Saturday, January 30, 2016

Major Car Trip with a Toddler

If you have ever PCS or taken a long car trip you know they are never fun.  You push as far as you can and don't stop until the gas is low.  At least, that's how they always were for us.  The less number of days in the car meant more time at the actual location or a quicker arrival.  We then tossed two chocolate labs into the mix and it really didn't slow us down all that much.  We simply added an extra 15 minutes to run the dogs at each rest stop we took.  Sometimes a run simply meant wonder around on a leash while they find a nice spot to go to the bathroom.  Other times it means catching a ball.  It all depended on where we were able to stop.

When we tossed a toddler into the mix things got a whole lot trickier and fast.  He is ok in the car, but he, like everyone else, has their limits.  For us, this meant a whole new ball game.  We had to change up some of what we did to get through with everyone relatively happy and us not wanting to kill each other.  Keeping Bear happy and not screaming was key.  The less he cried and fussed the less we snapped at each other, the more relaxed the trip got and the smoother things went overall.  Below are some things that we did to help make long car rides or PCSing more tolerable for Bear.

In my purse packed with diapers, wipes,
and various cables for our electronics among other things.
I also had a travel bag for myself.

- Toys, TV shows, Movies, Books, etc.  - Whatever combination of things you bring make sure your kid hasn't seen them in a while.  This means I start putting things aside up to a month in advance if I can.  Obviously, I'm not asking Bear to part with his favorite Lighting McQueen, but maybe I can slip Mater out the mix without him noticing.  This could also mean I stop letting him watch a show that he likes less and less to the point where it's not on at all for a week or two.  The whole point is to basically be able to present the toy or show again and have them rediscover their love for that item.  It can be almost as good as buying them something new.

This was Bears Toy bag from our last PCS.
He was about a 1 1/2years old.
I tried to pick a variety of toys to maintain interest.

-Pack the iPad full!  I picked up an iPad mount for the back of the headrest that tilts a bit if needed.  Hubby puts new Movies and TV shows on there that we know Bear loves.  This usually means things we can't get on Netflix and stuff he doesn't have on DVDs like Paw Patrol or Wallykazam.  A big hint is if you have the ability to, pick episodes that are longer and in the same season.  The iPad will play them all like a playlist and that means you aren't turning around to change the show ever 20 minutes.  Movies are also great for this as well.  We basically cram that thing full.  I try to not give him all the options all the time.  I pick one movie and 1-2 shows to choose from at first.  The longer you are on the road the more you need to keep presenting new things.  Or new again things.  This means I never let him change it and I remove it from the stand when I change shows so he can't see the icons of the shows.

Let's be honest here, I know plenty of people that make long car trips with kids and they don't use electronics as a babysitter.  I am not one of those people.  Bear is not that kind of kid.  He likes his alone time.  He likes watching movies and tv shows.  I'm not saying he gets these things regularly, because he doesn't, but he gets them when he needs them.  Long car trips are just that occasion.  I could care less if he watched 4 hours of various shows if it keeps him content and happy throughout the trip.  There can and will be plenty of screen-free time for him once we hit a hotel or our destination.

For use at either the hotel via the laptop or
when we get to the new location. 

- Start early, End early.  This means we are up with the car pack and strolling into breakfast while the people who run the continental breakfast are still setting it up.  We eat, then hop into the car.  Bear is pretty relaxed and easy going in the morning so we try to take advantage of that.  Depending on the time we leave in the morning Bear sometimes naps so we hold off on videos until he is fully awake.  I never ever let him sleep past 7:30 am even if he had some time being awake prior to that.  This hopefully gives us about 2 hours on the road before his diaper needs to be changed.  Leaving early doesn't mean that we push it super late.  It means we get to the hotel no later than 6:30-7pm max.  12 hours is a long time for anyone in a car, especially a toddler.  Giving him time to run around the hotel room or better yet swim in the pool (if possible) will tire him out.

At the hotel, we like to let him run and climb within limits.

- When Bear goes down to bed we do as well, but wake up before toddler does.  It keeps him from waking up and forces us to get more sleep than we likely would if we didn't do this.  We do attempt to wake up a bit earlier than him to pack the car and reset before he gets up.  It's even better if we can transfer him to the car without him waking up or getting too alert.  Just remember to snag some food for the toddler for when he wakes up or even as snacks on the trip.

In the morning while we packed the car
he wanted to read while eating his waffle. 

- Maximize rest stops.
We keep food in the car so that we can at least try to feed Bear before we hit a rest stop.  This way Bear can spend his time running around rather than being stuck in yet another seat.  Sometimes this means I don't get to eat at the rest but in the car once we start again.  Then again a happy kid makes for an easier trip.  I won't lie it's not fun hearing him cry when I put him back in but he settled down quickly.  This also means that if you stop get gas, go to the bathroom, toss your trash, and do anything else you need to do at that time. 

-New items for arrival at destination.  Not everyone agrees with getting a child who just moved a new toy.  I have some conflict with it, but Bear hasn't created any association with the fact that he gets a new toy when we arrive at the new location.  This could be as small as a package of finger puppets or as big as a Little People playset.  When we go on car trips for family, I keep this small like a new matchbox / hot wheels car(s).  For a PCS, this item is usually bigger.  When we moved here Bear got a Little People farm animal set to go along with the farm playhouse I pulled aside and packed.  He played with it in his pack and play for hours since he hadn't seen it in almost 2 months.  This allowed me to clean the whole house with little distractions.  

The set up when got to the new location
before we had our HHG delivered.

I am cautious not to make that association of him getting a new toy when we travel.  The older he gets the less likely I am to do this.  We may change it to just letting him pick out a toy for his new room (PCS only) or simply get rid of it entirely.  The older he gets a new pack or markers, crayons, and tape may be all we get him so he can play with the empty boxes.  This I never mind doing.

What are your tips for traveling with kids?


  1. I usually get little dollar store type toys for when we travel. Or snacks, I got the kids those "Snackees" cups and they were entertained our entire trip!

    1. That is a great idea. The dollar store has some great finds!

  2. It will be interesting to move next year with a little one. We only drive 8 hours a day and then stop, we have always been that way.

    1. I completely get that! It's going to be the first time PCSing with an kid under one. Not even taking into account the toddler cause at this point I think he will be easy. Hes moved 3 times already and all this traveling here has helped him a bunch. Infancy though may change time on the road.


Your thoughts?

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