Two parents tell you how to survive a road trip with a toddler

Meet Michael and Diana, the proud parents of Madeline, an adorable 2-year old little girl. Over the past 2 years they’ve logged thousands of...

Meet Michael and Diana, the proud parents of Madeline, an adorable 2-year old little girl. Over the past 2 years they’ve logged thousands of miles with Maddie in-tow. To many of us, this sounds absolutely terrifying, so we asked them to give us the low-down on how to survive a road trip with your little bundle of joy.

What are your must haves for a road trip?

1. Food.

Lots of it. By lots we mean mounds.  We always try to spice it up with a bunch of different types of foods portioned out into smaller sizes so that we can hand our daughter a container and let her snack on it for awhile. We typically bring more food than necessary for our child for the actual drive, but between munching parents and the fact that we can also eat it at our destination, food is always eaten before we return home. 

If your kid is too young for solid food, then make sure you bring a lot of bottles. We typically included a bottle or two of extra milk (or formula if that’s your preference) due to the fact that the worst thing that could happen is getting behind schedule due to traffic or unforeseen circumstances and having a hungry child. The parents are frustrated, the kid is screaming, no one is happy and times turn to desperate moms awkwardly leaning over a car seat to breast feed in stop and go traffic. We’ve seen it. It’s not pretty. Bring extra bottles if you can. 

2. Entertainment

Before we were parents we made grandiose statements like, “We think kids should just be ok with looking out the window and experiencing the beauty that we are traveling through!” Don’t get us wrong, we still try to play games with our daughter to talk to her about what we see outside. We do educational lessons about “green trees” and “big mountain”. This will only work for so long until you are driving for miles upon end and all you see is green trees and big mountains. Also, when a child is young and has a backwards facing car seat it is almost impossible to do anything that involves looking outside. 

In-car entertainment is probably 85+% of how we work with our child during car trips. We recommend bringing lots of books and toys as well. One good idea is to switch out the normal “car toys” with toys and books that your child hasn’t seen before. If you have the luxury of going to the toy store and buying a bunch of new toys, then that is awesome. Our alternative is to just borrow toys from friends of ours who have children. You’d be shocked how much more into something a kid is when it is new to them. Also, don’t give them all the toys at once - bring them out one by one. We made a trip to Destin and back on a basket full of borrowed books and toys. 

As a last resort we also look to electronic means of entertainment. We don’t think they are necessarily bad, but once you bring out the big guns (i.e. Curious George and Dora), our experience is that is all the child wants to do for the rest of the trip. So, we typically save iPads/iPhones/etc. for times where she is exhausted and can’t be consoled in any other way. 

We also should include CDs with children’s music. However, fair warning that when your kid asks to hear “Elmo Song!” for the 72nd time, it can get old. So bringing music is a good idea - but you also have to be able to tell your child “No” to the music as well… and whatever reaction might come to hearing “No”. 

On a whole, it has been our experience that kids typically get really fussy when they are either hungry or tired. Our main objective while traveling is to keep those two variables under control. We have typically been pretty successful. 


What have you learned is a waste of space?

It depends on what kind of road trip you are taking. Typically our longer road trips have been on vacation. The items that we always regret bringing are the big items that “oh, she’ll love when we get there”. This includes things like floating contraptions that the child sits on, large toys, etc. We always bring some item like this on every trip, and we get to where we are going and it either a) sits in a closet for the whole trip or b) we try to have our daughter play with it just to find out that she doesn’t like it. Use the packing space for something more productive. If you really want to bring it, but don’t know if she’ll like it, then try it out somewhere close first. If she loves it, take it - if not, don’t. 

Depending on where you are going, try to ask ahead if they have a pack and play or somewhere else for the child to sleep. Asking up front can save you precious cargo room. 

Any funny meltdown stories?

It’s not a meltdown story - but we have been working a lot with Maddie on tossing a ball back and forth at home. She’s actually gotten pretty good at it. This is an awesome talent until you are driving down the highway at night and getting pelted in the head with various balls. We try to correct her when possible but sometimes “Daddy catch!” helps the grown ups get through the long drives as well. 


How has traveling with a child changed as she’s aged?

Madeline turns two in May. So I don’t know if we have experienced the full array of traveling as a child ages. However, each age comes with it’s different set of struggles. Unlike when she was younger, she can now tell us what is bothering her if she is getting fussy. However, she also has a very strong opinion on a lot of things, so before when we were tired of the aforementioned Elmo Song, we just turned it off and everyone was happy. Now we turn it off and we get a five minute dissertation on why we should turn it back on. 

Other words of wisdom?

Everyone out there has had moments where they have seen or heard of parents doing things that they completely disagree with in the car. We’re not saying that all of those decisions were right - but we have learned to give parents a little bit of leeway. As an onlooker, you don’t know the background of what has taken place before the trip or in that car.

Have a little compassion, and if you see a kid screaming at the top of their lungs, or a parent looking like they could have been through hell and back, they probably have been. If possible, greet these parents with a smile instead of judgement. 

Lastly - as a parent, have fun on road trips. They can be really hard at times, but they will be worth the memories. 



This was originally written for Roadtrippers, a great resource for anyone interested in travel.
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