Last week we shared our favorite tricks and tips to travel while working with your current schedule. That post mentioned that a few years ago we had used our Thanksgiving break to visit Switzerland and Spain. In the ten days we were away, we were […]
We are already into November. Can you believe it? Before we know it some significant holidays will be here! There are many holidays that go on during the next three months, and I’m not discounting those, but I’m specifically talking about Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New […]
I’ll admit, survival does sound a bit melodramatic. However, those who have ever road tripped with a toddler know that they can be really good or really bad. Over the last 5 months, we have logged around 80 hours in the car with Rosalie as we have gone on various road trips. I’m happy to say that most of those trips have gone smoothly! And for those trips that haven’t gone well, we’ve learned what not to do. Now, I’m here to share what we’ve picked up with you.
You Know Your Child
First off, let me say that what may work for one kid may not work for the next one (and what works one day for your kid may not work the next day). The information I’m giving you here is to be used as a general guideline that you can take and mold it to your child’s needs. It also may take some experimenting. But, don’t put off going on a road trip because you are worried about how your child will do. Just like anything in life, there is a learning curve, but it’s usually not as bad as you think it is going to be.
With that in mind, do a quick brainstorm to think through what your child likes to do when at home and how you can incorporate that into your car ride. Are there certain toys they gravitate towards? If they are small enough and don’t make a big mess, there isn’t any reason you can’t bring one or two along. Do they like to play outside? If so, use a pit stop at a park as a motivator. Are there any snacks that they only get on a special occasion? They can serve as a great distraction on a road trip. There are numerous ways for you to take the familiar and favorites on the road. So with those in mind, it is time to pack!
Pack for the Worst
What you pack for your child may make or break the trip. Again, melodramatic, but who wants to listen to a toddler screaming in the back seat because they are sick of being in the car (after 30 minutes) and have nothing to distract them? No one wants that. So, let’s brainstorm how to avoid that.
Start with a bag
We purchased a toddler size backpack for Rosalie on her second birthday because we felt it was important that she learned how to pack and carry her own stuff. We have found she is excited and eager to wear her backpack because it has her favorite things in it. It also makes her feel grown up. Given, there are times when she decides she’s had enough or when the bag gets a little too heavy. And that’s ok. It’s more about teaching her early about how to help out when we travel.
Here is what we have discovered, if I give Rosalie a little say in what she wants to bring, she is then able to ask for what she wants in the car. A favorite book? Definitely! Her cuddle buddy Teddy? Yes, please. Her giant marble run toy? Not going to happen. Remember, your kid is going to be carrying their bag, so you can explain and let them experience that what they are bringing doesn’t fit or is too heavy. Usually that helps you win the argument.
From there I pack some of our go to items. We love our Water Wow books, which keep Rosalie entertained for hours because she feels like she is painting, but is mess free! There are various kinds of magnet boards that gives some imaginative play while the parts stay hooked together. Stickers of any sort can keep Rosalie entertained for a long time, and sticker books for even longer. We also love coloring books and crayons because they are inexpensive and easy to find in whatever your kid is interested in.
I am also a fan of the dollar aisle, specifically at Target. Each time I go, I walk through to see if there is anything that pops out at me. I tend to gravitate towards the educational section. For instance, on one visit, I picked up a deck of animal flashcards, which I knew Rosalie would love, because she enjoys learning about animals. Wanting to avoid the mess of having 60 cards being thrown around my car, I punched a hole in the top of each one, and inserted a binder ring. Now Rosalie has a flip book of cute creatures. It’s all about being creative with what you already have, and finding simple ways to make time passing activities.
After entertainment, I think snacks is the next on our importance list. No one, I repeat, no one enjoys dealing with a hangry toddler. We always make sure to have ample amounts of snackage on hand. Again, this is where you know your kid’s preferences and can plan accordingly. For drinks, we put water in a water bottle and milk in a 360 sippy cup, which are both are leak proof in case they get launched during a grumpy moment. The milk is kept in the cooler with the rest of our food, and brought out when we reach our destination and serves as motivation (for reasons that will be explained below). I also like to keep a container with some sort of all fruit/veg smoothie in our cooler for pit stops. Because, let’s face it, road tripping doesn’t always have the healthiest of food options and it’s nice to have something with good vitamins.
