit the road after letting Riley wear herself out with her friend, Abbie, and the officer and firefighters at Story Time. It worked! She played hard enough that she slept for almost three hours, and I made it half way to our destination in peace. It was the best part of the trip, and I’m not sorry.
Wear the kids out, or travel over-night. Schedule yourself to be driving during regular nap times. It is in your best interest, and theirs.
6. Plan for frequent stops.
Six hours in a vehicle is a long time for anyone! Expect you and your kids to get restless. I looked up all of the different places that we could have stopped before I left, but luckily we only needed one stop on the way there (we made three on the way home, though). Riley really enjoyed our picnic. It was cheap, and a great way to let her stretch out. I put a thick blanket in the bed of our truck for Little Bear to crawl around on, and brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in an old lunch box. You can always use rest stops for picnics and outdoor fun, or find some hidden gems along your route using Roadtrippers!
5. Make sure all toys and entertainment are secured in the vehicle.
While it’s important to keep your kiddo entertained with a variety of toys and/or gadgets, I really want to urge everyone to use caution. At one point on our ride back home, Riley managed to throw a toy at the back of my head. Having thought she was asleep before that, I freaked out and swerved.. And I ran someone else off of the road. (Everyone is fine, no damage done. It was just a very jarring experience for all of us.) This is incredibly embarrassing, and I feel like a horrible human being whenever I think about it, but I need everyone else to understand how dangerous an unamused toddler can be in a vehicle. Strap those iPads and toys down! (I use these straps regularly, and now know to use them in the car, too. There’s always one in the backpack!)
4. Spend quality minutes with the kids.
The more time the little ones spend with their parents, the more content they will be. I frequently have to remind myself just to be present with Riley Bear to give her reassurance. Sing songs, or play a road game if they’re old enough. Take a few minutes to play whenever you stop. Even if it’s just peek-a-boo, it really does put the kids more at ease to have that time with you. Those are the moments of the trip you’ll want to remember, anyway. Make more of them.
3. Remember to prioritize your mental health.
Don’t try to push through to get there faster. If you need to take a minute, don’t wait until you’re about to explode. Find the nearest shoulder, pull over, and step out of the vehicle for a moment. I had to do this on the way back home from Lubbock (before the near-accident, actually). Riley was being awful; Screaming, and pulling off her hearing aids and glasses repeatedly. Finally, I pulled over on a back-road, in the middle of nowhere, screamed for a good minute, and took some deep breaths. Once I was calm again, I got into the empty seat beside my daughter to calm her down, too. Once she was sleepy enough (or so I thought), I got back in the driver’s seat to resume my mission.
2. Let there be easy-to-access snacks.
I keep an old personal-sized cooler in my truck at all times. It doesn’t function as an actual cooler anymore, but it does hold a couple of our favorite drinks, water, and on-the-go snacks at room temperature. Making sure that the cooler is within arm’s reach is always a priority when loading up the truck for a trip. With this cooler, we save money and time, and if we ever get caught somewhere unexpectedly, there is no chance of becoming hangry (angry because you’re hungry). (Note: I know those fruit & veggie Tori & Riley on Granny’s couch, November 2018. pouches are a little controversial, but they are GREAT for road trips!)
1. Carry a pink backpack!
Everyone please give a warm round of applause to our next guest, My Pink JanSport Backpack! Yes, my backpack takes a beating during these trips. It is often loaded down with my gadgets, extra butt-cleaning supplies, jackets, medications, Riley’s medical binder, and whatever else I may need quick access to. My backpack is my partner, the top-priority of any adventure. If the backpack isn’t properly prepared, everything falls apart. Keep it basic and organized, but always have your “main” bag (with clothes and personal care items), and your “go-to” bag with the essentials for you and the turdler.
Did I leave anything out?
If you have any tips I can test out, or a story to tell, use the hashtag #RoadTripsWithToddlers, and tag @mypinkjansport on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also comment directly to this post using the form below.