Mommy SOS: Tips for Road Trips with Toddler

Other than “don’t do it!” :)

So those of you who have been reading for a while know that Jasper has never been a fan of car rides..and that’s a huge understatement. For the first, oh, 8 months of his life he would scream bloody murder from the second you strapped him into the car seat to the second you took him out. No long, blissful, car engine induced naps here. Even now he chants a steady stream of “up, up, up, up” while even on the shortest rides.

For that reason, the farthest we’ve ever taken Jasper is Brooklyn, which is only an hour and a half at most, and that is WITH traffic.  And that hour and a half is usually enough to swear off car rides for at least another month.  So it was with great excitement, but also a certain amount of trepidation that we accepted my friend’s invitation to take a room in the house they rented up in cape cod over Memorial Day weekend.

Cape cod is a 6 hour drive from here WITHOUT holiday weekend traffic.  Yes, this is a trial by fire..and the driving is isn’t the only challenge! The other obstacle is the sleeping situation.

Jasper is apparently physically incapable of falling asleep while other people are in the room. Case in point last night at midnight or this morning at 5 am when he woke up screaming and wanted to go in “mommy’s bed.”   OK, fine, I’m so tired that I overlook the potential minefield that is letting him get used to wanting to come into my bed every night so long as he actually SLEEPS and in turn lets me get some sleep.. but no. He lies there, tossing, turning, digging his toenails into me, smiling, kissing me to get my attention.. basically everything but fall asleep until I put him back in his own room, no matter HOW tired he is.  (By the way, this is the second night in a row of the 5:30am wakeup call – SO not happy!)

So the idea of sleeping in the same room as him is already a dubious proposition, but add into that equation that he will be sleeping in a little travel cot and I’m thinking we will need at least a week off to recover from our “vacation!”   For the past two or three weeks he has gone down for every nap and bedtime bawling. He used to just look up at me and say “byeeeee” and wave as I left his room and said goodnight. Now, it’s all out screaming. I have NO idea how this will go down if he’s lying in a little cot that he can easily get up from.

The travel gear I know we will be bringing is the regalo travel cot and the fisher price portable high chair. For car ride I’m thinking of renting a portable DVD player from Blockbuster and a bunch of kids DVDs.  My reasoning is that my laptop is too hot and heavy for him to use on his car seat, plus, he’s not really allowed to watch tv at home so it’s good for him to watch the cartoons on a device that is going back to blockbuster rather than him demanding Yo Gabba Gabba every time he sees my iphone or laptop!

So give me the best you’ve got… distractions for the long car ride, best travel gear,  best toys for the beach (too cold to swim, but playing in the sand should be fun!) and anything else you seasoned travelers think I should know  before we go!

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Cathy Mahoney says:

what I can say from our experience- the DVD player is definately a good idea, also what everybody said- new and favourite toys, snacks, CDs to sing along or lullabies to calm Jasper down and stops whenever you feel he needs them.
Before you leave let him run around alot so he is tired…

when it comes to sleeping in a different place, I know it´s usually difficult-by the time they finally get used to it you´re leaving…
try the same routine as at home with possibly some items he knows (pillow, blanket, stuffed animal…)-it probably still won´t work in the beginning-don´t panic, I don´t know if this will work with Jasper but we used to put Dylan in his stroller and push him around for a while to calm him down. I have to admit though it always took a while-with either kid-when they were toddlers, to finally get them to sleep in an unfamiliar environment, it took lots of singing, stroking, walking….

good luck and have fun!

Justina says:

We’ve made many trips back to hubby’s hometown, a 9-10 hour drive away, and survived two holidays involving hours on the road… What’s worked for us would be:
1. Timing the driving during naptimes, or need be at night when the boy can sleep in the car.
2. Taking breaks every hour so to let the boy walk around plus give the driver a break! We also time meals during those breaks…
3. Bringing along his bolster, some books, and toys to keep him entertained. We usually try to have one or two new toys or books to up the interest factor. Also, you could get him to collect some stuff from nature during the stops (flowers, leaves, pebbles), and put it into a basket for him to examine later… Makes the breaks more interesting, and reduces the amt of toys you’ll have to lug around.
4. Bringing along snacks and instant food like oatmeal, lest we can’t find food stops along the way…
5. Music seems to calm him down, so we pack all his fav songs for familiarity. Sometimes when he gets upset during long jams (very common in Malaysia!) we both start singing songs, and it seems to help quiet him down. Try those with repetitive lyrics like Ten green bottles for a brain numbing effect. :p
6. For the beach, sand’s your best friend so a child-sized pail, shovel, and rake should be more than enough. Don’t forget sunscreen and a hat!
7. Other stuff we like would be the sack and seat if we can’t find a high chair for meals & crayons and paper!

