We have been blessed with a child who tolerates road trips. Either that or he’s decided that or it’s not worth fighting mom and dad who love to travel by car. I don’t know if it was something we did early on or if we just got lucky. I said tolerates, not loves, car trips. I know he enjoys parts of the trip while loathing others. Here are several ways we have learned to make road trips more enjoyable for all involved.
1 – Make sure everything is on hand
This is probably the most important. Have everything within arms reach. I am writing this assuming you are driving with another adult passenger. In our family, I am typically the passenger so I know where all the goodies are stored. We recently purchased this Mountainsmith modular hauler for the back seat.
It fits next to Finn’s car seat so he can reach into the cube nearest to him and I can reach the others. Each cube holds either toys, snacks, or his clothes and diapers. The other important thing is to know where everything is. There’s nothing worse than having to take off your seat belt to reach behind your seat to try to find that little thing you’ve just got to have.
2 – Fun, interesting, healthy snacks for all
We bring a small cooler in the cab of the truck with us. We put things like cheese sticks, carrot sticks, ready to eat fruit (grapes, apples, strawberries, apricots), cheese quesadillas, and yogurt packets in there.
We also stock up on dried fruit (he loves unsweetened mangos from TJs and fruit leather), snacks size packs or small ziplocs filled with crackers (PB crackers or animal cracker like snacks), granola bars, pretzels, regular crackers, and maybe some homemade cookies. Don’t forget the water bottles too. We throw a couple nalgenes in the backseat (within reach) as well as his water bottle.
3 – Tried and true toys
It’s true that road trips are no time to leave the favorite toys at home. We’re sure to bring along his plush ladybug with pull cord to make it vibrate, travel doodle pad, board books that he can’t destroy, toy cars, and anything else that he’s into at the time. Finley isn’t attached to anything (blanket, stuffie, etc.) but if your child is, obviously bring that item. We do take his blanket with us just in case he wants a little piece of home.
4 – New, special, car-only toys
These toys are pulled out when the going gets rough (we hit traffic, no where to stop, can’t find a campsite). Recently we tried these reusable sticker pages:
The stickers were great but Finley couldn’t pull them off himself so I had to pull each one off and pass it to him. This worked for a while until he got frustrated with with the pages… It bought us about 20 minutes while in LA traffic. As he gets older I think these will be a hit. He can even stick them all over the car and they won’t leave behind a residue.
On our most recent trip we broke out the iPad for the first time (he’s played with it at home before but never alone). We set the iPad up using guided access so he would have to stay in a particular app. You click the bottom button 3xs and enter a passcode so the iPad stays in the particular app – you have to set this up under settings. This does not prevent pop ups from coming up.
The following are some of his favorite apps – by favorite, I mean he’ll play with them for 5-15 minutes each. Our son is ~21-months old.
I really like the Firefighters ($1.99), Little Town (free), and Animal Circus (free) apps (red circle). They are basically one scene with ~20 different areas that you click on to make it do something – like the firefighter saves a cat from a tree, the bus picks people up and drives through town, the elephant eat peanuts.
We bought two books (Things that Go and Goes Camping). The first one he loves, the second one is okay.
I Hear Ewe is free and has been a long time favorite.
Peekaboo Barn is great and Peekaboo Fridge is okay. Both $1.99 I think. We have not purchased Peek-a-Zoo but we have the free version that is a few scenes.
I don’t love the talking animals but he does. Especially the owl (Talking Larry) that you can strike with lightning. A little too violent but I’m not sure he understands it – just likes the loud noise and flash.
Farm match and the piano are free and good too. I suppose it really just depends how old you child is and how much he’ll get into the app. At this point, the simpler the better for us while in the car. That way, he can play by himself in the back seat.
5 – Secret weapons
As a last resort we pack two secret weapons. A bottle of soy milk (yes, he is still drinking from a bottle – usually just one after he wakes up in the morning and occasionally another in the afternoon or evening if he asks for it). The second is a pacifier. He is still hooked on it at night and when on long road trips we let him have it. This is about to change because after we return from our upcoming 3-wk road trip – we are going to start Operation Pacifier Extermination. Until then – we use it in the car when he gets cranky. This usually leads to a nap.
6- TAKE A BREAKS
Plan to take regular breaks – for the bathroom, to change a diaper, or just to run around.
Stop along the side of the road – pull off at a rest stop – find a day use park or beach. Don’t push it if you don’t have to. Remember you are supposed to be having fun right?
We’ve been doing a good job lately of looking up local parks and playgrounds. It’s amazing what a 15-30 minute break can do for everyone. Let your kid be a kid and run around. Plan to have a picnic lunch. If it’s hot out – stop into a McDonald’s with a playground indoors. We haven’t done this yet but it’s a good idea for our upcoming trip through the desert in August!
Here’s a video from a park visit while we were making our way through Santa Cruz a couple of weeks ago. Turn the volume down so you don’t hear me laughing so loud!
If anyone has thoughts or tips for car travel – please let me know! I’m sure things will change over time and things that work now won’t work later.