HOW TO: Enjoy Car Travel With a Toddler

We just survived 12 hours roundtrip in our car, visiting family this week, and arrived home no worse for wear. As an 18-month-old, Little Miss is more active, more aware and persistently more demanding than her six-month-old predecessor.

We were determined to avoid a friend’s horror story about a two-year-old who screamed for an eight hour car ride, the only quiet coming when the child would periodically pass out from exhaustion. Seriously. Non-stop screaming. For an enjoyable trip, may I suggest two adjustments?

First: Cheat a little by traveling at night. We fed Little Miss
dinner and departed at 5 p.m. She had one snack and fell asleep about 7 p.m. and fussed three times without fully waking. One of those times we were
meandering around curves circumnavigating a lake and we coaxed her back to
sleep by softly singing, "Row, row, row your boat." The rest of the
time we passed the miles by listening to a book on CD. Once at our destination, we erected a
port-a-crib, then moved Miss from the car without her waking, and she
slept soundly until 7 a.m.

For our return drive, we were more radical, in order to arrive home in
time for doctor’s appointment. We awoke at 3:30 a.m., transplanted
Little Miss into her car seat without incident, packed the port-a-crib
and departed at 4 a.m. She slept until five minutes before sunrise, her
usual waking time, about 7 a.m. The remaining three hours were fairly
peaceful. We stopped once to feed and once to stretch our collective
legs. Little Miss screamed each time at the thought of being put back
into her car seat, but quickly settled down.

Even if Little Miss were an angel during daytime rides, we would prefer
night travel. Sitting awake in a car is boring enough for adults, not
to mention kids.

Second: Adopt a healthy parenting style. Play toddler music.
Frequently talk to your child (point out animals and scenery, sing and clap to music, etc.). Have one parent sit in the
backseat if possible (we didn’t, but it really is best). Plan stops based on
the child’s feeding and potty needs. Make stops for the child to get
out of the car seat and move around. In short, have a child-centered
attitude about travel.

Too many parents (I’ve met a few) expect their child to adapt to their way – an adult way – of doing things. Period.

Umm, no. Engage your child. We pay attention to Little Miss and, as a
result, she is usually on her best behavior. The same principle works
for sitting in a restaurant.


2 Responses to “HOW TO: Enjoy Car Travel With a Toddler”

  1. Ed Bacchus says:

    Great suggestions, we travel each year to San Antonio (6 hr trip) and we also bring new car toys to engage Bacchus Jr. We also installed a DVD player in our SUV to help him be entertained. Portable DVD players for cars are getting cheaper and well worth the expense. Plus when Bacchus Jr. is asleep and mom is driving I can watch old Seinfeld episodes with the headphones on…..

    December 21st, 2005 at 11:41 am

  2. KC says:

    Sounds right to me. My brother somehow drove from Montana to NM with little problem by doing a lot of what you say. I was shocked that it worked so well.

    December 26th, 2005 at 9:48 pm