Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Are We There Yet?" ID Mommy's Road Trip Tips for Toddlers

It's July, and for many families that means road trip season!  With my husband's family spread out across the country, we go on a lot of road trips and plane trips. Most recently we drove down to Iowa, where my husband grew up, so that little Toby could finally meet his great-grandparents. Babies are relatively easy on road trips, or at least mine have been. They pretty much just sleep, you don't have to worry about stopping at every single rest stop because they wear diapers, and if you're nursing, you don't even have to pack food for them.

This time around, however, we traveled with both a baby AND a potty training 2 and a half year old, which brought a few new challenges.  Here are a few of ID Mommy's tips to help keep everyone happy!

Set realistic expectations. (or better yet...none!)
"Mom! I have to go Potty!"  Our last road trip to Iowa was also our first with a potty training toddler.  We ended up arriving 5 minutes after I expected... 3 hours after my husband expected.  Let's just say that Mommy knows best what is a realistic time line for her kids, and for me, it included stopping at many-a-rest stop.  The less strict you are on the time you reach your destination, the more you will enjoy the journey and the less stress there will be for everyone.  There is no reason why the journey can't be [almost] as fun as the destination.  That's one of the perks of road trips; unlike air travel, if you get sick of sitting you can always stop and get out, and you don't have to worry about your mode of transportation leaving without you.

Pack Plenty of Entertainment.
"Mom! I'm Bored!" While it is extremely tempting these days to hand your kid a DVD player or iPhone loaded up with toddler games, try to throw in a few activities that won't keep them staring at a screen and missing out on the road trip experience.  Even on a trip through Iowa, there are actually things to see out the window...

It's a given that you should pack a couple favorite, familiar toys from home, but the only surefire way to keep kids entertained is to bring things they haven't played with in a while, or have never seen before.  This is why I always keep a stash of trip toys that only come out on such occasions.

When I was little, my dad would drive with his very tan left arm out the window, his hand hooked up over the roof: the prime position to grab the wrapped gifts left on the roof of the car by the "trip fairy."  The trip fairy can visit your vehicle long as Mommy prepares by stocking up on little toys before the trip, and Daddy can discreetly discover it after it "lands" on the roof!  The trip fairy always had excellent timing, leaving us something new to play with when we started to get restless.  And there was no point in us begging Mom and Dad for another new toy, because it wasn't up to was all up to the Trip Fairy's discretion!

When choosing toys for a road trip, you want to keep a few things in it going to take up a lot of space to carry around? Does it have small pieces that will get lost or require you to turn around and pick them up off the floor every 10 seconds, or worse yet, fit just right inside baby brother's nose? Will it cause damage to the car's upholstery?

"Mom! She's touching me!" Keeping little fingers busy with toys will help them from straying over to their sibling's side of the line.  A couple of my favorite travel art toys (and Sammy's too) are the travel AquaDoodle (writes with plain water on a special surface...see below), and Crayola's Color Wonders markers (that only write on special paper).  We also like the classic toys I used to draw with as a etch-a-sketch , travel Magna Doodle, and Wooly Willy!

Other great toys for little hands are tangle toys, silly putty, and if your child is older, puzzles and games like simon, rubik's cube or twist.  Just do a search for travel games and you'll come up with all kinds of great ideas for all ages.  And don't forget to look into magnetic toys and colorforms...another way for kids to enjoy toys with small pieces without the worry of dropping all of the parts.  I also like those little water games that I remember playing at the dentist's office.  There's just something about the tactile experience you get from pushing that one button that you can't get from pushing the buttons on a Gameboy.

While we haven't tried one of these yet, they do make a variety of travel trays that sit your child's lap or attach to their car seat for a stable surface to play and eat on.

You don't have to spend the vacation fund on toys either, if you just keep an eye out throughout the year for deals.  I've gotten most if not all of my toys from garage sales, thrift stores, and kids' meal prizes.

"Mom, I'm hungry!" You already know this, but remember to pack snacks.  I find that using the snack trap results in less food for me to pick off of his butt when I lift him out of the car and less to vacuum up upon our return.

Little Toby loves his jingling, dangling bugs, and Mommy loves how easily entertained he is!

