Thursday, August 22, 2013

Roadtripping with a Toddler

It seems Shannon and I have been MIA for a couple of weeks. And no, its not because our family trip to North Carolina was disasterous, I think we've just both been busy catching up on life since we got back. Actually, I was only home in NJ for 20 hours before I had to hitch a ride with Shannon back to Boston to attend a work-related conference. 

Anyway, I have a bunch of stuff to post about, but I am going to start with the actual travel to North Carolina. I was really nervous about how JJ was going to be strapped in the car seat for 7-8 hours. He is usually pretty good in the car, but he's almost two so he has been known to throw a tantrum here or there. I started pinning all sort of tips and tricks months ago in hopes that I could be well prepared. The two I found most helpful were this one from The Fun, Cheap, or Free Queen and this slideshow from Joslyn Gray at Babble. The biggest overall themes were to have his comfort items (lovie, blanket), plenty of snacks, and new toys/distractions. When all else fails, load up the iPad with some videos.

The weekend before we left, I hit the local Dollar Tree and Target to pick up some things to keep him busy. I got a little basket from the dollar store to hold everything. It was the perfect size to sit next to him on the arm rest but set back far enough that he couldn't see or reach it. 

Tools to keep a toddler busy during the 7 11 hour car ride
I was hoping he would sleep for half the ride (we did leave at 4am), but he was wired and knew something was up so he didn't go back to sleep until about 6. He was content with his lovie and blanket though so it was an easy couple of hours. Once he woke up (after only an hour and half, maybe) a sippie of milk and some cereal filled him up and killed some time. After that, though, he started to get a little whiney so I broke into my arsenal. First up were a couple new books (all from the dollar store):

The "first words" one in particular was loaded with a bunch of pictures on each page so he spent awhile looking through each page, pointed at the photos and starting over. 

After that was a mini magna doodle from Target. It helped that it was "Cars" themed, but this kept him busy for awhile. And as a bonus, it was really easy to bring along in my bag when we went out to dinner during the trip just in case the restaurant didn't have crayons. 

Mini Magna Doodle, so much cleaner than dealing with crayons.

JJ is into transportation right now. Anything that moves - planes, buses, trucks, fire engines, and most of all trains. I found these adorable little wooden cars in the dollar spot at Target and knew he would love them. 

One of the last things I broke out, and was the biggest hit of all, were magnets. I picked up a magnetic wipe off board (meant for college dorm rooms I guess?) from the dollar store and brought along a new set of Melissa and Doug animal magnets. He loved moving them around, taking them on and off, and making all kinds of sounds.

A magnetic wipe-off board from the dollar store and some new animal magnets kept JJ busy for a long time.

I also brought crayons and printed out blank coloring pages of his favorite things (Lightening McQueen, Thomas the Train, etc) but I never wound up using them in the car. I put the crayons in an old travel wipes case and tucked the coloring sheets in there as well. Also handy to throw in my bag and bring with us to keep him busy if we stopped somewhere to eat.

A couple boxes of dollar store crayons fit nicely into a travel wipe case. Throw in a couple small sheets of paper and you have a super easy portable coloring case.

A couple other things I learned along the way:

  • I have read that snacks, especially new and fun ones would keep kids happy. Unfortunately, JJ isn't adventurous when it comes to food. He likes what he likes. He had no interest in the fruit snacks I bought, just stuck with cereal, goldfish, and cheese. 
  • "Pencil pouches" from the dollar store are great for storing the little things. I kept the animal magnet set in one, some foam puzzle pieces (see the top row, middle pic at the top of the post) in another, and some first aid supplies in a third.
  • In the first aid pouch, which I kept in the glove compartment, I had pain reliever for JJ, all kinds of pain relievers, antacids, and migraine pills for Joe and I, some alcohol swabs, bandaids, mini sun screen, and anything else I might need along the way. I had more of everything packed away in our suitcases, but I wanted to have this stuff handy in case we needed it and I wouldn't need to dig around to find anything. 
  • I saved a couple books and bought a few more things than shown above and tucked them away under a seat. This way, I was sure I had something new and exciting for the way home. 
  • I really didn't need to spend a lot of money. I think I spent less than $15 for this stuff (with the exception of maybe the magnets) and it all came from the dollar store or Target. The Dollar Tree was a gold mine of little treats/treasures and there are even more possibilities if your toddler is a little older and you're not as worried about choking risks. A lot of the items worked well in the rental house as well. All the kids had fun playing with the magnets, moving them back and forth between the board, the fridge, and the 2 (!) dishwashers. 
Overall, JJ did great. He didn't sleep as much as I would have liked on the way down, but he was 50 times better than I expected. We didn't even turn on a movie until about hour 9. So had we not hit any traffic, I don't think he would have needed it at all. The vacation must have worn him out though, he slept a lot more on the way home!

So we survived our first big family trip as parents. It was a lot of fun, but more exhausting than the last time we went 2 years ago. I have another vacation related post to share, but right now I am onto researching tips for flying with a toddler. Its a whole new ballgame for us and both Joe and I are nervous. Anyone have any tips for us? We leave in a little over a month!!

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