The Longest Ride

in their car seats, ready to go home - _MG_1962

Toddler road trip (Photo credit: Sean Dreilinger)

What a Long, Long Trip It’s Been

No road trip is ever longer than one that involves an overtired toddler. It doesn’t matter what the clock says. The screaming, crying, and general fussiness last forever. You feel terrible for your child’s misery and find yourself vowing to never drive anywhere ever again.

Our biggest family road trip was last Labor Day, when we moved from Boston to Washington. Lila was just under four months old and slept most of the way.

Now she’s a full-fledged toddler. When we agreed to join my husband’s family in Delaware to celebrate July 4th and my father-in-law’s 65th birthday, we didn’t know what to expect. The three-hour trip didn’t seem terribly long, so we agreed, strategized to arrive before Lila’s dinnertime, and hoped for the best. Here are a few things we learned to make a road trip a bit easier on you and your toddler:

1.      Time the drive around your toddler’s sleep schedule. We left for Delaware in the mid-afternoon. That was good, since Lila had already taken a solid first nap, but we dawdled too long. Next time we’ll be ready to leave as soon as Lila’s ready, minimizing unhappiness – because if your toddler’s unhappy, nobody’s happy.

2.      Opt for open, rather than assigned seating. We don’t own a car. So, if we’re in one, it’s most likely a cab, and Lila and I sit together in back. That arrangement worked well for us on our big move, but given that Lila’s older, my husband and I figured I could now navigate from the front. Lila protested. We decided it made more sense for me to stay in back, so that Lila stayed calm (and relatively quiet), and my husband could hear my driving directions. Flexibility in all things, including seating, is key.

 3.      Know where your toddler can sleep and factor that into planning. We started our return trip in the late morning – at nap time. Unlike other kids who can conk anywhere when they’re tired, Lila can’t. Given that Lila is no longer lulled to sleep by the car’s motion, we wouldn’t casually mess with her schedule again. There’s no need for gratuitous suffering.

4.      Bring cold beverages for hot days. Someone should invent a very long and flexible straw to facilitate breastfeeding while driving. Until that happens, it’s helpful to keep pumped milk within reach. Lila uses her sippy cup at meals now, but bottles are neater and easier to use mid-motion.

5.      Pack snacks (even if you don’t think you need them). Who packs food for a three hour drive? I don’t, at least, not when the trip is between meals. I didn’t anticipate traffic expanding our travel time, so we were lucky to find some pretzels along the way. Our return trip overlapped with lunch, and Lila was hungry before we could find a place to stop. Luckily, I had some Cheerios stashed in our diaper bag, but what Lila really wanted was my lunch, which she ended up wearing. We’ll pack more finger foods for snacking while driving next time.

 6.      Bring your toddler’s favorite music along for the ride. I didn’t bring any CDs, figuring we could access Spotify and iTunes on my computer . . . which was packed. When Lila was overtired, Pandora was our saving grace. The music cued curiosity and peaceful silence. Lila listened as Raffi sang on my phone about jumping frogs. Next time, I’ll pack Lila’s favorite CDs for the car ride.

I know that misery supposedly loves company, but I don’t wish misery on you, dear reader. I hope that some of these lessons from our recent road trip help you, as you plan this summer’s family adventure.

 This article appeared on the Isis Parenting blog, Parenting Starts Here.

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