Back when my husband commuted 5 days a week for work we usually made the same trip with him once a month. During that time we discovered several tricks to make the trip go more smoothly with no or at least limited meltdowns. Here are a few things that have worked for us.
In this category we have found DVD's to be a lifesaver. We invested in a set of headrest DVD players. The kids spend the ride happily watching Veggie Tales movies. They each have a set of noise reduction headphones and their own player. Only one movie can be played at a time so we make sure to pick options they will both enjoy. We did make many trips without them so I know it is possible but now I am not sure how we did it!
Other forms of entertainment we have found to be helpful are books, toys and games. We usually reserve special toys for car rides so they have more appeal and hold attention longer. I would caution against any toys that make annoying noises or you may find yourself having to weigh the disadvantages of annoying toy noise versus the annoying screaming when said toy finds itself inexplicably flung from a car window. It is also helpful if the toy is fairly self contained and not messy or easily dropped. For example it might seem like a great idea to bring along coloring books but unless you enjoy contorting your arm and straining your neck while struggling to reach yet another crayon that has fallen on the floor and rolled under your seat I highly recommend going with a small magnetic sketch pad. The pen ties on!
Snacks are very important. Yes, they will end up all over the car but that is just part of life with kids. It is a good idea to stay away from anything sticky or excessively messy. My personal favorites are granola and cereal bars. I try to stay away from overly salty snacks as well because that will lead to more liquid consumption which will lead to more frequent potty breaks.
Liquids are obviously best in spill proof containers. Drink spills can at best leave children without a beverage to consume and at worst require an unscheduled stop to change clothes. One device I found quite handy when my kids were younger was a velcro strap that attached the sippy cup to the carseat. This ingenious device allowed the kids to retrieve their own sippy cups each time they
I usually try to dress the kids in comfortable lightweight clothing. I also try to put them in long pants and long sleeve shirts. That way they are kept warm if the air conditioning in the car gets too cool. It also helps provide protection from the sun shining in the windows. We try to select shoes that can be easily and quickly removed for comfort during the ride and put back on at stops. I like to bring an extra change of clothes just in case.
Blankets are also helpful in case anyone gets cold or sleepy. They can soak up spills. They are also lifesavers when your daughter comes down with the stomach flu and throws up all over herself twenty minutes before arriving at your destination. (Yes I do speak from personal experience.) The blanket will help to soak up the nasty and keep your shivering child warm while providing comfort. Probably most importantly it acts as a shield holding in all the smell that could otherwise prompt more passengers to add their own contributions.
Blankets can also double as pillows when necessary. Note to self for future trips. Next time DO NOT FORGET the Pillow Pets!
Wipees are essential. They can clean food or drink spills, wipe noses, wash hands, clean faces and give mini baths when the stomach flu strikes.
The key to surviving a trip with toddlers is to have a plan. Know where you will be stopping. This doesn't mean there will be no unplanned stops but it is nice to map out ahead of time good quality stopping points. Our favorite places to stop are Half Price Books Stores. We map out the locations of stores that are right off the highway so we don't have to go too far out of the way. They have clean available restrooms. It gives us a chance to walk around and stretch our legs. The kids enjoy looking around so it is a nice change of pace in a kid friendly environment. It also gives us a chance to pick up a new/used book or two. Having a "new" book for the kids to read during the next segment of the ride is a great bonus. Sometimes we even pick up a DVD or two.
Know your kids. If at all possible plan to be on the road when they are most content. We have had good luck with our kids taking their naps in the car. At one point when my son was a baby we had the genius idea to leave about an hour before his bedtime. We knew that anytime we were out anywhere past 9 pm he would lose it. We figured if we were on the road he would just calmly drift off to sleep allowing for a quiet peaceful drive home. Nice plan right? Not! At 9:30 pm true to form he lost it. Major epic meltdown. After several stops attempting (and failing) to calm him down and sooth him to sleep we decided to just stay on the road and get home as soon as possible. He
Even more important than having a plan is to be flexible. Be prepared at any moment to throw the plan out the window. Right along with the noisy blinky toy. Because who am I kidding . . .
5: Enjoy the Trip!
There is no easy way to travel with toddlers!