Not all car entertainment has to take up space in your bag.  Okay, so maybe you don't want to hear "99 bottles of beer on the wall" for the next fifty miles, but try singing some songs or playing road games(like seeing how long it takes to spot every letter in the alphabet on signs you pass, playing "I spy," etc)  Point out things of interest to your kids to encourage them to actually enjoy the scenery (for mine it would be tractors, trucks, buses, cows, airplanes, boats, and of course mud).  You can also take advantage of your captive audience by interjecting a little lesson in music appreciation with a fully loaded iPod, or play some other audio books or free podcasts.

And don't forget entertainment for yourself!  One of my favorite things about road trips is that with Daddy doing most or all of the driving, and both kids strapped down (and hopefully now entertained), I actually have a little "me" time.  It's a great chance for me to do a little crochet, catch up on magazines, take a nap, or catch up on emails (okay, and maybe Tetris) on my phone.

Pack Strategically.
"Mom! Where's my blankie?!" I like to pack bags according to situation.  I have a bag of things needed for a restroom stop (which for my potty training toddler includes his folding potty seat, a mini can of spray sanitizer, extra undies and shorts, and some wipes), a bag for in-car entertainment (toys and snacks), a bag for a picnic lunch stop, emergency diaper blow-out kit, etc. If you're the one in the passenger seat, you'll want to be the one to pack the car, to make sure you can reach the things you need on the road and know right where everything is.

Get out of the car.
"Mom!  He's is touching me!"  Kids get restless in the car.  Let's face do adults.  So make sure to plan a couple stops.  No doubt your kids will end up dictating plenty of potty stops already, but instead of doing a drive-through lunch or snack in the car, try a picnic.  Whether you pack a picnic or stop at a drive-through on the way, eat your food at a park or rest stop picnic table if at all possible.  It'll give everyone a chance to stretch their legs and burn off some energy...maybe even enough to fall asleep for the next leg of the trip.  Check out Roadside America for a comprehensive list of offbeat tourist attractions, aka excuses to pull over in the middle of nowhere, ranging from wacky water towers to muffler men!

Be prepared.
"Mom, there's poopy on my hands!" Of course, you probably already know to have roadside emergency supplies for blown tires and various break-down situations.  Kids, however, bring with them their own unique emergencies.  It's important to plan for whatever you can imagine will come your way, but as a parent you know you're always being surprised with some new "adventure" you didn't expect.  It can be hard to balance the desire to pack light with the need to be prepared for whatever your kids, mother nature, or fate may throw your way.  In addition to a few first aid supplies, with a potty training toddler, our emergency supplies included a little folding travel potty seat and extra clothing.  Luckily we didn't need them this time, but knowing they were there helped relieve some of the stress.

Great iPhone Apps for Road Trips:
If you have an iPhone, there are a lot of great app's that can make your life easier out on the long as you have service.  Service was really spotty for us out in the land of corn and cows, but I still managed to get a lot of useful info via my iPhone.  Here are a few to check out:

AAA Roadside Assistance and AAA Discounts - If you're a AAA member, these apps will help you call for assistance and also take advantage of discounts you are entitled to.

Repair Pal - If your car breaks down to the point it needs repairs, God forbid, this app will help you find the nearest mechanics and the best prices.

Sit or Squat - I've mentioned this one before...this app will help you find restrooms.  I found it did not show rest stops between Minneapolis and Iowa, but I did go in and add a couple myself.  You can thank me later.

Dog Parks - If you're traveling with a dog, this will let you know if there are any dog parks in your vicinity to let Fido run off some energy.

Play Finder - Se above, only substitute "dog" with "kids."  I've found this doesn't bring up every park, but it's meant to help you find the nearest playground.

The Weather Channel - Locates you on a map and then gives you live radar of the weather near you.  This was great on our last trip, as we traveled through some bad storms.

Traffic! - Picks up the traffic for your location, although I haven't tried it in the middle of nowhere.  Probably best when going through or around metropolitan areas.  Google's maps have this function too.

In the end, even though we spent 12-15 hours in the car for a 3-4 hour visit, it's always worth it to see the smiles the kids bring to their great grandparents' faces!

Here are a few more links you might enjoy...
Great list of road trip games
Family Fun's Car Trip Essentials checklist
Motion Sickness Tips
Lots of cool gear for road trips & plane trips
My experience on international Travel with a toddler
My experience on general air travel with a toddler

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