If you are familiar with my background as a flight attendant, you may not be surprised to learn that my preferred mode of transportation, even with kids, is flying on an airplane. You may think I’m crazy, but you’re not surprised.
Even though it is usually less expensive and easier for our family to fly because my husband works for an airline, from time to time we decide to stay on the ground and take a road trip. This weekend we are headed to the Greenville, SC area to visit the Hollywild Animal Park. At about a 3 hour and 45 minute drive, road tripping to Hollywild makes more sense than flying.
This is not our first road trip with toddlers. We have driven to Florida several times and I even made the 9 hour drive to Nashville all by myself one.
For the most part, our trips have been pretty easy. I don’t stress about the details, but I am thoughtful when it comes to planning. Here are four tips that have made a huge difference in our road trip enjoyment level.
- Time your escape. Our favorite time to leave for a long trip is about an hour and a half before bedtime. That puts us on the road about 5:30. Both Jason and I are ok with driving at night so we can usually get a good seven or eight hours of driving in before we need to stop. Both our children, Ty (3 years old) and Emily Grace (2 ½ years old) can easily entertain themselves in the car for about an hour and even if there is a meltdown, it usually doesn’t last long because the mix of bedtime and car ride is very sleep inducing. Leaving an hour before naptime can have the same effect.
- Save the special stuff. Our van was made before DVD players came standard, but we do have a portable DVD player with two screens that we use for long road trips. I never start the trip with a video. The DVD player comes out usually an hour and a half or so into a day drive. I find that an hour and a half is about as long as a toddler should be asked to entertain themselves in a car seat. Once they start to get a fussy, we pull over, let them have a break from their seats and stretch their legs. They are so excited to get back in the car when they hear they are going to get to watch a movie. This same tactic would work with and iPad, too. If you have enough iPads for all your children.
- Dress for success. I love to wear sweatshirts and yoga pants when going on a road trip, and I think Ty and Emily Grace do, too. Well, not yoga pants, but the equivalent. Car seat harness belts and be uncomfortable against bare skin, so I make sure everyone’s legs are covered. Both children have a blanket to snuggle with so I keep their clothing light. Our toddlers are still in diapers, but if yours are potty trained, make sure you dress them in easy off bottoms for bathroom breaks.
- Snack strategically. When I am deciding what food to pack for a road trip, I consider two things: amount of mess and time to consume. I’m looking to pack snacks that are relatively easy to clean up and take a while to eat. A apple sauce squeeze pack might be pretty clean, but it take only a fraction of the time it takes to eat a bag of freeze dried apple slices. Some of my favorites are goldfish, freeze dried fruit, cheerios, and fruit loops. Even though my kids have outgrown freeze dried yogurt melts and puffs, they are great for road trips. The yogurt melts are like candy and both snacks have a low choking risk. We have also almost out grown sippy cups, except for road trips. No open containers in car seats!
If you’ve been letting your young children cramp your travel style, Stop it. Start with a short road trip. If you are in the Carolinas, Hollywild would be a great start. A little planning and giving yourself permission to do it your way and at your pace will go a long way toward making this adventure a memory worth creating.
What is your #1 toddler road trip tip?