If you happened to read my last post, you know that I’ve been spending a lot of time on the road going between Amarillo and Austin. When you live in the Texas Panhandle you get used to driving further than average. Up here, it’s routine to refer to the distance you travel in hours rather than miles. I think it sounds shorter that way.
This spring, I made my first solo 500+ mile road-trip with a two year-old and a five month-old. In preparation for that trip, I spent a considerable amount of time looking for tips on making the drive solo with a toddler and baby. My Google searches didn’t result in finding anything overly helpful, so I’ve decided to share what works for us.
Before I get on the road, I always mentally make a decision that no matter how much my kids are crying or whining I will not turn around and take my eyes off the road. If they need my attention, I will wait till I can find a safe place to pull-over. A dropped sippy cup, toy, pacifier etc. is not worth the risk. I also talk to them about this and will routinely say “It’s just mommy in the car today, can you please wait till we can stop?”
For us, packing plenty of snacks is one of the keys to having a successful road trip. After experimenting with different ways to pack snacks, I have found that filling a gallon sized Ziploc bag with assorted snacks is the easiest. I buy snack-sized baggies and fill them with loose dry snacks. Small hands can usually open the snack sized bags and reach the food whereas they have a hard time reaching in the sandwich sized bags. While it is a convenience to buy individually packed snacks, they are not easy to open when you are trying to drive.
For my younger toddler, I pre-fill a spill-proof snack cup with assorted dry snacks that are safe for him to eat. I only give him things like dry cereal and small baby sized crackers because I do worry about him choking.
I bring each child one refillable, spill-proof cup for water and plenty of extra water bottles to refill them with. I don’t let my kids drink juice or any other sugary beverages in my car.
Here is a list of the typical snacks I will pack for a 8+ hour road-trip: cheese sticks, apple slices, applesauce pouches, baby Goldfish, Chex or Cheerios cereal, raisins, Teddy Grahams and fruit snacks.
Plan Your Route Ahead
Familiarize yourself with the route ahead of time. If you know your child will need a bathroom break every two hours, look and try to estimate at where that will put you. Look up where there might be parks, picnic areas, gas stations or rest stops ahead of time. That way when you need to stop you will have an idea of what is around.
When traveling solo, if feasible, I like to stop at parks with my kids. Just 15-20 minutes of letting them stretch their legs can make a much easier ride! It’s always a bonus if the parks have public restrooms. I find it much easier to change diapers, take my toddler to the restroom, serve snacks and get everyone cleaned up at a park than in the parking lot of a truck stop.
Activities and Toys
My children are currently one and three. They don’t have any personal electronic devices, which is one of the reasons our drives are screen-free. The night before we leave I give my three year-old a one-gallon Ziploc bag to pack toys in. What he packs in that bag are the toys he’ll have access to during the drive. Typically he packs small toys like trains, cars and animal figures. By letting him be involved with the packing process, I feel that it mentally starts to prepare him for the trip. I also bring a water coloring book for him.
For my younger child, I bring a couple of books with flaps and usually a gadget type toy.
This is where I really differ from most other online advice on road-tripping with kids. I do not stock up on random $1 toys for the trip. The kids get to bring the toys listed above. I find that if you pack too many toys for them they just drop them and it gives them more to be fussy about. Think about it, would you like to surrounded by a bunch of random items while you drive?
Talk to Your Toddlers
I talk to my kids while we are driving and point out things. I subscribe to the philosophy that a little bit of boredom is good for kids. The majority of our drive is through rural Texas so we see lots of wind turbines, trucks, trains, tractors, cows, and horses. If they start to get fussy, I will try distracting them by asking if they saw X,Y or Z and point out something. There wasn’t much to look at on the last stretch of this past drive home so I ended up pointing out the “blue sky”. I think the kids pick-up on my energy during these trips so I always try to stay positive and enthusiastic.
My very last resort is to turn on toddler music in the car. If they are irritable and just tired of being in the car this seems to always help turn around their bad attitude. This is my last resort because I find it tough to listen to toddler music on repeat while driving.
I don’t travel at night solo. I have been told places that are safe to stop at during the day can be very different at night.
Parks make good places to take nursing breaks. It offers more privacy than a crowded truck-stop parking lot.
Have a toddler on whole milk and didn’t pack an ice chest? No problem! You can stop at a gas station and pick up a pint of whole milk.
If you need a break, take a break. A quick stop always does everyone good!