For many parents, the definition of “Hell on Wheels” is a road trip with their toddler, or sometimes worse, multiple children. I have to say that despite the challenges, road trips are still my favourite way to travel, even with kids! After few trips with the littles spanning East and West across our great country, I have gained some experience and have collected my top 5 tips to take the first exit off the Highway to Hell!
1. Sanity Saving Snacks!
Everyone knows that a Hangry child is not a fun travel companion. Keep in mind when planning for snacks that a Hangry parent is not going to enjoy the trip very much either (pssst. That’s you!) Choose a couple of snacks you will enjoy as well. If you don’t plan on sharing, may I recommend stealthily opening all packaging before returning to the vehicle at a pit stop! The last thing you want here is the conspicuous crinkle of a chip bag heard by tiny, bat-like sonar ears in the back seat! Trust me, been there.
Pinterest is filled with snacking ideas on the road, from tackle boxes filled with varieties of trail mix and crackers. There are also so many ideas for healthy snacks, but remember to plan accordingly. If your trip takes you back or forth across the Canada/USA border, you will be prohibited from packing most fresh fruit and veggies. A quick stop at a grocery store in either country, once you’ve cleared customs will be your best bet for this kind of travel.
2. Be a Back Seat Buddy!
If traveling with an only child, as we did our first couple of family road trips, we found it extra helpful to have one adult sitting in the back seat in arms reach. Bear was under 2 on our first 13 hour road trip. I don’t know if that makes us brave or certifiably insane?! We traveled from Home to Wainwright Alberta on a Friday, attended a wedding on Saturday and drove all the way home on the Sunday. Roughly 2500km, in a weekend, later that summer, we drove all the way to the East Coast something like 9800km round trip! Nuts I say!!!
Sitting in the back seat often, helped keep Bear calm and entertained. We sang, chatted, and I was able to hand him activities and snacks easily, especially because he was rear facing. On other trips, having an older child sitting near younger children can help in the same way! It takes a team effort to survive a trip like that!
3. Plan Travel Time Strategically
I don’t know about you, but Arthur was a GREAT sleeper in the car. That was about the only place. When he was a newborn, my cluster feeding, non napper, would rack out for the full 3 hours it took to regularly drive to my parent’s house at the time. It wasn’t a surprise then, to discover the best part of road tripping with a toddler was how well he slept in the car!
We used this to our advantage, and in an aim to exploit this super power, we embarked on our first trip at 4 in the morning! We eeked out FIVE hours of sleepy silence from the kid that morning! On a journey that took us 14 hours that day, it was a great start! He went on to have periods of being awake and then a couple of naps through the day. If making a shorter trip, plan on leaving at or around nap time. If doing the long haul, like we typically do, a very early morning might be your best bet!
4. Boredom Busters
Being prepared to keep your little(s) occupied in the car is critical to avoid meltdowns caused by boredom! Many ideas I came across online were geared towards older children. At just under 2 years old, Arthur wasn’t able to play traditional road games (I spy, licence plate game, road scavenger hunts etc) So we got creative to keep him busy.
First, music was a life saver! We chose some of his favourite CD’s and just embraced his taste in music. Anne Murray’s Hippo in the Bathtub, has been a throw back favourite in our family. My parents love to regale me with tales of my own first long haul trip, at 11 months old, listening to this album on cassette tape! Arthur was also partial to the song Bi-Plane Evermore by the Irish Rovers. (He’s a bit of a weirdo… we love him for it!) When he started to get cranky, the first few notes seemed to calm him almost immediately. Let’s just say we listened to it a lot, and in the end I’m so grateful for the song’s ability to ease the stress of our trip, I’ll forgive the fact that it is, many years later, stuck in my head from time to time!
I also planned for some table top activities. I laminated a plain sheet of paper before we left home, and bought a pack of dry erase markers at the dollar store. Bear “coloured” to his heart’s content and then could wipe the sheet clean and start again!
Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. Arthur’s first time on the iPad, was thanks to road tripping! We strictly limited screen time normally, but for the sanity of all involved, we relaxed our rules and I was shocked at the speed in which he mastered using a tablet at <2! I downloaded a couple of educational games that did not require wifi, and let him at it. So far it hasn’t caused him to suffer cognitively or to display any violent tendencies, so no major regrets there.
5. Make the Breaks Count!
My final suggestion today is to make the most out of stops! You will hear from lots of parents that you need to make frequent stops! You will discover VERY early on in your first trip, what works best for your kids! In our experience, Arthur did not need to take many breaks that first long haul trip. When traveling with children, being flexible is key! We focused on making the most out of all planned and unplanned stops! This meant splitting up duties to get the most done in the shortest time.
Fuelling up is an opportunity to stretch those legs! While one person takes care of pumping gas, or paying, the other can find a grassy spot near the parking lot and RUN! Quick games of chase, or guided stretching will help loosen up those stiff joints! It’s a great mental break for everyone too!
Especially if traveling in the summer months, your ideal pit stop location with kids…… a SCHOOL! Typically school yards will have both a play structure and a lot of open space to run and play! They are also a lot easier to find in unfamiliar communities than a park, but any open space will do in a pinch!
DO NOT EAT IN!!! After sitting in the vehicle for such a long time, it was unreasonable to have any expectation of sitting at a table to eat a meal! I would suggest ordering all food to go, and eating on the road if possible, or picnic style at the local school/park! I think it is important to keep our expectations in check through situations like these. Road travel can be as stressful for children as it is adults. Choosing to have a positive attitude will go a long way in building up everyone’s tolerance to the hard moments. Being flexible and accepting that you can’t plan for every little moment may help a little too! It will all be ok! Bon Voyage!
I hope you enjoyed this post and found some helpful ideas! If you have any thoughts or other suggestions I’d LOVE if you share them with our community below!