When on the road, we are all about simple snacking. I fill up Rosalie’s snack catcher cups with some sort of crunchy snack; goldfish crackers, cereal, teddy grahams, or veggie straws. These are kept in my arms reach so they can be handed back when needed. Some other road trip favorites also include applesauce pouches, bananas, Larabars, crasins or raisins, and fruit leather. When we are really in need of a distraction, we pull out something sweeter; fruit snacks, dum dums, or smarties.
Keep it Clean
To go along with snacking, stopping to eat, or any messes for that matter, I have found that it is essential for us to have hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes, and baby wipes tucked right next to Rosalie’s carseat. I’m sure you can guess why. We also are huge fans of our silicone place mat and foldable silicone bib. They get folded together in the pocket of the bib and are brought out when we go out to eat, picnic, as well as using them to avoid extra messes while snacking in the car. Our favorite part? They clean up with a wipe and are ready for the next meal.
Wear Them Out
There are few things more annoying for a toddler than being stuck in one place when they have a lot of energy. I get it. I feel the same way. So before you leave, take care of that problem by wearing them out! I like to take Rosie on a long walk, go swimming, or a playground. Or even just keep her up an hour or two passed her usual nap time. This is all with the hope that she will be worn out enough to sleep when we finally get going.
With that in mind, we also try to schedule our driving to be around the time when Rosalie naps. If she is able to sleep through two to three hours of the drive, it is a much more enjoyable experience for everyone. And gives Kyle and I a chance to talk, listen to podcasts or audio books, or to also catch some zzz’s.
Since Rosalie was born, she has loved music. At a day old, we played The Piano Guys for her, and she calmed down to listen. To this day, when she has a hard time settling down to go to sleep, we sing with her. She LOVES music, which makes it a great tool for us to distract her in the car.
This summer I started creating a playlist for her on my phone with all of her favorite songs. One day when she was having a rough time, I handed her my phone and let her choose what she wanted to listen to. It worked like a charm. She spent the next HOUR happily being the DJ for our car ride.
I’m not going to lie, we have listened to Moana and Trolls soundtracks so much that Kyle and I know all the words and have started making up our own. And sometimes I think that if I hear the ABC’s or If You’re Happy and You Know It one more time I might scream. But… as long as it isn’t Rosalie screaming, I’ll deal with it.
Make Your Own Music
Another alternative is to make your own music! There are many children’s songs that include actions, which help to get those little bodies moving a bit. Rosalie’s favorites are: Do as I’m Doing, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree, The Wheels on the Bus Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and Five Little Monkey’s Swinging in a Tree. This last trip, I pulled out egg shakers from my dance teacher bag and brought some along. They added at least an extra 15 minutes of entertainment, which is a lot from a toddler’s attention span.
Tablets for the Win
I can remember my parents strapping a full sized TV with a DVD player onto the center console of our Suburban in an attempt to give the five of us kids something to entertain us during road trips. Thank goodness there is now a brilliant invention which can give that entertainment, and more, but in a fraction of the space (and weight). I try to have a couple movies on our family iPad for Rosalie. If I know we are going on a particularly long trip, I will try to surprise her with a show she likes, but we may not own yet. These can be purchased from the iTunes store, but it is also possible to download shows off of Netflix so they can be watched when away from WiFi.
Because tablets can do so much more than just play movies, I also add on some apps. I prefer apps that are not obnoxiously noisy, but are interactive and fun for Rosalie. Rosalie is really into learning about animals so she loves the Peekaboo series (Wild, Forest, and Barn) and Peek-a-Zoo Underwater. Most have a trial app, but require a purchase to use the full version. We tried all of these out with the free version first, and loved them enough to upgrade.
