I was really nervous about taking such a long road trip with M. I was afraid she wouldn’t sleep and that she would just scream the entire time we were in the car. Luckily, neither of those things happened!
Today I’m going to share how we prepped M and how we kept her entertained and happy on our 11-day road trip in a small trailer.
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One thing I’ve learned about toddlers is how important it is to prepare them for things. She was 16 months old when we took our road trip, so she was in this weird in between phase where you can’t really explain things to them but they aren’t just a little baby that does whatever.
I would talk about our road trip all the time, but I really had no idea what she understood. We did a few tangible things to make the transition as smooth as possible.
First because we lived in DC, and, later, because of the pandemic, we had hardly driven anywhere with M. And M has always hated the car. I didn’t want her to go from never being in the car to being in it for 3-4 hours straight. So I started to take M on longer drives to different parks and to the national mall in DC.
She was suddenly extremely prone to car sickness. She would throw up, without fail, every time we would get in the car. Every. Time. Not exaggerating.
I tried a bunch of things I read online, like not letting her eat before getting in the car (although I knew that would be impractical on the road trip). I casually mentioned when I was talking to a friend, and she recommended taking out the back mirror. I really didn’t want to do that because I liked being able to see how she was doing and if she was sleeping, but I had to try it. And it worked!
After I took out the back mirror, she never threw up again. It was such a small thing, but I was so glad that I started practicing driving around with her before our trip. I don’t know if I would have figured out the back mirror thing during our road trip and it would have just made M so much more miserable to not be feeling well. This is when it became important to me to prep as much as possible.
Once we got the trailer, we prepped her by bringing her into the trailer as much as possible. We would play in it, talk about it, point to it whenever we would go outside. We made it like this really exciting cool thing. The first time we took her into the trailer, she did not want to be in it at all. But she slowly got used to it and then started getting really excited whenever she would see it.
We also started to prepare her by getting her used to her travel crib. She wasn’t going to daycare or anything like that, so she was very used to only sleeping in her crib. The day I learned we were moving, I got out the travel crib. I put it in her room next to her crib and she started taking every single nap in there. So she took her nap in her travel crib for about 3 months.
When it was time for her to sleep in her travel crib on our trip, she had no problems going to sleep as soon as we put her down. This was a huge relief because I was really worried how she would sleep. She one or two rough nights (it’s all a blur now), but I think that was more just from the trip itself.
I rotate M’s toys regularly, so I took away some of her smaller and flatter toys that we could store and travel with easily. That way, they would be kind of new again. But I also brought toys she plays with all the time so that she would have some familiarity.
I went on a quest to find some new, small toys that would provide her a lot of entertainment. I got her a fair amount of new stuff (survival mode). I would give her a new book or book every day or two. She plays with new things for longer so it was my way of keeping her attention span . It was tempting to give it to her all at once, but I am so glad I spaced everything out.
One of my favorite finds was this sensory buckle pillow. It has so many different things for her to touch, play with, inspect, etc. She still plays with it all the time.
I also got her this quiet book from Etsy, which she loved and still plays with almost every day. She has a bunch of these kinds of books in her shop. I just got the Christmas one because I liked it best, plus it was November.
We brought her latch board (flat! and endless entertainment) and her bucket that she likes to collect rocks and things in (which turned out to be the perfect activity when there was literally nothing else to do).
I also made her a few busy boards out of cardboard that I painted and whatever random things I found around the house that I could hot glue to it.
She loved these! They got destroyed because they were not very well made, but they served their purpose – to get us to Colorado.
We also made her a large busy board that I thought she could use to play in the trailer when it was cold outside. Yeah, it took up a lot of space, but it was flat, so not really.
A friend of mine sent me a bunch of stuff for M right before we left. I did a whole series of stories about the stuff she sent, but I’ll list it all here too: ribbon, stacking cups, post it notes, links, water wow, painters tape, and ribbon. She also sent us paper plates so M could draw on them (which she did and loved). She also sent us some practical things, like extra large water wipes and stain remover – and we used both of them.
The post it notes came in really handy on one rainy and cold morning. I turned it into a game that M loved. They were small and took up hardly any space at all.
We also brought the Baby Einstein Music Toy that is so popular. I use this as a car toy only and it would keep her entertained for 30 minutes at a time in the car! Another favorite was this very small activity cube. I liked it because it was really small but had a lot on it to keep her occupied. Things like this that were smaller I only let her play with when I was watching her (so not in the car, but still there were plenty of moments during the trip that she needed to be entertained for).
I also took some of her books and hid them in the PCS closet so that they would be new to her again. And I bought a few new books, mainly books that had flaps and things to touch because they keep her entertained longer. But I also made sure to bring her absolute favorites, again so that she would have some familiarity. One of my favorite books Brave Little Camper, which my friend sent us. It has a button that made forest sounds. She would just press the button over and over and over. These interactive type books were the ones I tended to bring.
Have you heard of Indestructibles? They are books made out of a material that is really difficult to tear and that won’t get messed up by chewing, drooling, etc. They are also super thin! I got about 4 or 5 new ones for her (they are super cheap). They were something new and they don’t take up any space at all.
I also got some new books from Carly, who sells Usborne books. I told her that I wanted books with flaps or other extras and she found a bunch for me. If you need books, I highly recommend contacting her because she knows pretty much every single Usborne kids book and can find something you need.
I also recently splurged on the Lovevery play kits that are so popular. I brought three of the items that came in the 15-18 month play kit. I have to say, they are really spot on with these play kits. M is obsessed with everything she’s gotten. This bug tree thing was the biggest hit of them all.
It probably seems like we brought a lot of toys for her – and we did. But it was worth it. I would have sacrificed my clothing or snack space if I had to, to make sure that she had enough things to keep her entertained on the trip. I put everything in tubs so that they would be easy to store. I also rotated the books and toys every few days.
I don’t let M watch TV right now, but the road trip was pure survival mode and I knew the only way we’d make it in the car was with TV shows. I figured a few hours of TV was far better for her than screaming for a few hours in the car.
I downloaded a ton of TV shows and started letting her watch them as we were getting ready to move to see what she would like. Turns out, she didn’t have the attention span for shows like Sesame Street or Dora just yet, but she absolutely loved shows that were just music, like Cocomelon and Little Baby Bum. So I downloaded as many of those two shows (and a few random ones just in case). I liked having her favorites ready to go. And you better believe I put an extra charger to that tablet in the car.
M isn’t really a huge eater but before our trip, I bought a bunch of new snacks. I let her try all of them to see what she would like. We ended up bringing lots of puffs, teething crackers, and happy baby fiber bars. And I mean LOTS. I gave her wayyyy more snacks than I normally would to keep her happy in the car. Survival mode.
It was important to me to keep as many routines the same as possible. So, we kept our morning and evening routines as similar as possible. We brought the same goodnight books we read every night. We brought the same noise machine that we use at home. Whatever we could keep familiar, we did.
The last thing that we did to prepare M for our road trip was taking a practice trip! We went to a nearby park for two nights for two reasons.
First, Nick wanted to make sure he knew how to set up and take down everything and that he had the right supplies. Second, I wanted to get M used to the trailer before the stress of our big trip. A third benefit to this happened – I was able to figure out what else I needed to buy for the trailer before our big trip. We worked out a bunch of kinks and M loved the trip.
I left that practice run feeling so much less anxious about our big trip, feeling more prepared and like I can do it. And maybe M picked up on my chilling out. Who knows? It was definitely worth it and so much fun.
How do you prep your toddler for things? What are you favorite travel trips and toys?