Anyone who's road-tripped with a car full of toddlers knows that the fight-or-flight instinct is strong. And since you can't exactly abandon ship and run far, far away from your brood on the way to Grandma's house, we humbly offer this list of suggestions, which have seen us through more miles than we can count.
- Stockpile your toy magazines and let them do a little window-shopping. Give them stickers or a marker to earmark their favorites for their next birthday gift.
- Take a set of window markers and a bottle of Windex. Then let them draw, erase and draw again. We especially love these because they wipe off car doors almost as easily as they come off glass, but a word to the wise: Dump a couple in a Tupperware container and hand it to them; otherwise, you'll be diving into the backseat over and over to retrieve the lids and rogue markers.
- Collect all of those magnets at the bottom of your toddler’s toy chest and stick them onto a cookie sheet. When the going gets rough and they start getting restless, pull the cookie sheet out and rock. their. world.
- If you have cloth ceilings, cut out shapes and paste Velcro dots on the back of each shape. They can build and design on the roof of your car to their hearts’ content. If your car's ceiling won't work, these felt sheets will.
- Pack the most epic snack bag ever. It will make your life so much easier if you have some of their favorite snacks on standby.
- Just like any good road trip, a kiddie road trip needs a solid playlist. Create a list of your toddler’s favorite music and be sure to add some of your own tunes in there for sanity-saving purposes. Pack stickers and plenty of scrap paper. We’ve found the bigger the scrap paper is, the harder it is to manage strapped into a car seat. Keep notepads and a Ziploc bag handy.
- Bring extra athletic socks, markers, googly eyes and duct tape. Let them create puppet monsters by decorating a sock on their non-dominant hand.
- Window clings keep kiddos busy for hours in the back seat.
- Make a pipe cleaner chain. For bonus points, create a link for every red car you see or for every cow you pass, or for every time someone says “please” or “thank you.”
- If you have another adult available to drive, climb in the back with them and get silly for 10 minutes. Letting loose in the back seat will lift everyone’s mood.
- Try a kid-friendly podcast. This is especially helpful for families prone to backseat barfing because it keeps their eyes trained out the window while their ears are busy listening to the story.
- Bring your big DUPLO blocks (leave the regular-sized LEGOs at home, unless you want to be picking them up from your floorboard for the next 15 years).
- Toddlers love Band-Aids. Stock up on them for road trip relief when you hit a wall. Nothing makes them quiet down like a doctor’s kit and a sibling’s (or your) arm.
- Print out an easy pictorial scavenger hunt list and let them mark items off as they see them along the way.
- Sing Old MacDonald, but when you run out of farm animals, try singing to the tune of a T. Rex’s roar, a Lightning McQueen engine or any other innovative noise that lights your toddler’s fire.
- Build some excitement around the halfway mark of your trip. Hype this pivotal time in the car and have a mini party when it's arrived.
- Buy this squishy gel doodle board. It is legitimately fun for babies on up and comes with zero pens, markers, stamps or stickers to keep up with.
- When you really need to, break out the iPad with a preloaded movie (or two, or 20). Just don't give it to the kids to hold, or you'll be facing siblicide—or at the very least, non-stop restarting from little hands that have touched the screen on accident. Try a headrest attachment like this to make everyone happy.
- Fidget toys—whether spinners for your older ones or something like this for your smaller passengers—work wonders when road fatigue sets in.
And just a few more tried-and-true tips for toddler trips:
- Keep a bucket in the car for the inevitable bout of motion sickness.
- Don’t stop for a break if everyone’s happy. Save your breaks for when you need to reset.
- Buy a First Aid kit just for your car. You’ll need it way more than you’d ever expect.
- Keep a stash of large Ziploc bags, a roll of toilet paper, a couple of trash bags and a roll of paper towels in the trunk. Leave it all there until they're basically in college.
- A cooler with cold drinks, apple slices and some sandwich fixings will save you almost an hour in mealtime stops at fast-food joints.