When we were kids, Kyle and I would both get horribly carsick. Unfortunately, Rosalie takes after her parents. We have already mentioned here that Dramamine is our saving grace in particularly winding roads. About a half an hour before we leave, we give half a tablet to her with a few smarties to disguise it. It has worked like a charm. Just in case, we always have several plastic cups in the car because I’ve used my hands too many times. Oh the things we do for our kids…
In our Road Trip to the Great Smoky Mountains video, you probably saw that despite Rosalie having taken Dramamine, she still got carsick. Allow me to explain why, because it may help if you are having a similar problem. Rosie has a hard time keeping dairy products down if she has them right before getting in the car. So we have to carefully plan our meals before and during a drive. It took a while to figure this out. During last summer’s travels there were four separate trips where Rosalie threw up all over herself and her car seat. By the fourth one, I was trying to find something that connected all of them and realized that her morning milk, or breakfast of yogurt did not play well with car rides. Once we figured that out, our rides went much smoother. However, on our road trip, we thought since it was only a twenty minute drive she would be ok to have cereal at breakfast. Now we know, even a short winding driving can cause problems.
Planned (and Unplanned) Breaks
After all the distracting and pacifying, it is important to take breaks from the car. We know that Rosalie can make it about three or four hours before she needs a good stretch. So we try to plan our meals, gas stops, and bathroom breaks around her. Before we leave, we have already looked at a map and decided that we will try to make it to a certain location before we have to stop. Sometimes it is a park with a playground, or a short hike, but most of the time it’s a rest stop or a gas station. When we arrive, we will pull her out of the car seat and get moving. We play games, jump, have a dance party, or race. Anything that will get her body (and ours) moving is good.
But sometimes plans don’t work out. If you are to the point in your drive where a break is necessary, don’t force your plan. It’s not going to make anyone happy. Look for a fast food place with a playground. A nearby park. A scenic overlook. A nature walk. Anything that will act as a distraction from what is happening in the car. It’s amazing what 10 minutes out of the car can do.
Be Strategic and Patient
I think it’s pretty obvious that with any of the things I’ve listed, it’s important to be strategic with what you do. Unfortunately (and fortunately), your child still has their own personality and ability to react how they want, despite all of your preparation. That said, I love the quote, “Luck favors the prepared.” from The Incredibles. So, prepare as much as you can, plan, and be strategic and hopefully that will bring you success. But when none of your tricks seem to be working, just be patient. Remember that it is hard for a child to be stuck in one place, in one position for too long. Take a deep breath. come up with a new plan, and think to yourself… You got this!
One of our favorite things to explore are National Parks. When we move to a new location or start researching a trip, one of the first things we do is to check out what National Parks are nearby. Upon moving to Indiana, we knew we […]
Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, Island Park, Idaho is the perfect escape from the wear of everyday life. Every time I have been there, our time is composed of two things; relaxing and playing. And maybe eating our favorite comfort foods. This is a place […]
This summer my younger sister got married, which took our little family on a trip out to Utah to celebrate her marriage. Kyle stuck around for the wedding, but then had to return to his internship in Cincinnati, Ohio. Luckily, all of my work could be done from afar, so Rosalie and I got to stay a little longer. Since family time doesn’t come around often enough, my parents suggested we take a trip up to Island Park, Idaho so that we could really soak up that special time together.
Over the next week, we took plenty of time to relax, but also a good amount of time to play! After all, that is what you do in Island Park. There was a golf tournament, floating the river, 4-wheeling, trips into Yellowstone National Park, and so much more. Check out our favorite summer to dos around Island Park in our highlight video!
Stay tuned for details about where to stay, rental places, and other details from our trip. Have you been to Island Park? Let us know your favorite things to do there!
Last week we shared our highlight video from our trip to the Oregon Coast. Since we are all about inspiring AND helping you for your own adventures, below you will find details to make planning your trip to the Oregon Coast a little easier. Where […]
Last week we posted our highlight video from our recent backpacking trip to Soldier Lakes in Central Idaho. In the video we shared some of our simple tips on how to make a backpacking adventure with a toddler go smoothly. I’ll admit, I was a little apprehensive when my husband suggested a ten miles over three days trip. Even though we have gone camping with her a number of times, there are always so many unknowns or what ifs when going off the grid. Looking back now, I shouldn’t have worried. Rosalie had the time of her life, and still talks about the fish she caught and sleeping in a “fort”.
Lesson learned, my toddler is much more capable than I give her credit. I think this is the case for most toddlers, and kids in general. We won’t be able to know what they are capable of, unless we give them a chance to prove it to us. Yes, they may cry and say they want to stop. But we do that sometimes, too. Give them (and us) some motivation and encouragement, and off they go. All that said, it’s still nice to have bag of tips and tricks to help out when planning and in those frustrating moments.
