Friday, August 2, 2013

Our Road Trip Survival Guide

If there was one common response we received after telling people of our vacation plans to Georgia, it was something along the lines of “Are you two crazy?! Taking a two year old in the car for 40-some hours?! What is wrong with you?!”  Perhaps we were blinded by the fact that our child equates his car seat with hypnosis, or naïve in the thought that the longest drive we’ve ever done with him was a five hour stint to Chicago when he was nine months old, but we never really questioned our decision to take him along and forfeit the cost of airfare, baggage, and $7 bottles of water at the airport. To me, parenting is full of you’re-never-gonna-know-til-you-try moments and this was one of ours. 

Our blind hope/naivety was also paired with several preparations and tricks I had up my sleeve to keep our boy busy, content, and happy on the road. I didn’t want to spend a lot of unnecessary cash, didn’t want to make too many gas station junk food stops, and wanted to keep the van as organized and mess-free as possible, especially with four adults and one child sharing the same space for that long. All this and the fact that I get a thrill out of planning, organizing, and creating new experiences – little surprises that go a long way when you’re asked to sit in a car seat for two entire days.  So here are some tricks for the trade that were fun to put together and reaped great results on our road trip. 

-the key is new. This doesn’t mean that everything has to be brand new, so to speak, but new to Cruz. Since we booked our trip around April, I have been setting aside little toys and time savers that would serve as great travel companions in the car. Cruz gets things like this all the time – Happy Meal toys, books from Grandma, sticker sheets, forgotten Easter presents, etc., etc. I kept a drawer filled with these things and would add to it when I ran across something great in the Target dollar bin or Hobby Lobby half-off sale. And because there’s a reason Christmas can be a little overwhelming to a child, I decided to divvy the new gifts out throughout our road trip instead of showering him with everything at once. 

Now for the fun part.  I took some butcher paper and wrapped everything up, then went a little overboard and cut numbered stencils out of a United States map. Every 100 miles or so, Cruz would be given a new surprise to open.  Here were a few of his favorites...

1.  Flash cards - I found these from the Target dollar bin.  Cruz loved the different kids dressed in big kid jobs and the Dr. Seuss cards are fun to sort and easy to store.   

2.  Mudpuppy Magnetic Boards - these take-a-long magnet boards are Cruz's favorites.  Amazon has many to choose from and I've seen similar Disney inspired ones by the choo choo train at Barnes and Noble! 

3.  Sticker pad - these restickable sticker boards by Melissa and Doug are my favorite.  Reasonably priced and will last far longer than regular stickers. 
4.  Pipe cleaners and cheerios - pipe cleaners for shape creation - Cruz will spend a half hour stringing Cheerios on a pipe cleaner.  Can serve as snacks and a good jewelry making session!
5.  Board books - Cars Galore was fun for the car and anything by Sandra Boynton is sure to bring some laughs.

I also got a little creative and made a couple of activities to keep Cruz (and us adults) busy and occupied!

6.  Altoid fish game - this is probably my favorite DIY travel game.  I saw it on Pinterest and thought it looked like a wonderfully quiet activity for restaurants, church, or 48 hours in the car!  All you need is an empty Altoids container, some fleece and a scissors, a wooden skewer stick cut in half, craft magnets, and a hot glue gun.  The object is to catch the fish without getting your fishing pole stuck to the container --- harder than it looks!

7.  Speckled frog game - we played this game at Kindermusik a week or so before our trip and I just had to recreate it at home.  Have fun singing the "Five Green and Speckled Frogs..." song with these fun little props to go with it!  I ordered a pack of frogs from Amazon, found a stick in our backyard, and cut out a pond with a piece of blue construction paper.  Just put the supplies in a little baggie and you're ready to go. 

Other tricks for the trade when traveling with toddlers...

-Snacks –  I made sure to purchase a lot of good travel snacks for the trip, most of which came in handy one way or another.  Instead of getting out one bag of Goldfish at a time, I saw the best idea on Pinterest.  I purchased a plastic tackle box from Wal-Mart and filled each little compartment with a sample of lots of different snacks.  Cruz LOVED this and it came in handy so many times.  I filled it back up at the cabin and before we left for home.  This was one of my favorite ideas.

-I also wanted to create some fun time-spenders that we could all do together.  

1.  Road Trip Scavenger Hunt - I adapted this idea from Kelle Hampton.  Laminated the sheets and got some dry erase markers from Target.  We had fun doing this together and it kept us "looking out" instead of relying on our smart phones for information.
2.  Bingo - This was also really fun.  The pictures were fun for Cruz to identify.  Both of these will be fun as we grow (and add more babies to the mix!)

Here are both of the activities if you'd like to use them on your own road trip!  Just click 'File' and then 'Download' in the Google Drive boxes below. 


-I packed a tupperware container of some important essentials so we wouldn't have to rummage through bags in the back.  Things like baby wipes, kleenex, disposable garbage bags (used for diapers), pens, dry erase markers, and a toddler sized spoon and fork.  This was a life-saver!

-I would recommend some sort of tray for your toddler to set on his or her lap when snacking, coloring, stickering, etc.  You could use a cookie sheet to double as a magnet board, or purchase this Melissa and Doug one with a chalkboard on one side and a marker board on the other. 

-Since Cruz was a little baby, I've been using the gallon Ziploc bag technique for storing his clothes.  I figure out his outfits ahead of time, them store each outfit in its own bag - socks, undies, and all.  This way, their little clothes stay nice and neat and you don't spend extra time thumbing through a packed suitcase to find those tiny little undies!  

-Lastly, Cruz and I made a little travel scrapbook for notes, souvenirs, and memories made along the way.  He may be too little to write sentences himself, but it was a handy place for cute quotes, unforgettable memories, and unique mementos.


For more road trip ideas, visit my Pinterest page or Mom's Mini Van website here.  

Happy traveling!!!


  1. All great ideas!! Love the zip lock bag trick!

    1. The zip lock bag trick is awesome! The bags can be reused on the way home, too...for shampoo bottles, damp washcloths, snacks, etc.

  2. Great ideas!! You are so organized, I love it :)

    1. Thanks, Abby! It's easier when there's more time in the summer! Nice that your summer is going to be a little extended this year...when do you have to go back?

  3. I love every single one of these ideas!! if I just had a baby or two and a road trip planned...

    1. Pin the post for later and enjoy your freedom (and I'm sure cute purse) for now!

  4. Great travel ideas! I did some of those things when our family traveled 15 hours to Tampa. We have a 4 year old and a 20 month old. You gave me lots of new ideas as well@

    1. I often thought about how packing will change next summer with two instead of one! I'm in awe of you taking two under four to Tampa!



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