Family vacation time!
Let’s just get this out there – traveling with toddler and preschool-aged kids (let alone 2 of them, as I have) is hard. If I’m being completely honest, most of the time it’s not really a vacation for mom and dad. It’s basically taking the chaos of life with kids at home and just moving it to a different location.
We just got back from a week-long vacation with the kids. 5 and a half hour road trip each way with two rear-facing kids. A 1 and a half-year-old and a 3-year old that we had to keep entertained for 5 and a half dang hours! Eek!
We had to get creative. Very, very creative.
(And up until about the age of 15 months or so, both of my kids loathed car seats. Would scream literally the entire time. And I’m not incorrectly using the word “literally” either, as most do. I really do mean LITERALLY! But, that was a whole other issue, and I will list my tips for surviving with kids who hate car seats at a later date.)
Here is my list of my tips and tricks on how to survive a road trip with young kids 3 and under.
Tips & Tricks For Traveling With Toddlers
Note that most of these tips I also use for traveling with toddlers on plane trips as well.
Particularly library books. Or if you want to spend the money – new books.
The point is, get a stash of books that your kid has never seen before. New stories and pictures hold my kids’ attention for a good amount of time.
A few of my kids’ favorites are:
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by James Dean and Eric Litwin
The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates (I absolutely love the message in this book)
Where’s Spot by Eric Hill — and basically all other lift-the-flap books
New, never-before-seen toys.
You can go cheap or spend a little more money and get something a little “better.” (I quote “better” because we all know that we can spend all the money in the world only to turn around and see our kid having the best time ever playing with a stick and an old nasty water bottle he found in a gutter somewhere. *eye roll*)
Anyway, I usually do both.
Go to the dollar store and pick out things your kid would most likely enjoy. No experimentation toys! Get things you are almost 99% sure your kid will actually play with, even if it’s for 10 minutes. That’s 10 less minutes that you have to entertain on your trip!
For example, I know my kids like monster trucks. So I went to Walmart and got them a 2 pack of Hotwheels style monster trucks. They each got their own (so no fighting). I got a few other $1-5 toys at Walmart, such as a cheap pack of little mini tractors, a little mini dancing Beatbo robot (we have the full-sized Beatbo at home), and a new ball.
For the 3-year-old we have been working on his writing and pencil holding skills so I did spend a little more money on his toys for this trip. I got him the Leapfrog Mr. Pencil Scribble and Write (Pictured below). It was, and still is, a hit! It lets him trace the dotted-lined numbers and letters and then teaches the phonics of each letter as well. He plays with that thing every single day and gets so proud of himself every letter/number he writes.
The other favorite that I got him was the Leapfrog Storytime Buddy (Pictured below). This little dog will read books to your kid! It comes with 5 little board books and will tell your child when to turn the page and everything! My kid loves books so this was a total win. A storyteller while chillin in the back seat during a road trip? Yes!
For the 1 and a half-year-old, obviously, we are working on words and naming things. So I got him the Leapfrog Learning Friends 100 Words book (Pictured above – it’s in the center between the two car seats). He can touch the pictures in the book and the book will say what the picture is out loud. Awesome!
I also got him the Vtech Spin & Learn Color Flashlight (Pictured above – it’s in the center between the two car seats). It teaches colors and animals, and although this one wasn’t a huge hit like the ones I mentioned above, he definitely played with it enough times for me to still count it as a win.
3) Snacks, snacks, and even more snacks. Just bring ALLLLL the snacks!
Seriously. All ideas of eating healthy, balanced meals are shelved when we go on vacation with the kids. Forget it.
Fast food and snacks all day every day of the vacation are how they eat. When they start to get antsy in their seat after they’ve been riding for an hour into our 6-hour trip, I bribe with food.
“You want a graham cracker? Some pretzels? How about an applesauce squeeze? All 3? Okey dokey. Have at it kid.”
It’s better than listening to them scream the whole trip because they’re bored. We can resume “healthy” eating when we get back home.
4) Take frequent stops.
It sucks, I know. A trip that Google maps is telling you will be 5 and a half hours will end up being about a 7 or 8-hour trip.
But oh freaking well.
Toddlers, and little kids in general, can’t just sit in a 5 point harnessed seat for 5 and a half hours straight. Could you?!
At least in our seats and seatbelts, we are able to move – lean forward, sideways, etc. Can you imagine sitting strapped in where you can’t move your body for hours at a time?! I can totally understand why little ones are over it in a matter of 20 or 30 minutes!
We will literally pull off the highway, drive into the nearest neighborhood, and find any neighborhood park for the kids to go play on. It just gets them out of the car, and what kid doesn’t have a blast at the park?!
We may even stop and get Mcdonalds beforehand and instead of eating it in the car, take it with us to that park, get out, and eat it there. Impromptu family picnic!