Research your Destination
If this is your first time going out into the wilderness with your toddler, first think about how well they do in the car. If they have a hard time sitting in a car seat, it may be nice to go somewhere nearby. A short drive there and back will help with keeping a toddler happy. If a your child does well with longer car rides, your options of where to go are more plentiful.
Take note of the kind of trail you will be on and what that implies. How long is the trail? Going on a trail that is going to push you, may not be the best for little legs. Stick to a length that is challenging, but will still make for a good experience for the first timer. Five miles in, five miles out, with a relaxing day in the middle was a good plan for our family, but may not be for others. Another question you may ask, does the trail go along a canyon drop off or is there something else that concerns you? If so, it probably isn’t a good idea to take a toddler on a trail like that anyway. Save that one for later.
Stay updated on trail conditions. This is where we slightly erred. We chose a backpack that Kyle’s family had done several times when he was younger; the Soldier Lakes in the Frank Church Wilderness in Central Idaho. It had been about five years since his family had been there. Between then and this summer, there had been a large wildfire that wound its way through portions of the hike. Our destination lakes were untouched, but we did end up driving and hiking through a lot of burned timber. Also, check weather conditions during the week before you go. There’s nothing like getting soaking wet when you only have whatever you have on your back. Not to mention a crying toddler.
Invest in a Good Pack
This is one of those decisions that could make or break your trip (and this doesn’t just apply to the backpack carrying your toddler). If you are wearing something that hurts the minute you put it on, then that’s just asking to be grumpy. We searched far and wide before purchasing the Osprey Poco AG Premium Child Carrier and have nothing but good things to say about it. It offers a comfortable and shaded seat for your toddler, a ventilated back for you, and the most storage space we’ve seen in a child carrier, among many other great features. It is on the expensive end of child carrying packs, but for us it was worth the investment since we will be using it for years to come.
Looking for a good pack but want to save? Many outdoor retailers will do end of year or blowout sales once or twice a year. Do your research on what you’d like to purchase, wait patiently, then snatch it up on the first day of the sale. It worked for us with this pack!
Now that you have your pack, you need to fill it strategically. Even if you have a child carrier pack with a comparatively larger amount of space, it’s still less than a normal backpacking pack. Thankfully, Kyle was able to haul a good majority of our gear (thank goodness for a strong husband). The rest was spread to my father-in-law and brother-in-law, who joined us.
Here are the backpacking essentials that we were able to bring along:
- Backpacking tent
- Sleeping bags and pads (for Kyle and I)
- Rope (used to tie up food bag at night or when away from camp)
- Bug spray (we actually forgot this… Thankfully, my father-in-law had some to share)
- Lantern (we love these inflatable solar powered ones)
- Deck of cards
- Dishes (plates, cups, bowls)
- Biodegradable dish soap
- Backpacking pot and frying pan
- Portable camp stove and fuel
- Hydration bladder for each person
- Backpacking towels
- Lightweight clothes
- Rain jackets
- Wool socks
- Scentless toiletries
- First Aid Kit
- Lightweight food
- Spices container
For Rosalie, we packed the following:
- Packable down blanket (like this one), aka her sleeping “bag”
- Jacket with a hood
- Long pants/shirts
- Teddy bear
It may look like a lot of stuff, but we were able to get almost all of it in the storage space of my/Rosalie’s pack and Kyle’s pack. Some of the food and cooking supplies were carried by my in-laws, but we could have planned our meals to be smaller and lighter if needed to fit into our packs.
Don’t Leave Teddy
Almost every toddler I know has some sort of comfort item; a blanket, a stuffed animal, a toy car. For Rosie, it’s her little teddy bear. He saved us on multiple occasions as Rosalie’s cuddle buddy as she fell asleep and acting as a pillow in the backpack when she fell asleep (can you see his little foot popping out in the shot of Rosie snoozing?). He also played an exciting puppeted game of peek-a-boo with her when we were in the final half mile to our destination, and she wanted out. He only took up little room as he sat in one of the exterior pockets of our pack, which despite already being packed to the max, made it completely worth it to bring him along.
