Ask the Mamas: Road Trips

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Mama Say What?! reader Lane M. asks: How do you keep your little one happy in the car? Have you taken long trips before, and if so, how did you (both) survive?

 Check out more tips for surviving road trips here!

We have only done a couple of road trips, each lasting approximately six to eight hours one-way. We make new mixed CDs (he helps pick the songs), make sure to bring his beloved security blanket, bring healthy snacks, and, if we remember, maybe a new toy that he can open mid-trip. We also try to time our driving so we are on the road during nap-time. Another little trick that seems to help, especially if he needs to sleep, is to place a tall box or a suitcase right under his feet (for a forward-facing car seat) so he has a place to rest his feet instead of letting his legs dangle. I know I can often sleep better if I can put my feet up, it only made sense for him too. We also try to stop a couple of times for potty breaks and to simply let him run around and burn off some energy. ~Alex T.

On short trips, such as errands, Elizabeth (13 months) does very well. I’ll talk to her, put on a baby music CD, or give her a small an car-safe toy before we start driving. Most often, she’s content to just stare out the window (yes, she is rear-facing and can still peek out the side window). When she was seven months old, we drove from California to Texas (22 hours), Texas to Missouri (10 hours), and then reversed it and ended up back in California. That was TOUGH. We split the 22-hour drive up over two days and most of the time I sat back with her. She had just started on solids, so I kept her full of Plum Organic baby food in between stopping to breastfeed (a full belly, white noise from her Sleep Sheep, and cozily tucked under a blanket made for a very sleepy little girl). Every time we stopped for gas, she would get a fresh diaper and we’d let her crawl around inside the truck to stretch her legs and burn off some energy. I both bought and borrowed some toys so she would have something new and exciting to play with. And when things got really rough, I pulled out the iPad and let her watch Little Einstein episodes. ~Michelle W.

On long trips, I make sure to have a stash of fun things to play with that I can hand to my daughter one at a time. We also bring CDs with music she likes, plenty of snacks, and her stuffed lovey and pacifier in case of meltdown. When she’s bored of all her toys, opening the windows actually helps keep her entertained for a while (and sometimes the extra noise puts her to sleep). We also plan to stop more frequently than we would when it was just the two of us driving somewhere. Recently, someone suggested that I try letting her play with window clings, and when her sibling arrives in November and she moves to a window seat, I plan to do that. ~Christina D.

My little guy (almost three-years-old) doesn’t mind the car in the least. He’ll happily look out the window and listen to whatever music we have on for a good hour without blinking an eye. We travel on a five hour family vacation every summer and also take quite a few three hour trips to see family in neighboring states. We’ll make exceptions for longer trips and pack a portable DVD player and bring some Baby Singing Time videos. We pack lots of books, a mini Magna Doodle, some smaller toys and his lovey and binky as a special treat (especially if we’re hoping that he’ll nap). ~Mary Ellen M.

We try and plan our long drives around the time that C usually naps. That gives us about two to three hours. When she is awake, she is usually pretty good in the car, but if she starts to fuss we give snacks or books to read, sing songs, play games, etc. The longest we have had to drive with her up to this point has only been just over three hours. ~Kathy S.

I went on a road trip with my best friend when our husbands were in residency and we needed a diversion from the routine. Beth’s boys were maybe 4.5 and 3 and my girls were 6 and 3. Beth had a van, so we took her van and put the “big kids” (ages 6 and 4.5) in the way back, and the little ones in the middle. We drove from St. Louis to Minneapolis. We had a big, brown grocery bag of snacks. Whenever the kids would squawk, we would toss a snack over our shoulders. Yes, we did! We both felt like terrible mothers but it was FUN for all of us, and the kids had a ball. Letting go of the rules was what made it fun. ~Sue F.

Since I am a transplant from New Jersey to Ontario, we find ourselves taking road trips pretty often to visit my family. Travel time, including stops, tends to take about 12 hours one way. We’ve also done one round trip out to Maine since having Anna, that took about 14 hours one way. We’ve done several 2-3 hour trips, but that doesn’t really meet my standard of road trips. Ha ha!

The last trip I took down to NJ, my hubby had to stay behind because we stayed down there for about a month. My dad was awesome enough to drive up for Anna’s second birthday, so we bummed a ride back with him. We also had his two big labradors in the back this time! My dad is a nighttime driver so it worked out really well, and she slept most of the ride. Generally though, nighttime driving doesn’t work out well for my husband and me because Anna is up and ready to go when we arrive, but we are both ready to take a nap. If you have someone who can watch your kiddo(s) though when you arrive, and you feel confident driving your trip at night, then by all means go for it.

Generally though, we drive during the day. Typically my husband does most of the driving, but we occasionally switch off. I try to sit in the back with Anna, unless she is taking a nap, because sometimes she finds me distracting. We have another little one due sometime in May, so I will have to figure out how to manage this when we drive down to NJ next time.

The first trip we took Anna was about 5 weeks old. So I really didn’t have to worry about entertaining her. She mostly slept, pooped, and nursed. She did amazing. I was so worried because she did not have a good track record with being in a car seat.

As she got older, I would pack a reusable grocery bag full of her favorite books and toys. I also had music CDs with kid’s songs and nursery rhymes and the music CDs from her Baby Signing Time. Before the most recent trip down to NJ, my dad gifted Anna an iPad. Holy cow was that great! I downloaded some of her favorite TV show episodes and apps that I could use to keep her occupied. I still packed a bag full of books, toys, coloring books, crayons, and a doodle board. But there were times when the iPad definitely came in handy.

We always pack a cooler full of food, snacks, and drinks.While not necessarily entertaining, it is definitely a good idea if you have a little one who is eating solids. And while not necessarily in the car, if you have a little one who is old enough to get out and move around, make sure to let them get their sillies out whenever you need to stop. We will do a little bit of running around outside if we can, or inside if space allows. We might look silly, but when you are strapped into a car seat for hours at a time- you need it! The biggest piece of advice is that you should expect your trip to take bit longer than anticipated and don’t stress. The most important thing is that everyone arrives at their destination safely. ~Jessica S.

While it’s not a huge road trip, My parents live 2.5 hours away so we go on this short little drive all the time. We ALWAYS plan it around nap time – especially for the baby. Both kids sleep very well in the car thankfully, so we try to leave around noon or one when both kids are nice and tired. The majority of the time, they both sleep the whole way, but for the rare instances when the 2-year old wakes up, we have some books and the iPad because that holds his attention for hours.~Heidi C.

We keep a box filled with books and toys next to his seat for him to pick from while we drive. Snacks are a big one…so I stock up on individual packets of crackers and fruit, and fill up several sippy cups with water or juice. We also have an in-car movie system which is HUGE. Keeps him occupied for hours! ~Kate D.

The advice given here is solely based on our individual experiences and in no way is it going to be perfect for every mama, every baby, and every situation. None of us are medical doctors. If you have a question regarding a medical topic we can give our opinions, but please consult with your doctor. We are not liable or responsible for the results of following any specific advice in any given situation.

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