Road tripping with a toddler
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you make a purchase using those links, I will receive a small compensation at NO additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!
In six days I drove about 20 hours alone with a toddler. A toddler who doesn’t nap in the car.
Am I crazy? Maybe. Crazy homesick.
I was secretly terrified about the drive but kept telling myself it was going to be great. And guess what? It was. Memphis was a trooper. In fact, he was better than he is when one of us is with him in the back.
In this post I’ll share some tips that helped us. Every kid is different and every stage is different ... and every kid is different at every stage … so take these tips with a grain of salt. But I always like knowing what works for other parents so hopefully you can get some ideas for your next journey with your little!
For a few days leading up to our trip, I talked to Memphis about it. I told him we’d be getting in the car for a super long time, that would probably be boring but we would make the best of it ... and it would be worth it because we were going to visit Grandma and Grandpa.
And each time we were about to hit the road again, I prepped him the day before. He understood, because he would get his things together and wake up ready to go!
OK, let’s talk screens.
Before becoming a parent I said I would never use screens. But here we are. Memphis is an active toddler who despises being still, so having an iPad is a game changer. That being said, it’s a lot of money to drop on a toddler who’s prone to break things. We have an old iPad mini we no longer used, so it became Memphis’s. BUT, if you want a screen for your tot I’d look into the Kindle Fire. For $50, it’s a fraction of the cost and can still play videos and even some games. I don’t have one so can’t speak from my own experience, but I can tell you my 11-year-old niece loves hers.
I downloaded videos from the Prime Video app ahead of time while connected to WiFi. Here are some of Memphis’s current favorites, if you’re looking for ideas!
Leo the Truck
Stinky and Dirty
This is the first time I’ve ever downloaded games for Memphis, but I thought a road trip was a perfect time to try it out. I tried a few, but these are the two he seems to like best.
Smart Shapes - You can download a “lite” version first if you want to try before you buy. It’s a puzzle game meant for toddlers with simple shapes and colors.
Peek-a-boo Barn - This one is fun! It’s an interactive barn that helps little ones learn animal noises.
The novelty of a new toy can be magical.
Memphis has about 100,000 toy cars, but he always get pumped about a new one. I made a run to Five Below and spent $5 on five new matchbox cars for him. I gave him one at a time, slowly. I don’t like buying him toys (he gets so many from other family members) but it’s a small price to pay for a few hours of quiet enjoyment in the car seat.
While we were in Kansas, I also picked up a travel coloring set with magic markers that only work on special paper. We used that for our next two car rides and that occupied him a bit. Not as long as the iPad, but I much prefer creativity over screen time.
The Art of the Pit Stop
Honestly making pit stops is what I was most anxious about. Memphis is an active kid, and I wondered how the hell I was going to manage to use the restroom myself without him running out of the bathroom. I considered a toddler leash, but he won’t even wear his backpack so I knew that wouldn’t work. Instead, I put him in his stroller until I was finished. Sometimes he was cool. Once he screamed and flailed the entire time, but he was safe, I got to pee, and staring strangers got over it.
Once I was finished I would change his diaper and then let him run around. Truck stops are great because they are large and have space for him to roam. A fast food chain with a play area would be great too (besides the whole germ situation) but I didn’t see any where we stopped. We didn’t make a lot of stops, but when we did I made sure he had plenty of time to wiggle and toddle.
Gosh this sounds awful. “Just give ‘em new toys and sugar!” But if you’ve ever been in the car for hours on end with a screaming child you know that you’ve gotta bend the rules for your sanity and theirs. I stopped and got him special treats on each drive — for him that’s either a milkshake or a slush. It takes him about an hour to work on these treats so that’s an hour of blissful peace in the car.
I’m so proud of Memphis (and myself tbh). He was a great little travel buddy and I’m not scared to do it again in the future.
Do you have any tips that have worked for you? I’d love to hear them for next time!