Road trip + toddler = a potential nightmare.
At least, that’s what I’ve always heard. But as I mentioned in my post Our Holiday in Hermanus, Arabella was a terrific road trip companion and my fears of her being irritable and bored were thankfully misplaced.
Prior to our road trip, I did a stupid amount of research. Like, a seriously stupid amount. I flooded my brain with tons of ideas, activities, and plans to ensure our long drive was a successful one.
As it turns out, it was worth it as our road trip was nothing short of incredible. I fell in love with my beautiful daughter a million times over during our 15-hour drive. I turned to Google and a bunch of people for advice, but in all honesty, I mostly winged it.
I’m not sure why I went deep into the bowels of the internet, but at least now you don’t have to. Without further ado, here are 10 tips for road tripping with a toddler.
Road Trip Tip #1 – Keep Them Involved
While I was given a bunch of great advice that included bouts of Eye Spy and activity packs, I found that the key to enjoying a long drive was to simply keep her included.
We pointed out everything to her and made sure that she was involved in our conversations, picking the music, deciding which padkos item we should dig into next, and telling her the name of every town we entered and every river we crossed.
As a result, she came up with her “river song” that melted our hearts.
It goes like this.
River, river, river
This is my river song
River, river, river
Road Trip Tip #2 – The Familiarity Factor
Keeping Arabella included in everything was definitely the driving factor for our road trip success. That and allowing her to let two of her Christmas presents — Elsa and “Baby D” — from her aunt and uncle tag along.
I highly recommend bringing along one or two of their favourite toys, a blanket, or stuffed animal from home. This helps them to feel a little more comfortable in completely foreign environments.
PS: Let me just warn you: if you are visiting family members, you WILL come home with more toys than you left with.
PPS: Love you, mom.
Road Trip Tip #3 – Never Neglect The Bladder. I Repeat, Never Neglect The Bladder
Staying hydrated is a huge part of road tripping. But all of that hydration has got to come out somewhere — and I’m sure you’d rather not have that somewhere be the backseat of your car.
Plan your trip and stops around your little one’s little bladder. Make sure that the route you plan on driving has plenty of restroom stops along the way so that all of your bladders are empty when you hop back in the car.
You don’t want to find yourself pulling over onto the side of the N1, in the middle of a rainstorm, bending in ways you didn’t think was possible anymore to make sure your kid’s stream doesn’t end up on your shoes, all the while trying to shield their body from prying eyes with your own.
Not that that happened to me or anything.
Road Trip Tip #4 – Snacks and Treats FTW
Padkos is an essential part of any road trip. And if you read my road trip post, you’ll know that I put in way too much effort deciding what to pack. The best bit of advice I can give you is to simply pack loads of whatever your kid loves to eat.
In our case, it was a bunch of biltong, dry wors, and leftover Christmas candy. Naturally, I over-packed like a beast and we ended up having so much leftover padkos that we were almost sorted for the drive back up.
Your little one will feel extra special when their favourite foods are up for grabs. One thing to keep in mind is to pick snacks that aren’t too crumbly, gloopy, or runny.
Road Trip Tip #5 – Toddlerfy Your Playlist
There are no words to describe the sheer joy that overcomes a toddler when “Baby Shark” unexpectedly plays. I snuck in a couple of Arabella’s favourite songs and definitely recommend you do the same.
Daddydaims downloaded an hour-long kids playlist and Arabella LOVED it! Let me add, Arabella doesn’t just listen to nursery rhymes. Two of her current favourite songs include “Dance Monkey” and “Piece of Your Heart”.
I know, I know. My kid has stellar taste in music.
Road Trip Tip #6 – Plan For Your Environment
You need to be prepared not just for your destination, but for anything you may encounter on the way there. On our journey, we encountered both sweltering heat and multiple rainstorms. You would think that because we were in the car we wouldn’t be too affected by these, but you’d be wrong.
Be sure to pack a blankie and warm top for cold weather. Have a sun screen or shade or — if you’re terribly shortsighted planners like us — a scarf which almost blew out of the window followed by a beach towel to place on the window when things get a bit too sunny.
Road Trip Tip #7 – Become a Backseat Driver
If you, like us, are a member of the one-and-done club, your little one doesn’t have another little one to keep them company in the back of the car. That means that things can get pretty darn lonely pretty darn quickly in the backseat.
Sit with your kid in the backseat every couple of hours. This tip also goes the other way. If you opt to sit in the back with your kiddo, it may be a good idea to hop in the front seat every now and again to keep the driver company.
Road Trip Tip #8 – Mess-Free Activities
There are a surprising number of road trip specific activities available for busy little bodies and minds. Like I said, I went deeeeep.
We opted for a classic game of Eye Spy, but because Arabella is still learning her letters, we play with colours. To use clouds as my example, instead of saying “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘C’” we’ll say “I spy with my little eyes, something beginning with the colour blue.”
A colouring book also featured in our list of mess-free road trip activities, but gosh does my kid drop her crayons more than I thought was possible for one human being to drop crayons. Other fun ideas include sticker books, impromptu in-seat dance parties, and musical shuffle.
Road Trip Tip #9 – Emergency On-Board Entertainment
Crunchy moms, don’t come for me. I’m about to do the thing that no sane mother should do. I’m about to recommend — shaky breath — screen time. Oh, the horror of all horrors!
That’s right. When we were approximately two hours away from our accommodation on the way down, Arabella mentioned that she felt a little bit bored. So she spent the last leg of our journey watching pre-downloaded offline videos on YouTube Kids that I downloaded at midnight the night before.
Road Trip Tip #10 – Forget Everything You Just Read
I know. That’s some strange advice considering you just read 1,207 words of mine, but let me explain. The best part about being on a road trip is the freedom of being on a road trip! Take it from me, don’t overthink it or try to plan out every single second of your trip.
Bear in mind that you are removing your little one from everything they know, even if it’s just for a little while. Make it fun, forget about the normal rules of eating and sleeping times, and enjoy being with your family.
In short: don’t be a regular mom, be a road-tripping mom.
Safe Tripping Fam
And there you have it: my 10 (tried and tested) tips for road tripping with a toddler. I hope that my experience and what I learned along the way will help you prepare for your own road trip.
Remember that you’re going to be in the car for a LONG time, so do what you can to make the most of it. I honestly loved every second of our road trip — all 54,000 of them — and would do it again in a heartbeat. You’ll enjoy yours too, I can feel it.
Happy tripping, yo!