How to: Travel with a Toddler and Keep Your Sanity

In a period of 16 days, we’ve been on a tour of the Southeast. We stopped by Atlanta on our way to Panama City Beach. We were in Florida for a week and then made the 12 hour trek to Emerald Isle, NC for 5 days. We came home for less than 24 hours before heading to Pigeon Forge, TN for the weekend.

David and I have roadtripped many times and we really enjoy it. (Except for that one time I was severely nauseous, barely pregnant, would only eat KFC mashed potatoes, and made David drive the whole time. But other than that one time, we have fun.) We get to daydream and laugh and … somehow the vibes just seem different than when we’re sitting on our sofas at home. But when you throw a 19-month-old into the mix and things change just a little 😉


For about a month or so before we left, I started brainstorming some toys that Ari would be able to play with in the car. Here’s what we came up with.

  1. Magna Doodle. This was my first idea because she had played with one at a few friends’ houses but we didn’t have one. I knew it’d be perfect for the trip and it didn’t disappoint.
  2. Simon. I remember having a Simon when I was a kid and when I saw a small version (a little larger than key-chain size), I knew it was coming home with me. She liked the buttons and how they lit up, but only for a minute or two at a time. She didn’t like this one as much as I thought she would.
  3. Water WOW! This Melissa and Doug toy came from a little specialty boutique when I was looking for a birthday present for a friend, but turned out to be a big hit. She loved coloring with the pen but she’s also really into opening and closing things so she loved to take the pen out and then put it back in and close the door… thingy.
  4. Stickers. I went to the Dollar Tree and bought probably 8 pages of stickers. She loves taking them off of the paper and putting them on her arms and legs. Out of everything I bought, this kept her happiest for the longest period of time. They were a huge hit! And then after covering her arms and legs, she’d take them off. Stickers probably kept her busy for 20-30 minutes at a time.
  5. Books. A few weeks before we went, I hid a few of her books so that she wasn’t reading them all the time. Then when I pulled them out in the car, there was a new level of excitement! I tried to bring books that had an interactive quality to them — one has huge owl eyes cut out and she likes to point to her own eyes and my eyes (and Dada’s eyes, and Copper’s eyes…) the whole time. Another book has a little finger-puppet dolphin and she likes that one too. I think hiding them and pulling them back out was a key to the success with the books.
  6. Videos. I was planning to let her watch a few videos and I even found a friend to make a little case so that the iPad could hang around the headrest. It’s perfect and I was so excited to use it. I had a hunch that Ari was carsick before all this roadtripping started and then when we made our first stop and she threw up everywhere, we made a guess that it was due to the motion sickness and decided against letting her watch anything for any of our remaining trips. (We didn’t have any more vomiting issues, thank goodness!)

In addition to the toys, we had a few strategies that were priceless.

  1. Food. We had animal crackers and veggie straws within reach at all times. She may or may not have lived off of them for a couple days here and there.
  2. Backseat rider. I think this saved our sanity so many times on the roadtrip. As much as the toys were a hit, in true toddler fashion, they were a hit for about 16 seconds at a time. So we had lots of transitions and it was great that one of us was back there with her. We would take turns driving and being on Ari-duty. (Driving was the easier task.)
  3. Stop to eat meals. When it’s just us, David and I would grab something from the drive-thru but with Ari in tow, we wanted her to be able to get out and stretch her legs. I think it was good for all of us to have a little change of scenery and for her to get a break from her carseat.

Ari did so well and the memories we made at each stop were priceless. I’m so glad we were able to go and not pull our hair out in the process. Now, don’t get me wrong — there were moments of freaking out or not sleeping when we thought she would, but in the big picture, those moments were fleeting.

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