Whether you’re hitting the road or flying the not-so-friendly skies, the potential hassles are numerous. Unfortunately, we can’t lower gas prices, give you more space on the plane, or make your fussy, bored toddler suddenly interested in the scenery. But we can arm you with entertainment ideas, survival strategies, and practical advice to help you plan so getting there really is half the fun.
Pack one small bag that contains clothes for the next day, an extra change of clothes (for spills), PJs, a toothbrush, and anything else you need for that day and night. It will be much easier to grab that than paw through the big suitcase.
Take your toddler’s blanket and pillow if there’s room. This is extra important if your road trip includes an overnight stay. Kids like their own stuff, particularly at bedtime in a strange place. If your child is out of his car seat, he may nod off more easily if he puts the pillow against the window and rests his head against it.
Babies and toddlers drop, spill, and spit up. Keep a roll of paper towels and a box of wipes in the front seat for easy cleanups. Keep a garbage bag handy too.
Bring on the snacks. As adults know all too well, eating gives you something to do. Be careful, though — getting your kids sugared up may backfire. Pack some healthy fare, and don’t worry about them turning up their noses at it.
Beat the boredom. Be sure to load some kid favorites onto your iPod or take some of your child’s CDs. Portable DVD players can be a lifesaver, too. New DVDs they haven’t seen are a bonus. Kids often have a hard time with headphones, though, so make sure they’re comfortable before you go, and have at least one backup pair.
Get in the backseat. A little face-to-face contact, some patty-cake, and a few tickling games go a long way toward distracting a cranky baby or a bored toddler.
Try to tune out the tears. There may come a point where no amount of singing, snacking, or engaging will do — your child wants out of the car, now. How to deal? If your child isn’t hungry or wet, remind yourself that he’s safe in the car and won’t die from crying. Eventually, he’ll stop or fall asleep.
Choose travel toys wisely. Rivoli has had luck with magnetic and Aquadoodle boards. And she suggests that you find a local grocery store or pharmacy if your toy stash grows stale. “It’s likely they’ll have an inexpensive selection of things your toddler hasn’t seen before.”
Build in extra time. You know how hard it is getting out the door in the morning with a baby? The same laws of nature apply to trips in the car. You’ll have to stop for feedings, diaper changes, and stretching breaks. You’ll be much less stressed if you accept that it may take twice as long to get there as it did in your pre-kid days and plan accordingly.
Stop often — for little and big breaks. Yes, you want to get there, but letting your kids burn off some steam will make the time in the car more bearable. Rivoli suggests finding a local library. “You can read a book, let your child run around, and do a diaper change,” she says.
Be aware that 20 minutes after your longish lunch stop, your toddler will need to stop again for a bathroom break.
Book a motel that has an indoor pool. It may cost a little more, but it’s something to look forward to, and it will help your child sleep better.