Hope this helps, have a great trip!

susan says:

Ariana — I didn’t read all the responses, but can you travel at night? Maybe jasper will sleep thu the ride. BTW–I will be in Chatham — are you close by?

sarah says:

I’m going to say I get the travel award. We drove from Alaska to Texas..19 days on the road with my toddler. This was in september and he was 14 months. snacks are always a must have. A dvd player is a good idea. we’d pull out the baby einstein when he was melting. Maybe buy a few small, but new toys he’s never see. or some new books. anything new and different is good. Also, I dont know if he naps in the car, I assume not based on his hate of the carseat. But we always tried to leave the hotel around 10 am in the mornngs, just in time for nap time. This would give us a good 2-3 hrs of quiet.
Keep in mind you might just have to pull over and let him get out and run…we had to do that a few times and we just knew going into the trip, we had to be flexible.

Also…he might just cry..and you might just have to let him. There were times NOTHING pleased Alex and we just had to let him cry. Its safer for everyone in the car than trying to twist around and unbuckle yourself to tend to him. Its better everyone is safe.
It may actually go better than you expect!

as far as the sleeping. I can’t help you there! We had alex in a PNP but we had to rock him to sleep (standing up rocking, bouning, pacing the hotel room floor). That was exhausting!

we all now take a 3 hour trip about every 2 weeks and alex does great on those trips, so he’s the pro traveler now! The more you do it the better it gets! Hope it all goes well and please email me if you have any questions!

Mrs Brown says:

OK. I’m going to be the bad mom here and just say it. Baby Benedryl.

ariana says:

Thanks for the great tips everyone, keep them coming!

@Mrs Brown, LOL, don’t think I it hasn’t crossed my mind ;)

Fiona says:


Sorry, not much advice but the glo worm seahorse that Kimberly recommended is like this:

My 6 month old has had it from being 5 weeks old and she still loves it. She smiles when she sees it (it has a really friendly face) and the music and water-swishing sounds are so soothing. It actually gets me to sleep too….not like I need any help of course!

I know it is probably different with my baby being so much younger than Jasper but what I tend to do at nap time or bed time is not try to force sleep. I know she’s tired, but if it looks like she’s having none of it I just lay on the bed and play with her…even getting her giggling etc….she soon gets super sleepy. Might not be age appropriate though…I’m not sure.

Heather’s idea sounds great! I’ll have to remember that one.

Sorry to hear about your friend. It’s so sad.

Fiona x

Sarah says:

My son (18 mos) has started not wanting to take his naps/go to bed easily too. You may have already tried this, but if he starts protesting I let him pick a small book or two to take to bed with him and then I take it out later on after he’s asleep. Has worked for us lately. But who knows? It might not work tomorrow :)

Travel tips? I mostly fly, but we do so at least 4-5 times a a year. Lucky Charms cereal in a snack trap can kill 20 min b/c he tried to fish out the marshmallows (I just buy the little travel cereal variety pack of boxes).

Oh, and he can watch slide shows of himself and family on my Mac for hours. We do that on the plane; and it often puts him to sleep.

And I haven’t tried this with my son yet, but I wonder if he’d respond to simple books on tape. Nursery rhymes or something like that from the library? Just a thought.

Have a fun trip!

Catharine says:

We drive 5-6hours on a regular basis. I keep multiple snacks and drinks on hand. Then a bag of toys with some being new toys. The once that last the longest though? A tape measurer, a cell phone, a slinky, and a picture book. Also lots of singing and talking about what is happening outside. Stop every 1.5 hours or so to stretch, snack, break.