Bring Friends or Family
Kyle’s dad and brother were kind enough to join us for our experimental toddler trip. I’ve already mentioned that they helped carry some of the things we couldn’t, but more than that, we enjoyed their company. Rosalie loved having her grandpa and uncle to play with, and we enjoyed talking with them as we hiked. The men also got some good male bonding time over fishing while I attempted to get Rosalie to take a nap (which was unsuccessful, but helped her sleep that night because she was so tired).
I’ve already mentioned that some of these tips are not necessarily things that we did, but come from what we didn’t do. Because we had returned from another trip the night before, and had a much longer drive than expected due to a under maintained road, we started hiking in the late afternoon. We were still able to make it to camp before dark, because of our brisk pace. However, I think we would have enjoyed the hike more if we had been able to “stop and smell the roses”.
On that same note, little legs need a slower pace. They also need breaks more often. Thankfully, we still had enough sunlight to let Rosalie walk as far as she was able. But, it helps to put a mind at rest when there is ample time.
One thing that I am trying to teach my daughter is to do things that are difficult. I think that the satisfaction of accomplishing a hard task is so crucial for kids to experience and develop. Even at her young age, I encourage Rosalie to keep trying, get back up again, and do her best even when it is hard. That is one thing I especially love about hiking; getting to the destination can be long and difficult. Yet, in the end, the elation felt from making it through the challenge far outweighs the tiredness from pushing yourself.
That being said, it is important to encourage your child to do the best they can, but you also need to know their limitations. Kyle and I had been planning this trip for quite some time before it actually happened. This gave us some “training” time. I took Rosalie on a hike almost every week during the two months before the hike. She hiked as much as she could, and then rode the the backpack the rest of the time. Had we not done that training, I don’t think she would have been quite as happy during our adventure. Be aware of what your child can and can’t do, and plan accordingly.
Bring Lots of Snacks
If you were to look through the different pockets in the waistband of my pack, you would find an assortment of snacks; trail mix, fruit snacks, Crasins, fruit leather, Goldfish, and M&M’s. Distraction is a parent’s favorite tool. These were our to “stay in the pack a little longer”, and “if you hike to the top of the next hill” motivators. On another note, little bodies working hard get hungry. It was nice to have those snacks in an easily accessible area for quick refueling.
On the same train of thought, having a hydration bladder in the same backpack as the child was incredibly helpful. Much of the time, I kept the straw and mouthpiece in an area where Rosalie could reach and help herself to a drink. We didn’t have to stop to get a drink, and Rosalie stayed hydrated.
Let Them Get Dirty
I don’t have much to say about this one, except it’s going to happen anyway. Don’t fight it. Bring some antibacterial wipes/gel, some extra diaper wipes, and a fresh pair of clothes for each day. Then let them lose to enjoy getting dirty like they can’t get at home.
Pack it in, pack it out. This saying applies to everything in your pack, including diapers. We packed a gallon sized ziplock bag and slipped the soiled diapers in that. That helped control the smell quite a bit. If you’re willing to take it to the next level, you can also consider the dig a hole method. Just as you have to dig a hole to get rid of your waste, you can do the same with your child’s bowel movement and then pack out the rest of the diaper. It does take off some of the weight… Also, remember to string up the dirty diapers with your food bag (separately, for sanitary reasons), during the night or when you are away from camp.
Last but not least, my favorite tip! Don’t do everything for your child, let them help you by doing a job around camp. I had Rosalie help me set up the tent, blow up air mattresses, and un-stuff sleeping bags. She also helped to collect firewood, which she really enjoyed. We would go searching for the best sticks, which she would bring back with a big, accomplished smile on her face. Other jobs included pumping water and helping make meals. Honestly, I think she enjoyed helping me more while camping, than she does at home.
Whew! If you have made it to this point, I hope that these tips will help as you prepare for your next adventure. it really is well worth the effort to give your toddler the experience of doing something new, challenging, and the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors! Best of luck with your adventures. Let us know in the comments if these worked on your toddler’s backpack trip or if you have any tips or tricks that have worked for you.
When Kyle and I first started dating, we quickly realized our mutual love of the outdoors. We had both grown up hiking, camping, and backpacking, and it didn’t take much of a discussion to determine that we were going to raise our family in the […]