So you’ve decided to travel with your toddler on a road trip to see aunt Suzy. It’s about 8 hours away and you’re terrified.
You should be. This isn’t going to be fun and you should manage your expectations accordingly. This isn’t about creating memories, this is about getting to Aunt Suzy’s without tossing your child or partner out the car window. Haha.
I’m going to break down the car trip into four manageable parts. I’m going to assume you’re leaving at the crack of dawn because ain’t no one got time to be in the car during the witching hour for children (between 5pm-7pm)
A couple things before you hop into the car-
- Fill up the gas tank the night before. Trust me, you don’t want to add unnecessary time to your trip.
- I like to pack the car the night before, too, but I’m kind of OCD. BUT, I’ve also traveled with my kids about a thousand times and I’m basically a pro.
- And finally, I’ve traveled with my kids about a thousand times and I’m basically a pro and there are STILL things that pop up that I feel unprepared for…so….again…manage your expectations. This isn’t about the road trip, this is about getting to your destination.
The biggest piece of advice I have….plan your stopping times. You cannot just hop in the car and wing it. If you do that, you will be stopping every 45 minutes and an 8 hour car trip suddenly becomes a three day journey from Hell. You must plan on pushing through until your planned stops unless there is an emergency. For example, for an 8 hour trip I would do three hours, two hours, two hours and then destination. Not to brag, but I’ve worked my kids up to 3 hours, 3 hours and then destination. But…don’t do that if you’re not a seasoned road tripper!!!
Schedule Template for 5am departure and 8 hour trip.
5am-6am: This first hour of the trip is what I like to call the honeymoon. Everyone is feeling the buzz of excitement for getting on the road and taking a trip. Kiddo is excited, driver is excited, partner is excited. Everyone is happy. NOW is the time to do things like podcast children stories, favorite music, and car games. Side note: don’t “save” new music or movies for a car trip, kids love repetition. Think about how many times you’ve seen Moana. They aren’t going to refuse to watch it a 1,475th time. But imagine the disappointment, for everyone, if you spring a new movie or music on your kid and they don’t like it. Don’t do it. Stick with tried and true. But WAIT, don’t put in a movie yet!! We need this first hour to be magical without back-up.
5:45am-6am: The magic of the honeymoon phase is starting to wear off. Remember what I said about not having new music or new movies…well…that same philosophy does NOT apply to toys!!!! Have something new for your kiddo, stuffed animal, car game, car toy, whatever, and give it to your kid at 5:45am. You think it’s no big deal if you give it to them at 5:30am…hahaha…you sweet, beautiful person, you. Don’t do it. Wait until 5:45am. Trust me.
6am-6:30am: You’ve done it!!! yay!!! you’ve gone 1 of the 8 hours. Don’t celebrate yet!! Try to push through another 30 minutes if you can! This is a GREAT time for a snack! Read a book, play a game, listen to some more music etc. But try your best to get through the next thirty minutes! (Tip: If you’ve been listening to music, put on a story, and vice versa, key is to change it up at this point)
6:30am-8am: You’re doing great!!!! Now, put in a movie. If you are against screen time, ok, you do you, but a 2 hour movie is not going to turn your sweet genius into a zombie, I promise. The rest of this trip is going to rely heavily on movies, this is primarily because my kids are so young books don’t work. Once they can read, this schedule for a car trip isn’t really applicable anyway. Pick a movie they LOVE, have it on the iPad, the van screen, whatever. Just give them a movie!!!
8am-8:30am(ish): What the whaaaat? It’s already 8am!! You’re doing an awesome job!!! GUESS WHAT!!! time to STOP! Get out, change diaper, or go potty, do some jumps, do some marches, do some silly dances. Do enough to get some energy out, but don’t do so much that your kiddo hates you when you put them back in the car. Although….that might happen anyway. If there are two drivers, it’s not a bad time to change up who is driving, this means changing who is “dealing with” your child. This change is a great way to break up the time! And don’t think you or your kid is above bribery. Kid doesn’t like transitions, have something at the ready to lure your toddler back in the car!!!
8:30am-9am: If you’re thinking your stop will be significantly less than 30 minutes adjust the time, but also…don’t panic if the stop is 30 minutes. Before you get back in the car you should probably tell your toddler that you’re SO excited to listen to some music or podcast stories! (basically, you’re mentally preparing them to NOT watch a movie, but doing so without mentioning screen time just in case it’s a non issue, you never know)
9am-9:30am: Snack break!! Sing some silly songs, play eye spy, listen to music, push through to 9:30, you can do it!!!
9:30am-10:30am: New book time!! You bought a couple new books, or borrowed a couple new books from library, right?! Time to get one out! Yay!!! Also, have an old favorite ready just in case the new one isn’t a hit! Ask your toddler to read it to you, or read it to them. Whatever you can do to use up time. At this point I would probably let my kids watch a couple episodes of Daniel Tiger because they love watching TV and it’s a treat for them and it would help pass the time. For some toddlers, too much screen time makes them antsy and unhappy and overtired…so do what makes the most sense for your kid. But do not, I repeat, do not make another stop until 10:30am!!!! (Unless someone is bleeding or dying)
10:30am-11am: Wowzers!!! you’re doing great! you’re halfway there!! Time to stop!! Get out, change diaper, or go potty, do some jumps, do some marches, do some silly dances. Grab lunch if you can…I know 10:30 seems early, but you’ve been up since 4am or 4:30am….you’ve gotta be hungry! Also, if possible, let your kid run around while you eat, and then have your kid eat in the car when they have to sit anyway. Don’t make them sit for EXTRA when they aren’t in the car!!! If there are two drivers, go ahead and change up who is driving, this means changing who is “dealing with” your child. This change is a great way to break up the time! Also, don’t let your toddler eat their lunch in the car unsupervised, if you’re driving solo try to shove something in their mouth in between the laps you make them run around the gas station/McDonald’s etc.
11am-12:30pm: At this point you probably don’t want to get back in the car….but you’ve got to. Let your kiddo eat their lunch in their car seat if supervised and then start a movie! This is gonna kill at least an hour and half!
Here’s where it’s going to depend on the mood of the car and how things are going.
On paper it looked great to break up the trip the way we did, but at this point, maybe it makes more sense to push through another hour? Or even the rest of the way. Or maybe there’s no way you can do that and you’ll need to stop at 1pm (your planned stopping time- do not stop before then!!!)
If your cutie usually naps during this trip see if you can get them to nap. Treat it like regular nap time. Even do the routine, read a book, sing a song, give them their lovey and maybe a blanket and then IGNORE them for ten minutes, hopefully they’ll conk out! Baseball hats, sun hats, and window shade are all possible ways to darken the car if needed!
Good luck and may the force be with you.