Road tripping with a toddler can be difficult under normal circumstances, but during the holidays it has the potential to be downright ho-ho-horrible. Your mission—if you choose to accept it—will be to deal with holiday traffic, likely inclement weather and an over-excited toddler who wants to get where you’re going right! that! very! minute!
Before you cancel the holidays, though, you should know that if you’re hoping for a holiday miracle (i.e. a stress-free trip), there are things you can do to help make it happen.
1. Leave at the Right Time
Any veteran of a holiday road trip (or three) knows that they should plan to leave when traffic will be at its least carmageddon-y. But when you have a toddler, it’s good to take into account their schedule, too. For example, if you leave around your kid’s usual nap time, you might make it a couple hours down the road before they wake up and start demanding things. Some parents even recommend traveling at night so that your toddler might sleep through most (if not all) of the voyage!
2. Keep Your Toddler Busy
Since toddlers aren’t impressed by scenery or the back of their parents’ heads, you should think of yourself as the drive’s Activity Director and act accordingly. (“That concludes our juice box portion of the drive. Next up… an iPad presentation of Elmo’s World!”) Try bringing a backpack full of toys from the dollar store and dole them out over the course of the drive. Another, more out-of-the-box idea is to listen to some toddler-friendly podcasts. Believe it or not, they exist! Start with the Sesame Street Podcast and the Disney Story Central Podcast.
3. Bring the Holidays into the Car
Toddlers are super excited about the holidays, so a fantastic way to keep them happy and entertained on the road is by bringing the holidays into the car! Sing holiday songs, ask them what they hope will happen on the big day (or on those eight special nights) and bring a few holiday-themed children’s books to read to them.
4. Chart Out your Trip & Plan Stops
When you’re plotting out your drive, the shortest route isn’t always the best option. Besides needing to stop for gas, you’ll also need to pull over for potty breaks, food and drink refills and just to burn off toddler energy. So, to plot out a trip that is best for your toddler, you should take some time before leaving to look at what you’ll be passing along your journey.
Apps like Roadtrippers Trip Planner or Along The Way will help you find things in advance—like fast food restaurants, rest stops, and parks—or when you’re already on the road (because you never know when a meltdown might occur).
5. Bring a Cooler
Food is by far the greatest antidote for toddler-induced hysteria (it’s a thing, trust me), so you should consider packing a cooler for the car full of your kid’s favorite snacks and drinks. This will not only let you satiate your kid the minute they get hungry or thirsty (and hopefully keep them from turning into cranky little monsters), but it will stop you from having to make any of those 45-minute detours 12 miles off the freeway in search of a fast food restaurant that serves chicken nuggets your kid will eat.
6. Prepare for Potty Changes
Most diaper changes on a road trip—such as the almost impossible “standing change” in a nasty gas station bathroom—easily fall into the high-difficulty range. Because of this, you’ll want to bring a travel-changing pad and antibacterial hand sanitizer (plus plenty of diapers and wipes, of course), so that you’ll be able to change a diaper in the back of your car when you really need to (and believe me, you’ll need to).