I could not have been more pleasantly surprised when our drive to Florida and the drive back home to North Carolina went shockingly well. With expectations set rather low, I suppose it wasn’t too hard to come out on top but I truly could not have been more pleased with how both of our rather long road trips went and think a combination of over-preparation and LUCK served us well.
More than a few of you requested additional details about what I think led to a relatively easy road trip experience for us and while I initially began typing up some of the things I used to keep Chase entertained to include in last week’s Things I’m Loving Friday post, I quickly realized everything I wanted to say would have completely monopolized that post and deserved its own blog post. (Hopefully one day I will finally realize I am never a concise blogger and will embrace my long-winded nature.)
As I am sure anyone out there with a little one knows, heading into a long road trip with nothing to entertain your child is a recipe for disaster so the second half of this post details the things I packed for our long drive that ended up being key for toddler entertainment. However, before I share the toys, books and activities that helped entertain Chase, I wanted to kick off this post with a very short list of additional things that seemed to really pay off for me in a big way when it came to a rather smooth road trip experience. I think most (all?) of these bullet points are pretty common sense stuff but still worth mentioning since traveling with a little one can be overwhelming and sometimes the common sense stuff is easy to forget in all of the travel craziness.
Five Things To Help with Toddler Travel
- Realistic Expectations
In no way did I go into our trip with expectations of driving down the highway happily singing “Old MacDonald” for hours on end with Chase. My vision for our trip looked more like “Frazzled mom does everything she can to prevent toddler meltdowns by throwing snacks and toys at her toddler at the first sign of fussiness.” I am normally a fairly optimistic and positive person but I think going into out road trip expecting some crankiness, a decent number of stops and some stress helped me feel like we were coming out on top when things went well. I tried to keep my energy and attitude upbeat and positive and my voice patient and calm (sometimes easier said than done) but I think hyping up the trip as something special and unique to Chase helped keep him happy and excited about the drive ahead and our final destination.
- Organize Toys and Snacks
I learned to keep things organized during travel the hard way during my first solo flight to Colorado with Chase when he was six months old. I overstuffed his diaper bag and trying to find what I needed in an overflowing diaper bag when Chase was screaming his head off made my stress level sky rocket. Never again! During this road trip, I kept things as organized as possible. I used two large green eco-bags to separate toys from snacks and used a large shoebox for Chase’s books, DVD player and DVDs. I put all of Chase’s small toys (cars, trains, little animals) in one large plastic bag within the eco-bag filled with his toys so that they didn’t fall to the bottom of the bag and were easily accessible at all times.
- Leave at the Right Time for Your Child
This is another lesson I learned the hard way. Chase does SO much better if we load him into the car after a few hours of running around and play time. While I would’ve loved to hit the road first thing in the morning last Monday, I opted to head to Florida after Chase had a full morning at preschool and this helped so much. He expended a decent amount of energy in school and seemed way more content to sit in a car seat for hours after he had such an active morning. This isn’t always possible (I personally MUCH prefer tackling a long drive first thing in the morning), but knowing when your child is most likely to be content in a car seat for hours seems to really be beneficial if your schedule allows for some flexibility. When Chase was a baby and napped well in the car, we’d try to set out on our trips right before nap time and cross our fingers for some peaceful sleep in the car!
- Stop At Places Where Kids Can Run Around
We lucked out with decent weather during last week’s travels, so this wasn’t too hard since rest stops with an open picnic area worked perfectly for our stops and allowed Chase to run around in the grass and Sadie to take her potty breaks at the same time. Friends have also recommended stopping at restaurants with play places or, for extra-long road trips, researching parks and playgrounds on Yelp ahead of time and planning a stop at a park for the sake of expending energy and shaking out your legs.
- Don’t Forget To Pack Food For YOU
Long road trips always make me hungry and in the rush to pack everything I needed for Chase for our road trip I almost forgot to pack snacks for myself! Sure I could’ve broken into Chase’s snack stash (and I definitely did a few times because Mama wanted some Goldfish…) but remembering to pack some of my favorite healthy road trip snacks made the drive more pleasant for me, too, since I wasn’t hungry and listening to my stomach growl as the miles ticked by.
Toddler Road Trip Entertainment Favorites
Below you will find a detailed list of the toys, activities and snacks I packed for our road trip that seemed to contribute to an overall successful road trip experience with our 2.5 year old toddler!