Kimberly says:

I also agree with the portable DVD player, maybe also some of his favorite music cds to play in the car. Favorite or new books, toys, maybe even some washable crayons and a color book if you’re feeling brave enough? Very highly desired snacks. And plan to stop every couple of hours to let him run around and burn off some energy.

I have to admit that I am VERY lucky when it comes to traveling with James… he’s amazing both on long drives (8 hours each way to Palm Springs… like a dream!) and flights, both. As for sleeping away from home, I always make sure to bring not only any loveys, but also familiar bedding (his crib sheet, blanket, etc.) so that it feels and smells like home. I’ve never had James sleep in a bed/cot, we always travel with a PackNPLay and I position it in the room so that he can’t see me in the bed, if at ALL possible.

I also bought a bedtime musical light up seahorse (like a GloWorm) for travel and that seems to work well. Also, there is an iPhone app. that plays ocean waves (or rain, etc… white noise) that I have found invaluable for travel. It’s called Sleepmaker Waves (or Rain, etc.) and it’s free.

Best of luck… it will be worth it, not just to get away and enjoy, but also to try to break through the barrier of not feeling like you can ever travel with Jasper.

Are you going by yourself with him????

Crystal says:

We’ll be leaving our (now 19mo) kiddo with friends while we take a vacation in the fall and can’t move the crib with him… so I was just looking at this travel cot in a magazine last week. We’ve got a baby bjorn travel crib but he’ll be able to climb out by then I’m sure. I’m pretty anxious about his ability to get up and out of this cot too, and wander. I was also looking at the air mattress with sides as a “not rolling out” option.

I’m dying to know how it goes for you!! Good luck!

Licia says:

DVD player is a good idea, since you can strap it to the seat in front of him out of reach and you won’t have to spend the entire ride telling him not to touch it because it’s just oh so funny to raise the volume or push open and stop it and ask you to put it on again… can you tell I’ve been there?
I do suggest a mix of media in addition to the DVD because toddlers get bored of stuff pretty quick. Download some new apps on your phone, get some new toys and books. Definitely, the most important thing might be to buy some ear plugs just in case everything fails.

Sara B. says:

Marino and I take lots of road trips just the two of us. I keep a bag up front with me filled with multiple snack traps (for when he throws one and yells for more fish while I’m driving) and toys (same reason above). This toy is his favorite in the car – he’ll play with this for an hour
I also play the Yo Gabba Gabba CD and we sing along and we sing “Old McDonald” and I let him pick which animal to do next, etc.

The DVD player is a great idea – I didn’t know Blockbuster rented them.

Heather says:

Oh, I know what you mean…the trips are fun, but not relaxing. We just took our son (2yrs 2 mo) to Eleuthera (off the Bahamas). Here are my tips: the DVD player was terrific. We got a Sony from Target. We also became one of THOSE parents who brought it to dinner in the evening so we could actually eat for 20 minutes.

As far as sleeping. What I do every night is…get a chair where he basically has to sit in your lap. Read about 3 Curious George books. Turn off the light (w/ only a night light), then read 2 “baby books” that are easy to read in the almost dark (We like Maisy the Mouse. Then, he gets snuggles, or bed. He decides. He can sit on my lap and fall asleep, or he can go to bed. That’s it. No getting up. He rarely struggles, or protests, but if he does, I just keep holding him. It may take a little getting used to, but now he knows what to expect, and it wasn’t as easy to do on our trip because he was sleeping on a mattress on the floor, but my persistence won.

Pretzel sticks also offer a good 20 minutes of enjoyment.

Good luck!

Jennilynn says:

I have no advice for the driving and I hope the dvd player works!

But sleeping- Rowan is the same way. He thinks its party time if hes in our bed. But when we’ve traveled (its been a while so the whole toddler thing might work out differently) we just sneak into the room after he’s asleep and its fine. A couple times he’s had a hard time falling asleep in his PnP, and I’ve brought him into bed with me and he actually slept. I don’t know if its because he knows OUR bed is a treat or something, but he’s fine in other beds. We also have a window above our headboard and he likes to peek out, so without that opportunity he’s more content laying down.

Good luck and have fun! We are going on our first no-baby trip for the long weekend. Thank goodness my in-laws love skype & we get wi-fi at our B&B!