Road Trip Tips with a One Year Old

We’ve taken dozens of road trips with our little guy the past few months. Dozens. Some went great, some went horribly, horribly wrong. Some were with both of us, and–the horrible, horrible one–were just me driving. One 6.5 hour road trip turned into almost 10 hours. 
I was prepared to stretch out the trips: take lots of breaks, let our new walker get out and walk, drink lots of coffee. But I didn’t expect him to be so miserable for so many hours. 

Road Trips are incredibly boring for little ones. They can’t really see out the window, they’re not into listening to books on CD, they’re stuck in his carseat for hours. It’s very hard to keep them entertained when you’re focused on the road. 

Over the course of these road trips I’ve gathered tips and tricks that makes it easier on D. Which makes it easier on me, and safer for all of us. 

Tip #1
Go To The Park First. This is a MUST before going anywhere long distance. This has made all the difference in our long car rides. I took him to the closest playground for 15-20 minutes before we set out. This has become such an important step we’ve automatically added it into our travel routine. A little fun, a little exercise ensures he will sleep for up to two hours in the car. This is a huge stress reliever for mom.

Tip #2
Find Parks Along The Way. This has also been permanently added into our travel time. We’ll do this around lunch time, or halfway through an 8 or 6 hour trip. I pull up the map on my smartphone, look for a green splotch near our route and hope for hope best. You can also search for nearby Elementary schools. These are public grounds anyone is allowed to use. Still, it’s probably best to go after school hours or on a weekend out of respect for the kids and teachers. We’ve found amazing playgrounds this way. Even if it’s not a great playground, the kids don’t care. Just being a new place where they run, stretch their legs and climb makes is a wonderful treat. 

I used the map app on my smartphone
to locate parks just off our route. It’s hit or miss,
but we have found several lovely parks. 

We found this little park somewhere in NC.

Even in the light rain, we had fun climbing,
exploring and stretching our legs. 

Tip #3
Go To The Park Even In The Rain. Seriously. It’s worth it. Take jackets, towels, a change of clothes. Whatever. It works, I swear. 
*What Didn’t Work: The playground at Chik-Fil-A. Ugh, that was awful. That was the first park my son asked to leave. The toddler area consisted of games on a wall that were either broken or too high for him to reach. There was nothing fun or energy-releasing about that playground. I don’t eat chicken so I really don’t know if all the playgrounds are this bad. Or the ones at McDonalds either for that matter. I imagine they are more fun for older kids. And they’re hard to find when you’re on the road. Local parks are noted on the map app on my smartphone, so it’s an easier and safer choice.
Tip #4
Keep A Basket of Toys Within Reach. I got this idea from my friend when we were sitting there one day brainstorming ways to make the road trip easier for D. In fact, Tip #4.5 should be Brainstorm With Your Friends. I grabbed an empty storage basket from our pantry and tied it securely to the armrest next to D’s carseat. (Later I bought a car storage organizer like this Diono Travel Pal.) I filled it with things he loved, like his Super Grover Remote Control, a few dollar store board books, a Mickey, a Donald, a Goofy, etc. I also put in new toys, or toys I’d hidden and he’d forgotten about. This worked so well the basket has become a permanent fixture in our car. Toys and books are easily switched out and he puts his bottle in it when he’s finished, which is much better than throwing it around the car. 
*Safety Tip: Use soft toys and cloth books when possible. Just a fast break can send thing flying around. 

The basket is tied with a simple ribbon to
the arm rest.  

Toys and books are easily within reach. 
Tip #5
Keep A Basket of Toys Within Your Reach. When he got bored with what he had, I reached back and handed him something new. I kept this basket on the seat next to me. It wasn’t toys though. It was filled with real life objects–every baby’s favorite. Stuff that was safe for him obviously, stuff he’d never seen before, and stuff–when possible– with buttons to push on it. 
A sampling of what I handed him: 
Sunglasses. He’s obsessed with sunglasses right now. 
Dad’s hat. 
A stud finder with a button on the side that beeps. 
A kitchen…what is that? A baster brush or something. It’s rubbery and fun. 
A USB converter plug. The plug legs pop in and out. A reusable K-Cup. 
A notepad because he doesn’t eat paper anymore. He can tear out every page for all I care. (No crayons though. He does still eat those. Plus I wouldn’t want to lose one in the car and have it melt.) 
A small roll of twine. He had fun unwinding it and making a mess. Did I care if he unwound the entire thing? Nope. I did keep my eye on him while he had this, but he’s never wrapped anything around his neck. 

A few things I handed back to D during the trip.
Just be sure you’re able to keep a close eye on them.

Tip #6
Video. I used to be a little weirded out by all the kids I’d see watching TV in the car. Surely they’re addicted. Surely there are better ways they could spend their time in the car. But I was wrong. I am totally on board with kids watching TV in car. Anything that makes driving safer is perfectly ok with me. We don’t have a DVD player for the car, so I got an iPad holder that hangs on the headrest in front of him and downloaded a couple Disney movies from iTunes. Extra Tip when using an iPad: Keep their shoes on. Otherwise they’ll keep turning it of with their feet.

I got this great iPad holder by Carseat Cinema

*What Didn’t Work: Videos. He’s one. He just didn’t care. However, by the time he was 14 months he would watch up to 20 minutes of Finding Nemo. When you’re driving alone it’s not easy to turn the iPad on and off, so this isn’t a great tip. But I love the iPad hanger I got. I’m sure it’ll be great in the future. 
Tip #7 
Snacks. We had his snack cup with the rubber lid within reach, filled with goldfish, yogurt melts or cheez-its. We also put his bottle (way safer spillage-wise for the car) in his toy basket. 
*What Didn’t Work: Snacks. Not a big eater. I’m sure this will change in the future, but unless it’s cheez-its he just doesn’t care. 

Tip #8 
Make a Playlist: D loves this. It’s amazing how the screaming and whining stop when he hears his favorite songs. We listen to a lot of music at home and in his classes, so I know what songs he likes. His playlist starts out with Hot Dog! from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. About 10 songs in, I added the songs from his bedtime playlist–songs that make him fall asleep every time. Some of D’s favorites: The Muppet Show Theme Song, Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast, In Summer by Josh Gad from Frozen, Mickey Mouse Club March by The Mouseketeers, Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star by Jewel, Hallelujah by k.d. lang, Beautiful Boy by John Lennon, Animal Crackers in My Soup by Shirley Temple. 

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