This summer my husband and I drove almost 13 hours with the kids to visit his family, it was challenging but fun. I confess that it worked better than I expected and I can tell you that I had worse days at home with them. That being said, to survive a long trip with a toddler and an infant you have to be prepared.
Here are the steps we took to try making the best of our trip.
- We talked to our toddler about it: We told her we were going to travel, that we would be all day in the car so we could see her grandparents and cousins. We put it in a positive and fun way.
- Activities and distractions: My toddler likes drawing and coloring and she loves stickers. We bough two new coloring books (had to be new so she would be excited about it), some washable markers and crayons, and lots of stickers.
- Music: Our 2-year-old loves music, so we downloaded her favorite songs to my phone to either sing along or just let it play on the background. Playing music makes a huge difference, even for short trips I always have kid’s music handy (Pandora has ‘toddlerville’ station for free).
- Food: It is hard to find healthy food on the road, so it is better if you buy beforehand. We had fresh fruits, peanut butter sandwich, apple sauce, cheese and crackers. We also brought milk boxes (don’t need to refrigerated), juice and water.
- Breaks: We stopped every 2-3 hours so I could feed the baby and the toddler could run around. Even if we didn’t have to stop to feed and change the baby, I think the trip would still be more pleasant with regular stops. Usually this trip wouldn’t take more than 8-9h but with our stops it took almost 13 hours.
- Timing: Don’t give all the distractions/activities at once. Bring one at the time as they get bored and need a change. For instance, we gave her a book to color, than played a few songs and sang along changing the lyrics for fun. When she was tired of it, we started with the stickers.
- Screen time: We tried to minimize it as much as possible, but when she was so grumpy that nothing else would help, we let her watch some of her favorite shows on her tablet.
- Be positive: I know it’s tiring and you might just want a quite time for yourself, but try to engage with your kids, talk about the scenery outside, and have some fun yourself.
All these measures worked great for our older daughter, but of course the baby can’t do any activities or be easily distracted. What I had to do to manage the crying was to go on the back with them. When the baby saw me and I was engaging with her, she would be happier and not cry so much. Truth to be told, our car is not huge so it was not great to travel on the back even for just a few hours. But it was better than hear the baby crying which would ultimately make her sister cry too.
In the car you have a lot of flexibility, you can stop if you need to and there is no one else besides your family listening to kids whining and crying. But, what do you do if you are flying somewhere? We just had that experience too. We went to a friend’s wedding in Germany and had the kids in a plane for up to 6 hours. With the baby was easier because she was happy to be held – my husband and I took turns so we could have some sleep.
For our 2-year-old, we tried the same activities we did for our road trip except for music and of course regular stops :-). You can still get up and walk on the hallway for little bit with them, show the clouds and if you are okay with screen time let them watch a movie. On the plane they also had some coloring games on the screen and it was a hit.
Fortunately none of them had problems with their ears, but I heard you can feed them or give a pacifier when the plane is taking off or landing to minimize the pain. There were a couple of temper tantrums but overall the trip was okay.
One thing I learned was to always have some toys for them. When we go visit family we don’t need to bring too much because they can share with cousins and the grandparents always have something for them. But depending where you are going it is better to be prepared so they have activities do do.
We went to this beautiful wedding in Germany and we had to bring the kids with us. We went to a tour in a vineyard and even brought them to the party after the wedding ceremony. Again, the trick was to have new fun stickers for little side projects, ear muffs for the baby, a good baby carrier, and a cozy stroller for naps. The success will depend on your children personalities and how well they do around new people. For us, fortunately it went okay despite being very tiring.
Now, back home and to our regular routine!