It seemed like a good idea: get in the car with a seventeen month old and drive ten hours overnight.  Elisabeth would sleep (of course) and so would I.  Wouldn’t I?  Well, even if she had slept, I sure wasn’t going to be getting much sleep cramped in the back seat next to her.  In hindsight, the decision to drive to Norman, OK for Thanksgiving with a walking toddler was not only an insane idea but a massive statement on the absolute misery that is air travel in the United States today.  But, I digress.  There were some bright spots on the road trip and PLENTY of learning experiences. Here are a few:

  1. I packed a boatload of games and books, most of which Elisabeth had never seen before.  This worked well…on the way there. She had a cool new puzzle; at least twelve board books; a small shoebox of fabric scraps, ribbon, wrapping paper bits, cardboard spools and other trinkets to unpack and throw around; a neat-o Melissa and Doug farm puzzle that made noises when assembled correctly; dominoes, Scrabble letters, photo album and more.  The diversity of choices made choosing items an activity in itself which was a nice benefit.
  2. Many of those items also worked on the cool Snack and Play Travel Tray that someone on the Chapel Hill Durham Alternative Parenting list serve recommended.  Elisabeth is a little short for it but she still used it as a functional surface for puzzle work and snacking. A great recommendation & worth the $20.
  3. Cracker Barrel was an unexpected source of awesome.  Not only are they child-friendly in the restaurant (“booster seat or high chair?” along with crayons, child placemat, child-size cups and straws, etc.) but the store is a veritable gold mine of fun.  There’s the usual holiday kitsch which is amusing to some adults but toddlers, I’ve learned, go crazy for talking snowmen who also play the piano!  They also love the barrels of fuzzy toys, penny candy and wind-up raccoons chasing their tails.  There is SO much at eye level for a toddler at a Cracker Barrel store.  And the staff is patient and understanding. What a great place!photo-241
  4. Moving the car seat. Our Britax car seat is smack in the center of the back seat, right where the Durham EMS folks recommended it go.  Safety first is crucial, of course, but when you’re in the car for long periods of time and you’re on the taller side, it’s pretty tricky to sit on either side of the car seat.  So we moved it to behind the passenger seat.  Moving it gave Elisabeth the opportunity to look out the window for trucks, buses and trains but it also gave me much more space to work with when I was sitting back there with her.
  5. Music.  Elisabeth and I enjoyed our first Music Together class this fall with Olivia Singleton of “Liv and Sing” in South Durham.  The songs, to be perfectly honest, are fabulous.  One of their most redeeming qualities is that they are catchy without being annoying which proved to be a key ingredient for long hours in the car.  Elisabeth often falls asleep to “Little Wheel” or “She Sells Seashells”, usually with me singing them.  But in the car, on repeat, they proved to be just the thing to help a tired toddler fall asleep when we really needed her to.  Once anyway.

While we won’t attempt a 18 hour car trip again anytime soon, both my husband and I love road trips so I anticipate heading out by car somewhere sometime again.  And here are a few things we’ll do differently next time-

  1. Get a whole slew of new “stuff” for return trip.  Elisabeth was bored by the same things that she’d loved on the way out.  I should have shaken it up a bit more by adding more cool stuff that she hadn’t seen yet.
  2. Bring actual blankets and pillows and not rely on light jackets.  ‘Nuff said here I think.
  3. I did well with snacks on the way out but on the way back we ran out of fruit too early.  We made up for it with a smoothie on the way back (above) but still.  Better, smarter snack packing both ways is important.
  4. We don’t listen to any stories on CD yet because I don’t think Elisabeth is there developmentally yet but she will be next time.  I do know a few stories by heart (_Tumble Bumble_, _Little Blue Truck_) and I’ll add to that list but next time I’ll also introduce a story on CD a week or so before we leave. Just another tool to try!

What travel tips do you recommend for traveling with baby or toddler?  Share your thoughts below.