These sound like they’d be an absolute mess – water in the car!? – but they are virtually mess-free and entertained Chase for a shockingly long amount of time. You simply fill a squeeze-pen with a bit of water and kids use the water pen to “color” the pictures in the book. When it dries, the color fades so they’re reusable which is AWESOME! My friend Lauren is a road trip warrior with her kiddos and highly recommended these to me and I could not have been more pleased!
While Chase preferred the Water Wow! pads, an invisible ink pad was also exciting for him (and mess-free!), mainly because I bought a Finding Dory one and he still loves anything Dory and Nemo! They have invisible ink pads for all different kinds of characters so it should be relatively easy to find one featuring a character your little one adores.
At 2.5 years old, Chase is clearly not reading yet so books with lots of visual stimulation are the best for self-entertainment. I packed two of these point and match books for Chase which entertained him as he looked for multiples of animals, cars, etc. He’s really into pointing out duplicates and counting right now, so these books were a big hit. They’re even more entertaining when you can seek and find together, so they’re great if you happen to be road tripping with multiple adults and someone can interact with the book and child, too.
- Entertaining Snacks
Snacks that take a while for Chase to eat were the absolute best during our road trip. Mini carrot sticks, a small apple, cashews, Cheerios, cucumber slices, orange slices, energy bites, Goldfish, etc. were great for filling him up and entertaining him at the same time. I tried to limit sugary snacks on the trip to avoid the sugar crazies but I did pack a few novelty sweets that Chase doesn’t get as often that made him happy like Pez and YumEarth Lollipops. (I buy them on Thrive Market.) The best part about those lollipops is that they can legitimately take Chase 30 minutes to eat!
- Library Books
Rather than spend money on a bunch of new books for our road trip, I stopped by the library with Chase and picked up some books from the library that I had a feeling he’d enjoy. Since he’s into almost any book featuring trucks, dinosaurs or animals, I picked books featuring pictures of these toddler favorites and he seemed to enjoy flipping through some new-to-him books. Our library also has a pretty great selection of board books for little ones who might be more likely to rip the pages of bigger books.
We are rather limited with screen time for Chase in our house (mainly because he becomes a complete zombie in front of the TV and super cranky when we turn it off) but when we travel, all bets are off! I still don’t like to use the portable DVD player until it’s absolutely necessary when we travel, but there’s no denying that it absolutely saved me during critical moments of our drives to and from Florida when Chase was quickly becoming extremely antsy and fussy. I bought a new Paw Patrol DVD from Target before our trip and he absolutely lit up when I turned it on. The best way to transition him away from the DVD player seemed to be during our pit stops for gas or bathroom breaks when he’d get out of the car, run around for a bit and then I’d switch him to books, a snack or an activity rather than the DVD player when I loaded him back into the car.
Chase LOVES stickers and they entertain him for quite a while, mainly because he’s right at the point where he can usually manage to get the stickers off the pages by himself but it takes him some time and concentration. This worked well for our road trip and I had some sheets of stickers for him to use to put onto pages of his invisible ink book once it was all colored and done.
- Favorite Imagination Toys
I’m sure most parents out there know what toys entertain their little ones best and now that Chase is using his imagination more and more, I made sure to pack some of the toys that I see him use in our house all the time to create different make believe scenarios. He loves his cars and will make them race and talk to each other, so packing a few of his favorite race cars and passing them back to him and planting some kind of “imagination seed” in his mind (“I think Cobra is faster than Lightning! What do you think!?”) often got him started on a make-believe journey. He also loves playing make-believe with his Little People farm animals, so I packed a few of them as well!
- Electronic Toys
We have a few electronic toys Chase loves in our house but many of them are a bit overused, so they weren’t a huge hit on this road trip but I think they absolutely WOULD be if they were new for your little one or if we hid them for a few months and brought them back out before a road trip. Some of Chase’s favorites include: VTech Touch and Teach Word Book, Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Tablet, LeapFrog Laptop, Daniel Tiger Cell Phone
- Old Toys and Books They Haven’t Seen in a While (or Borrowed Toys)
A few months ago, I boxed up a bunch of toys and books that Chase was neglecting and went “shopping” in this storage bin before our road trip. I packed a few old toys that Chase hadn’t seen in months that I thought might excite him and it worked like a charm! I also think reaching out to a friend to borrow a few toys from their little ones is a great way to accumulate some new toys without spending any money before you travel!
Additional Baby and Toddler Travel Posts
Question of the Day
- What is something you do when you travel with little ones that makes travel a little bit easier on everyone?
- Are there any toys, books or kid-friendly activities you swear by to make traveling with children a little more enjoyable?