Traveling with toddlers. So "fun" isn't it? (Notice I put "fun" in quotes). How about taking road trips with toddlers? "Really fun" right? (You get where I'm going with this). But lucky for all of us, I'm a pro. (Self-proclaimed pro, but still...)
Since each of my girls were just a few months old, I'd load us all up for monthly 3-hour drives to my parents' house... by myself. Two road-tripping babies soon turned to two road-tripping toddlers... which has now become two road-tripping preschoolers (with very strong opinions about music choices while in the car). Our longest road trip has been 7 hours for a one way trip (but my husband was in on that one, so I'm not sure whether or not to factor it into my resume of expertise).
Doing the math off the top of my head, I've probably taken my girls on our 3-hour road trips about 40 times (that's 80 times, since these are round tips endeavors). Holy crap.
Ok. I'm an expert then.
I can't be so arrogant to guarantee a meltdown-free trip for anybody (hello, we're talking about toddlers), but these personal no-frill tactics might help keep you sane. At least until your first potty break.
1) PACK AS MUCH AS YOU CAN IN THE CAR THE DAY OR NIGHT BEFORE. (Everything except the kids, that is). My mom trained me to do this. Clothes, diapers, snacks, supplies, blankets, stuffy toys... load 'em all into bags and into the car a full day before your trip so that it's DONE. The only things you want to worry about actually loading in the car the day of travel is yourself, your kids and your toothbrushes.
2) DEPARTURE TIME SHOULD REVOLVE AROUND EATING & SLEEPING SCHEDULE. My house is like a train station. There are two possible windows for departure for any given trip: 1) Between 8-9 a.m. and 2) Between 1-2p.m. Reason being? If you feed everyone breakfast and then put them immediately in car, you've bought yourself an extra hour (or two) before little people start getting antsy for food or a rest stop. Or - even better - if you feed everyone a big lunch and then get in the car immediately before nap time, then your chances of them conking out multiply by, like, a million percent. That buys you even extra driving time. Bam.
3) HAVE YOUR TODDLERS PACK THEIR OWN TOYS. I like to think this gets kids directly involved in the process and puts a bit of a positive spin on actually being in the car. (The trick is, then go through the toys later - before loading the car - and remove any choking hazards or messy substances that don't belong unsupervised in the backseat.) Sure, you can do the whole watch-a-movie-the-whole-time-on-mommy's-iPad if you want, but you still might need toys to change things up if and when the kiddos get bored after so much screen time. That's when you....
4) ONLY PASS TOYS TO BACKSEAT AS NEEDED! An easy mistake that us parents do all the time is to just give our kids all the toys all at once... regardless of if they actually need them in the first place. Here's my trick: I don't give toys or activities until restless behavior calls for it. That means that my kids will sometimes sit in their car seats for extended periods of time (an hour) and just look out the window without any toys (I like to think I trained them this way from the get-go... but it might just be dumb luck). I'll with them chat a bit, we'll listen to our favorite music, whatever. I don't start passing toys to the backseat until absolutely needed. It buys me time.
5) REMIND THEM WHERE YOU'RE GOING. Remind those adorable, forgetful and impatient kiddos that you're going somewhere FUN... and how much FUN you're all going to have when you get there. In order to get where we're going, we're going in a car... isn't this FUN!?! Remind them who you're going to see (Grandma! Cousins! Friends! The beach! And we won't get there unless we get in the car and be good little people!). It doesn't always work, but I always remind myself to stay positive so that it hopefully rubs off on them.
Toddlers will scream (been there, done that), toddlers will cry (been there, done that), toddlers will fight in the backseat (thank you God for car seat belts that keep everyone locked in and trapped). Bonus tip: Don't underestimate the power of pulling over the car and threatening to let someone out on the side of the road should anyone get extra unruly (not that you're gonna actually do it, but I've found that preschoolers still scare pretty easily and things will suddenly get very quiet). Hang in there, keep your eyes on the road... and don't forget the Frozen soundtrack (yes... that sucker still works for us).
What keeps your toddler road trips sane?