This week we set out for a 12 hour car ride from Pennsylvania to Georgia (and back again a few days later) with our 2-year-old. I was dreading it for several weeks and seriously considered backing out and sending my husband on his own. I just hated the idea of having her stuck in her car seat all day long. It’s hard enough for me to travel and, for the most part, I have control of my own destiny. I knew it would be that much harder for her, so I did my best to plan ahead. Fortunately for us, the trip went really well. We managed to keep Evelyn entertained and she fussed very little during the hours on the road.
Are you thinking about a long trip with your toddler? Here are some things you can do to make it as painless as possible for everyone.
Overlap travel time with sleep time. For our departure trip, we left home around 3:30am. I am not the type of person who can leave at 8pm and drive all through the night. I would be dozing off behind the wheel. But, if I can get a few good hours of sleep first, I’m fine. We went to bed early and packed the car before bed. Then we only had to fill our travel mugs with some strong coffee and transfer our cherub to her car seat. We managed to get about 4 hours under our belt before she woke up. She also napped later in the day for about 2 hours, so that cut off a considerable amount of travel time for her.
Take frequent breaks. I think you have to enter into a long trip like this with a laid-back attitude. Of course we wanted to make good time on our trip, but we stopped frequently to eat, use the restroom, and just walk around. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to arrive by a specific time. Stop when you (or your child) need a break. If you have a very active child, that might mean more frequent breaks. Many rest stops have large, grassy areas where your child could run off some energy and everyone can just stretch their legs.
Pack plenty of snacks. A hungry kid is a cranky kid. Normally, I would be a bit nervous about allowing Evelyn to eat in the car. I always worry about choking, especially if it’s just the two of us and I am driving. But, since one of us could sit in the back seat with her and monitor her, it wasn’t a problem.
Pack an activity bag. I packed a bag with books, crayons, paper, stickers, and playdough. I purchased an inexpensive clipboard that she could use as a work surface. I also packed a few of her favorite games that could be easily manipulated on the road.
Embrace technology. I’m not gonna lie. I’d love to tell you that we didn’t rely on our devices to entertain Evelyn, but we did use the iPad to show her some downloaded movies when we had exhausted the other activities. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching Frozen and Brave with her. I offered her my phone to play some memory and matching games that she likes, but she wasn’t interested at the time. What kind of kid is this anyway?
Involve the kids in the conversation. It’s easy for the adults in the front seats to get caught up in conversation and ignore the little ones in the back. The few times that Evelyn whined during our trip were when Michael and I were busy chatting away and she wanted to get in on the conversation. Involve them! Point out trucks, buses, or interesting vehicles on the road. Ask them to tell you what they see out the window. Talk about where you are going and what to expect there. Listen to music and sing songs. Make them a part of things.
Be patient with them. It’s really hard for kids this age to sit still for long periods of time. There are bound to be some tough moments. Acknowledge how hard it is to sit, offer suggestions, and change things up if necessary.
Since Evelyn is an only, I can’t speak on traveling with multiple children. What works for your family?