Traveling with our littles is something we’ve done since they were the tiniest of tiny, mainly out of necessity with family living far away, but also without giving it much of a second thought. Along the way, I think we’ve stumbled onto some good ideas which make traveling a little easier. I’m sharing them today, in no particular order, with the hope they’ll help you too!
1. Pack lightly with toys and entertainment. Does that sound wrong? This one we figured out through a bit of trial and error. With our oldest, I started long trips with various toys to unveil every hour or so. But, it seems this just resulted in an attitude of “what’s next?” leaving him generally unsatisfied, always wondering if the next thing was better. Now we stick to a backpack for each little with a coloring book or plain art journal with colored pencils, a book or two, and a favorite toy of their choosing (my boys usually pick a hot wheel or plastic animal, my girl picks a doll). For our recent trip out west, we also packed our creation journals, small field guides, and binoculars. Less for mommy to keep track of and more contentment.
2. Always bring comfort items. If my littles are going to rest or nap in the car, they want their typical nap time accoutrements, like their lovey, a small pillow, and blanket. If we are driving past bedtime, these items certainly help usher them to sleep.
3. Incorporate routine when possible. Stick as closely as possible to nap and bedtimes. Keeping that predictability helps our littles sleep. For nap time at home, we typically read a book so we try to do that in the car ride. If reading a book is not feasible, one of us will tell a story. For bedtime, my husband always reads the Bible, sings, and prays with our littles. If we’re driving at bedtime, we like to have a potty stop, change our littles into pjs, give everyone hugs before settling them into their carseats (these snuggles are especially important to my little girl!), and return to the road for daddy to tell a Bible story, sing worship songs, and pray with them.
4. Get active during stops. We like to pack a football or soccer ball to get our guys running around at rest stops. They love this! When we’ve forgotten sports items, we start a simple game of tag, hide n seek, or throwing collected acorns around. This simple release of energy and fun with mom and dad gives them more endurance for the long times in the car.
5. Make a plan for food. We typically pack easy, healthy snacks in a cooler and stop for meals. Fast food is not our favorite, so we try to stick to healthier on-the-go options, like Panera Bread and Smoothie King. For easy snack distribution, I pack disposable cups for the food items and reusable cups to refill with water throughout the trip. We’ll usually get milk when we stop for meals. I find when everyone is eating better, we feel better. And when we feel better, everything goes better.
6. Audio books, audio books, audio books! We like to bring one, new exciting one and at least one, familiar favorite. We borrow from our library (if we’ll be back in time) or purchase new from amazon or iTunes. Some recent favorites are Pippi Longstocking, Peter Pan, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
7. Keep screen time to a minimum. Our rule: portable video games can be played only if we’re traveling after dark for 30-60″ depending on time of day. Besides all the obvious reasons not to have lots of screen time, we have found for our guys that more screen time does not equal more contentment. In fact, usually the opposite.
8. Have a rough idea of where or when you want to stop. We try to go about 2-3 hours between stops. During nap times, we can go longer. Knowing the expectations about when we’ll stop seems to help my littles.
9. Do everything at once. When possible, we pile all our to-dos into one stop: filling up with gas, trips to the bathroom, run around time, snuggle with whoever needs snuggles, clean up the van, distribute snacks, etc. It’s the worst when we’re five minutes out from a gas fill-up to hear a voice from the back declare: “I HAVE to go potty RIGHT NOW!” :/
10. Change the volume! When everyone or a very vocal one starts to get edgy, we like going one of two ways – turn the volume down or turn the volume up. Quiet music or an audio book while we call for a time of no talking can reset sour moods. Or cranking up some of our favorite music and “playing” along – can accomplish the same thing.
Although we first struggled to “add” more time to our travel time by stopping for longer periods, we soon saw the time investment was worth the cheer it brought to our littles. I’d rather have a slightly longer, happy trip than a shorter, miserable trip. Anyway, these are the things that work for us! Fellow road warriors, what works for you? I’d love to hear your tips and ideas!