We spent the last week of June in Port Aransas, Texas. It's our favorite little spot on the coast and we're always excited to head down there. My husband grew up vacationing there, and we made the trip a couple of times together before E joined us.
This last trip was E's third time to the beach and it's been interesting to note how our approach to the 4-5 hour drive changes as E gets older. On the first trip, E was about 5 months old. I think we stopped 2 or 3 times so I could nurse him. At 9 months, E joined us at the table when we stopped for lunch, then nursed in the car before we got on the road again. On both trips he was more or less content. He's always done pretty well in the car and usually sleeps for at least part of any long trip.
Outside of our trips to the coast, we don't generally take long road trips (most of our family lives 2 hours away or less), and I was a little nervous for this first long car trip with E as a fully fledged toddler. But I took some time to think about what we'd need and how to keep E happy, and it worked out pretty well.
Here's my three-pronged approach to surviving a long car ride with a toddler:
1. Pack snacks.
More than you think you will need. This was actually a take away from a shorter trip we took, when E wasn't interested in eating lunch at the restaurant and then, of course, was starving when we got in the car. I stick to things that are easy for him to eat and don't pose a choking hazard since I obviously can't get to him very easily. I pack applesauce pouches, Happy Tot Love my Veggies pouches and dry snacks that I mix together for baby tail mix (raisins, cheddar bunnies, yogurt melts, puffs). We've tried half a dozen snack cups but my favorite is the Ubbi Tweat snack container, since it has a lid (helpful for keeping snacks from going stale or spilling everywhere in the diaper bag). I also made sure I had a few snacks for my husband and me, as well as several bottles of water easily accessible (I never travel without water, just in case we end up on the side of the road!).
2. New books and toys.
This isn't ground breaking advice, but it is a little tricky to find things for toddlers this age to do in the car. If he was a bit older I'd have no problem handing him a tablet for a little bit of screen time, but videos aren't super interesting to him yet (not that I'm complaining). I've seen a few ideas on Pinterest for fashioning trays to attach to carseats so baby has a flat surface to play on-- this is such a bad idea and could be super dangerous in the event of an accident. You should never ever attach anything to a car seat that isn't approved by the manufacturer. The good news is that there are plenty of things that toddlers can enjoy playing with in the car seat.
- Doodle Pro Elephant Doodler I loved my Magnadoodle as a kid and I'm glad they're still around! This is a toddler-friendly version and E loved it. The chunky pen is perfect and he had no trouble erasing the screen himself.
- Melissa & Doug Dress-Up Bear I ordered this after realizing I'd waited too long to order the buckle whale that someone recommended to me. E wasn't super interested in this, but it's a great little toy and I think he'll like it in a few months.
- Indestructibles books E loves books but unfortunately he also likes to mouth them (still). If I let him have a book unsupervised there's a pretty good chance he'll chew it to shreds before I know what's happening. But these books are actually indestructible, so they're perfect for him to look at in the car. I bought two new ones he hadn't seen before.
- O Ball Car E picked this out at Target a few days before our trip and it was perfect for playing with in the car. The wheels make a very satisfying rattle sound.
- Water Wow This didn't actually get played with in the car, but did prove to be a great diversion from climbing on the (glass) coffee table in our condo. We got the vehicle one, but there are several to choose from and I will definitely be buying more. It does make a good car activity, though I'd probably fill the brush up with water prior to getting on the road.
3. Allow time for leg stretching.
I was feeling pretty frustrated that E wouldn't just sit down nicely in his high chair when we stopped for lunch before it occurred to me that he'd been sitting for a couple of hours already and needed to stretch his legs. Fortunately, we'd chosen to stop in downtown Cuero, which appears to have no shortage of large trucks driving down the main street (no doubt thanks to the oil industry)-- heaven for my transportation obsessed little boy. A short walk outside the restaurant and everyone was much better behaved (mama included). Now I know to let him get the wiggles out before we get settled in for lunch.
We're planning on a repeat performance of our trip to Port A in September, and I'll be sure to let you know what it's like road-tripping with a 21-month-old.
Have any tips for keeping toddlers happy in the car? Please share in the comments.