On that Mcdonald’s note, instead of going through the drive-through and eating on-the-go in the car as you would in an adult-only road trip, get out, actually go into the Mickey D’s, and eat it inside.
Bonus if you find a fast food place with an indoor play place. (Just make sure to wash the kids’ hands after playing on one of those, especially before they eat their food. I’m not a betting broad, but I’d be willing to bet fast food joints never, ever clean those play places. Bleh!)
Any time you stop for gas, get the kids out. We got out and just walked around the parking lot a few times. The kids found a penny on the ground and it was the greatest treasure ever, that penny. We were then on a hunt to find another “money,” as the kids say, and it turned in to a fun little treasure hunt while dad filled up the gas tank.
Obviously, you can stop at rest stops but we almost never do because we never know where they are and when the kids are ready to get out, they’re ready to get out NOW. Not 46 more miles to some rest stop in the middle of nowhere.
Bonus tip: If you have a potty-trained toddler/preschooler or are in the midst of potty training, have your kid go potty at each and every one of these random pit stops. Even if they don’t have to go. It will save you the annoying “I have to go pottyyyyyyyy” 2 seconds after you just drove off. Also, notice the blue portable potty in the trunk picture at the top of this post? I always keep that thing in my car for the unexpected “I have to go potty” which, of course, oftentimes end up being in the middle of BFE somewhere with no bathrooms in sight.
We have definitely pulled over on the side of the highway and had the kids sit on that portable potty countless times. Just dump it out, pour some of your bottled water over it, and wipe it down with a baby wipe or Clorox wipe.
5) Pandora Toddler Radio
This channel is the best! It’s nursery rhymes sung by anybody and everybody.
I actually play this Pandora channel almost every day at home. And I play it every single time we are in the car going anywhere. And every time I do, my kids get quiet and listen to the songs and sometimes even bust out in sing-a-long and/or dancing.
Bonus tip: Bring your own pair of headphones and play what you want to listen to on your phone or something while Toddler Pandora is playing. You can only listen to Baby Shark and Wheels on the Bus so many times before you want to jump off a cliff just to put your ears out of their misery.
My favorite headphones that I use are these Bose QuietComfort 20 Noise Cancelling Headphones. Seriously you guys, these things are bomb dot com. Super comfortable in my ear and the noise cancel is legit. I’ve had mine since 2016 and they’re still perfect, I take them everywhere, and I use them every single night to fall asleep while my husband watches TV. I’ve got them in my ears right now as I type this while my kids are running amuck through the house as dad is unsuccessfully trying to get them to calm down –
- Anxiety-Related Insomnia: 6 Ways To Help You Fall Asleep
- A Bedtime Routine For Adults To Help You Fall Asleep FAST
6) Screen time.
As much as you are against screen time while at home, temporarily chuck that refusal to the curb for the time being. Seriously, just screw it and give them the screen!
For us, while on vacation the tablets come out, the internet TV in the hotel room comes on, the cell phone games while riding in the car get played, etc.
I’m not a doctor. I’m not one of the whatcha-ma-call-it researchers who research how screen time affects kids. Again, I’m not a betting girl, but I’m going to confidently bet that a week or two of screen time isn’t going to do any damage to your kid.
If anything, it will only help your sanity because as much as you may not want to admit it, that screen, aka BABYSITTER (yeah, I said it…so what), just gave you 10-20 minutes of peace while you drive without distraction, finished eating your now cold hamburger and limp cold fries, or hell, had a decent conversation with your husband while the kids are in the back seat watching Peppa Pig on the tablet.
Believe me, it doesn’t make you a bad mom. No one will judge you for it. And if they do, SO WHAT. ;p
Bonus tip: download a bunch of kid show episodes on Netflix. That way no wifi is required for them to watch it! My kids favorites from Netflix are:
- Tayo the Little Bus
- Mother Goose Club
- Little Baby Bum
Long post, but here’s the end. I promise.
Man, I feel like I could keep going with tips on traveling with toddlers but this post is getting super long! (I talk a lot. Sorry!) Comment below if you’d like to see maybe a “Part 2” or something of more of my blabbing on how to make it through a vacation with kids without wanting to crawl in a corner and cry.
One thing to remember is to just chill, breathe, and have fun!
They’re going to cry and get irritable, just like they do at home.
Tantrums will still happen. But don’t sweat it! Vacation with kids is a bit different than the nice relaxing vacations you have when you dump the little minions at your parent’s house for the week and then go chill on some tropical beach with an umbrella drink. It’s simply just a different kind of vacation. Go with the flow, somewhat letting the kids lead the way, and max out your camera with pictures. Just make sure you are in some of those pics as well!
What do you do to make it through a vacay with the kids? Comment your tips below!
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