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Road Trips with Toddlers

The Dos and Don'ts of Road Trips with Toddlers

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11. Don't Panic if Your Toddler is Crying

When your toddler starts to get weary of the ride and the tears start -- and they will -- the best thing to do is make a pit stop. If you're nowhere near a rest stop or other appropriate area, do what you can to calm and reassure your toddler, but remember to stay focused on the road. Driving is your priority and if you become too distracted with trying to soothe your child, it could have dangerous consequences. Remember that even though your child is crying, and maybe quite loudly so, he's safe in his seat and no harm will come to him by waiting a few minutes until you can pull off the road and take a break. Try singing songs, playing soothing music on the radio, calling attention to things outside or offering a drink or snack to distract.

12. Do Split Up the Trip and Take Plenty of Breaks

When you're planning a trip on paper, it can make perfect sense to minimize the time you spend in the car and speed right to your destination. This stops making sense after you've been on the road for about five hours. It will seem like you had some kind of death wish around hour nine. Save the long road trips for the day when your child is older. As long as you've got a toddler in tow, spread a trip over several days. Choose cities on your route that have lodging and things to do during the day. Better yet, lodge in one city, wake up and travel for a few hours, then plan a stop along the way in a city with things to do, even if it's just a museum and lunch. Each break you take leads to a more peaceful time on the road. Take plenty of them.

13. Don't Try to Drive Too Much at Night

Along the same lines as trying to drive straight through to your destination, you've probably heard it's a great idea to wait until your child's bedtime and then drive while your child is sleeping. This is not a problem if your trip is only a few hours and you'll be turning in at a decent hour. If you plan on reaching your destination much after your normal bedtime or beyond the few hours of energy that a venti mocha might afford, don't bother. You can actually be putting your life in danger by driving drowsy. It can be just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Consider, too, that you'll be worthless the next day without enough sleep (while your well-rested toddler will be raring to go) and that's no way to start a great vacation.

14. Do Make Sure You Have a Full Tank of Gas and a Full Stomach at Nap Time

I've found time and time again that topping off the tank, having a hearty lunch and heading out while my toddler was almost ready for a nap always gave me the most drive time. I would usually get a good hour while my toddler was satiated and then a couple more (at least) calm hours as my child slept. By the time he'd wake, we'd both be ready for a stop to fill up the tank again and take in a stretch and a snack. This is true not just on road trips, but on errand runs that don't require you to get out of the car or trips to a relative's house not too far away. Be sure you've got the potty situation under control to minimize possible awakening: Equip your toddler with a fresh diaper or if potty trained, make sure she's gone to the bathroom.

15. Do Prepare for Potty Emergencies

I can't say enough about keeping a complete arsenal of potty supplies at your disposal. You just never know when you're going to have to take a detour or have to spend some time waiting for a tow. If your child isn't potty trained, keep plenty of diapers, wipes and a changing pad close at hand. If your child is transitioning into potty training, consider using disposable training pants just for the trip even if your child normally wears underwear since there are no great solutions to a soiled car seat on the road. Even if you feel your child is completely potty trained, you might find yourself nowhere near a bathroom. Consider bringing a travel potty or emergency disposable training pants for situations like this.

16. Do Make Sure You've Got Plenty of Snacks and Water

You'll want to make sure to keep enough water with you to cover drinks for both of you in an emergency situation and a little extra to help with things like cleaning up accidental messes. An excess of snack items (and plenty for you, too, not just your toddler) is never a bad thing to have since even just a few bites of cereal or fruit can provide just the thing to dry up toddler tears and keep low blood sugar from making everyone crabby. Good picks include soft fruit, cereal and crackers. Avoid giving too much juice and opt for water instead to avoid sticky spills and too much sugar. Carrying a small ice chest on board will extend your snack options to items like yogurt, cheese and meats.

17. Do Keep Plenty of Wipes, Tissue and Paper Towels Handy

It might seem like this goes without saying, but I can't tell you how many times I've overlooked throwing these items in the car. Of course it would never dawn on me until my toddler would sneeze and have a half-mile-long river of snot hanging over his mouth and down his chin. Unless, of course, the lid of the sunscreen bottle decided to come off and the entire contents spilled out onto the back seat. It dawned on me then as well, come to think of it. There was also the time my toddler chewed on his cuticle and I looked in the rear view mirror to find his entire face and neck covered with blood while he laughed. Disturbing. Cuticles can really bleed. Moral of the story: Let there be no shortage of cleaning materials on your trip.
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