How To Survive A Road Trip With A Toddler

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For some of us, it’s time to start traveling again (hello, Spring Break next week). Maybe you’re like me and feel uncomfortable (and out of practice) traveling on a plane with your toddler(s). The last time I flew with my daughter was June 2019, and she was still wearable and free (#gamechanger).

As the pandemic calmed down for a bit over the summer, our family wanted to visit family we hadn’t seen in two years. Flying was a daunting task and trying to figure out mask wearing for a toddler who wasn’t super keen on wearing one for short trips into Target made it all too stressful to think about flying. Plus, she’s now considered a seat-priced human being, making it all the more challenging trying to wrangle a toddler in her own seat, on a flying metal machine, high up in the sky.

Cars on highway on a road trip

A road trip was the only solution. And since we had to drive across all of Tennessee and through two states to get where we wanted to go, we had to hunker down and plan for our trip like we were about to embark on the Oregon Trail. Thankfully we “surthrived” and we had some big wins that we discovered on our road tripping experience, and I thought I’d share them with you!

How to survive a road trip with a toddler:

1.Split the drive up. We are not a drive-through-the-night family. Like Gretl Von Trapp so eloquently sang, “The sun has gone to bed and so must I.” So we needed to capitalize on the sun hours to make our trip. We figured out pretty quickly that our daughter can tolerate about 5-6 hours in the car before she turns into her evil twin. So we opened up Google Maps and started tracking 5 hour increments to our final destination to figure out where we needed to stop for the night.

2. Stop for the night (or two). Yes, it makes the trip longer. Yes, it costs more money. Yes, you have to navigate sleeping in an unfamiliar place. But also – yes, you can find a stay with a pool. Yes, you can explore the little town you stop at for the night. And yes, your toddler will be more excited about the hotel pool than the final destination (sorry grandparents).

Colorful playground

3. Playgrounds, playgrounds, playgrounds. Once we figured out where we were stopping, we found playgrounds that helped us break up the trip even more to allow for legs to be stretched, energy to be expended, and fun to be had. We discovered a lot of really fun and amazing playgrounds and a fun little bonus: we found a free! public! clean! not crowded! splash pad!

4. Technology. I get it, technology can be a touchy subject. Too much of it makes even my own brain feel like mush, and I’m not advocating for a tech-filled road trip. But I have found it to be a tool in my self care toolkit as a parent. I get to set the limits (for example, how much time to use it and what activities/apps are on it), but then I get to “step away” and take care of myself while my daughter figures out this new toy on her own. We held off on introducing our toddler to a tablet until this road trip. It was so new and unfamiliar to her that we probably killed a good half hour just showing her the icons on it and not actually playing anything on it.

Assortment of colorful toys

5. Bring a couple of familiar toys/items along with you. The beauty of driving instead of flying is you can take more things than you might if you were getting on a plane. Knowing that change can be hard, we let her pick out 3-5 toys/items that she wanted to bring with us on our trip that are familiar and comforting for her. This gave her some security having familiar things within her reach while we hopped from new place to new place.

6. Take a road trip, and if it’s terrible, don’t feel the need to do it again! We honestly had so much fun road tripping, but it was exhausting. We probably won’t make the cross-country trip again unless absolutely necessary, but we learned some tips and tricks for shorter trips in our future.

Since our big road trip, we have driven to places 6-7 hours away from us with the same tips and tricks we learned from our big road trip. It’s nice to know we have a skeleton of a plan of traveling by car, and we use it to continue to make memories as a family now!

What about you? How does your family survive a road trip with a toddler (or more) in tow?

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Jocelyn moved to Memphis in 2015 with her husband, not knowing a soul. Now, it’s as if she has always lived here! Jocelyn is a first generation Asian-American who was born in California, grew up overseas (Thailand), and moved back to the States in middle school. After leaving home (Maryland) for college in the south (Georgia), Jocelyn hasn’t left the south and her childhood friends claim she has a southern accent. Currently, Jocelyn is a School Social Worker who spends most of her time helping little + big humans navigate how to be healthy humans in this world (and all the highs and lows that come with it). She is also on her own journey of discovering what it means to be an introvert and a mom. Jocelyn and her husband welcomed Charlotte (2018) to their family and are in awe of how much fun it is and how crazy it can be to raise a little human. When she’s not working, Jocelyn can be found in fuzzy socks doing a puzzle, enjoying alone time at a coffee shop, scouring Target’s Dollar Spot for things she definitely doesn’t need, and cheering on the Memphis Grizzlies.