This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019
This post is a combined effort by me and my daughter-in-law, BrookeLynne Wilcox. She did the hard part, and I added some fun ideas for entertaining on a toddler road trip.
Toddler Road Trip in Three Days!
Last week I did something a little bit crazy, or at least it might sound crazy to most people. I went on a spontaneous road trip with my girls ages 1 and 3. One day of driving, one day of seeing family, and then another day of driving back home — a three-day midweek trip. But the craziest thing is that I had a BLAST!
I’m the oldest of 6 kids and I grew up going on road trips with my Mom every summer. I saw most of the National Parks this side of the Mississippi before I hit high school. Then while I was in high school, my mom drove from our home in southern California to New York and back. This trip took place shortly after purchasing a new Suburban. We promptly nicknamed the new car the Coaster because it took our family from the west coast to the east coast and back that summer.
So maybe now it’s not so surprising or crazy. Throw in the fact that my husband and I bought a car the week before my sister (who lives 700 miles away from me) had her first baby and this trip seemed destined to be. I had been eager to drive our new car, so when my Mom offered to pay for my gas to go up to see the new baby, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. My husband thought I was crazy, but he relented and I took off.
I and my two little ones took off early Tuesday morning and drove 700 miles from San Diego,CA to Lindon, Utah which, according to Google maps, takes 10 hours and 18 minutes. I woke up at 5:00 am and was on the road about 5:30, listening to an audio book on my phone while I drove.
Keeping Them Entertained
My 3 yr old entertained herself well; the best activity for her turned out to be color pencils and a coloring book I stashed in the pocket behind the passenger seat. She would color for a while, then let me know she was done. I could easily take the supplies from her and put them in the pocket again. With easy snacks, I was ready for when they got hungry. And at one of our gas stops, I made PB & J sandwiches for lunch. I also had several toys I could pass back to my 1-yr old from time to time. Whenever she got fussy enough that I couldn’t concentrate on my audio book, I would take the next exit and we’d all get out and walk around. We also made extra potty stops for my 3-yr old. We arrived at my sister’s house around dinner time after a long fun day of driving.
A Day in Utah
The next morning we drove up to Lehi about 20 minutes away and spent some time with my sister-in-law and her kids who are the same ages as my kids. Once upon a time, cousin play dates were just a morning walk away. (I love living in San Diego but I do miss living close to cousins) It was so worth it to be able to have a play date, almost as if we lived nearby again.
Then it was back to my sister’s house to play with the baby some more. My girls just loved hugging and holding their baby cousin. We went to bed early and I woke up at 4:00 am Thursday morning so I got off to an early start driving home. Driving before the sun comes up is a neat experience! For the most part, we were the only car on the road. It was quiet and peaceful for the first few hours. Also it had the bonus of fewer bathroom and leg stretching stops since the kids slept a lot of the time.
Pros and Cons
One would think that when you are driving so much in such a short time, that it would be the time in the car the kids would struggle with. However, my girls appear to be at just the right ages and temperaments for a toddler road trip. Of course it wasn’t all wonderful; traveling alone with kids will always have its hardships. The first real problem on our road trip was that I was unable to stop in time for a needed bathroom break. Luckily I had anticipated such a problem and had a pull-up on my daughter just in case; she didn’t like the arrangement but it only happened once. This is a time when having a car air freshener might be a really good idea!
It’s not just about being in the car…
The next problem I was less prepared for–it was that first night in a new place. It was rough on my youngest…in fact my Fitbit recorded I’d only gotten three hours of sleep that night.
The hardest thing about this trip had nothing to do with the car. In retrospect it seems obvious and yet it took me by complete surprise. So that you might learn from my oversight, I warn you when traveling with toddlers, be prepared for the trials that come when you stay with people who don’t have them.
I believe I mentioned this was my sister’s first child, which means she has never known the full wrath of a toddler on one’s home. I’d forgotten that most people don’t keep everything valuable on the top shelves. I also underestimated how much my sister liked her house clean. Luckily nothing was destroyed, and at least from my perspective, we left no lasting damage. In fact I believe our visit was fairly uneventful. However, the stress of micromanaging and entertaining a toddler on 3 hours of sleep made me long to be on the road where the adorable little monster would be strapped into her car-seat so I could relax. Knowing she would not be getting into anything that could ruin someone else’s property or even worse, be harmful to her, made the return trip so much nicer!
Like BrookeLynne, I ended up taking a toddler road trip or two. Even when the kids got older, there was still one young enough to be a challenge. Between us, we’ve come up with a list of ways you might be able to keep them entertained:
Toddler Road Trip ideas
1. Use cookie sheets as magnetic trays for paper dolls, letters/numbers, or a road game (thanks to www.somewhatsimple.com for these ideas!)
2. Rig a way for them to watch a movie (Thanks to Abigail Wiest for this idea!)
3. Make a sticker activity book with free printables from Confessions of a Homeschooler and lots of colored dot stickers. This way, your toddler road trip can also be educational for your children.
4. Use music (haven’t you heard that “music tames the savage beast (toddler)”? My favorite music selection for kids is hands-down “Wee Sing”. They have a great variety of options, but our kids really loved the Wee Sing Silly Songs (Book & CD)! Our kids couldn’t stop giggling at these silly songs!
There’s even one called We Sing in the Car!
When our children were singing…or could hear me singing along with the music (there are songbooks included), it really did a lot to entertain them and keep them occupied.
(Note: These are affiliate links. Buying from the links will give me a few cents commision but will not cost you any more.)
5. You know how kids love to play in tents made with sheets or blankets? You can create the same idea in the car with just a simple sheet! Just drape it over their car-seats, so they can see each other and they’re inside the “tent”. I don’t know why, exactly, but kids LOVE this!
6. Pack lots of snacks, but not messy ones. I NEVER packed gummy bears or fruit snacks for road trips — okay, well, obviously I did once, because that’s how I learned not to do it again! I hated how inevitably some ended up on the floor and then always got stepped on and mashed into the carpet. If you don’t mind a few crumbs (they’re easy to vacuum), we liked the ease of goldfish crackers. We also packed cheese sticks, apple slices (peeled of course), and sippy cups for water. Be sure to keep some snacks where they can reach them!
7. My daughter introduced me to these paint by water books that my grandson just loves: Water Wow by Melissa & Doug books, come with a case to hold the water pen. Kids color with water-soaked brush-tip pens (but somehow they don’t leak!). The pictures magically appear, and then disappear later when the water dries, so they can “color” again another time.
My grandson let me use his once, and I have to admit, I was kind of mesmerized by the magically appearing colors!
So, bottom line, is a toddler road trip crazy or do-able? I think it all depends on how much planning you put into making sure your toddlers can be happy and entertained as you drive. With a little effort on your part, they’ll be content to come along for the ride. And might even be in a good mood when you arrive at your destination. Or maybe not. As BrookeLynne indicated, new places, new beds, and new routines can sometimes really mess them up. You might want to bring as many familiar items from home as you have room for — a favorite blanket, snuggly toy, or nighttime music. Here’s wishing you the best on your toddler road trip!
(If you have any ideas to share with us, they are ALWAYS welcome!!! Please comment below!)