By Aubrey Everett
Times have changed, and we do not know when our world will right itself and return to the normal we once knew. I don’t know about your family, but barring an emergency, I can’t see getting on a plane with my baby any time soon. So, for now, the road trip is back.
So, for now, the road trip is back.
To be fair, the classic family road trip did not really go anywhere. Parents have been traveling with their kids for summer vacation getaways, to see family during the holidays, and to explore new sights and make memories. We took our 15-month-old son on a week-long summer vacation, and while we were excited to bring him to the beach and fill our days with activities, packing the car was daunting. Making sure everything would fit in the car, while also trying not to bring anything superfluous or make extra runs to the store once we arrived, proved to be a challenge. Here are some ways we approached a road trip with our toddler.
On the Road
Depending on the age of your child and the length of the trip, the items you will want available in the car will vary. Our ride was only a little more than two hours, but our departure time was not lining up with naptime, so we knew we would have to keep him occupied. Our son was not quite old enough for a tablet, but his interactive toys and “devices” keep him engaged for chunks of time. We gave him his most spill-proof water bottle so he could take some sips and play with the spout. A shade on his window gave us peace of mind as we drove into the midday sun, and we dressed him in a cool, comfortable outfit without shoes. Finally, we had a snack cup ready to hand back to him in case we encountered traffic or he lost interest in his other toys. A few goldfish crumbs did not feel like a big deal, if it made him happy on the way to our destination.
Getting quality nighttime and naptime sleep (for our son and for us) can make all the difference when it comes to enjoying a vacation. We tried to re-create our home sleep environment as best we could in a new space. That meant packing his sound machine, sleep sack, lovey – all items he was familiar with at home. Even though it took up some extra space in the car, we packed a box fan to set up next to his crib since we knew the weather would be hot. We packed a mix of pajamas (short and long sleeves) since we did not know which would be better in the moment.
The one thing we could not fully re-create was his crib. The space was small and the only thing that would fit was a pack ’n play, which he hadn’t slept in in months. Doing a trial nap in the travel crib a week before your trip could help the child acclimate. Upgrading to a thicker mattress can also make it feel more like a normal crib. Some people also rely on a “slumber pod” or similar item to darken the space. Many hotel rooms already have blackout curtains, which can come in handy.
If you know most of your meals will be in your home or rental, try to bring items that will make the process easier. We invested in a compact travel highchair that could be used on the ground or strapped to a chair at the table. It folded down into a small bag, making it easy to pack and set up. We also made sure to bring a few of his plates, bowls, snack cups, and utensils – all items our son was familiar with.
Overpack – On Some Things
I knew the car would fill up quickly, so I tried to be conscious of what I was packing for our family, but there were some things that were worth the space. After two days at the beach I started to worry I hadn’t packed enough clothes for my son. A few hours in the sand, two messy meals and a leaky diaper caused us to go through four outfits in the span of a day. What had initially looked like more than enough clothes was suddenly running low. It would not have hurt to pack 8-10 more simple outfits, which don’t take up much room, but provide a healthy supply of clean clothes to grab from. As back up, throw a travel-sized packet of laundry detergent in your bag in case of emergency.
A few hours in the sand, two messy meals and a leaky diaper caused us to go through four outfits in the span of a day. What had initially looked like more than enough clothes was suddenly running low.
Depending on where you are traveling, you may or may not be able to easily pop into a store to pick up items you forgot. We brought a sleeve of swim diapers since we knew our local store was unlikely to stock them. We also packed some new (or new to him) toys so he would have something exciting to keep him occupied in a new space. Instead of bringing our normal stroller, which takes up a significant amount of car space, we brought a lightweight umbrella stroller. We knew days at the beach and bike rides would occupy most of our time, and that walking and strolling would not be one of our main activities. A small first-aid kit was another good thing to have: Band-Aids, Vaseline, sunscreen, nail clippers, children’s Tylenol, and a thermometer are always good to have within arm’s reach.