10 Must-Haves for a Road Trip with a Toddler

Roadtrip Essentials - Toddler

This past 4th of July weekend, we drove to Philadelphia to visit my sister and her family. This was our first major road trip with Tommy since our cross-country move from CA to NC when he was 4 months old. Road trips with an infant are no easy feat, but I was even more worried about attempting a long drive with a two-year-old. When T was an infant, we had to pull over often to nurse him and change his diaper, there were multiple changes of clothes for all of us, and we cleaned up a lot of messes that came out of both ends of the baby. But, he also slept more than he was awake, and while he was awake, he was content smiling at his reflection in the car seat mirror, sucking on a pacifier, or playing pat-a-cake with me. With a two-year-old, I faced the possibility of him throwing a tantrum through 5 different states and refusing to sleep for one minute of the 7 hour drive.

Luckily, we came prepared and the drive to Pennsylvania was a success… besides T shouting “I’m stuck!!” a few times at the top of his lungs (toddler translation: “Get me out of this car seat, now!”) and some serious screaming when he was jolted awake when Daddy had to brake suddenly while navigating some awful traffic (which added an extra couple hours to the drive). We drove home in the evening to avoid traffic, and Tommy actually stayed awake (and happy!) until 12:30 AM, which was amazing because then he slept in when we got home around 1:30 AM (so we could sleep in, too)!

For the details of how we survived our road trip with a 2-year-old, read on below for my list of 10 must-haves for a road trip with a toddler:

Roadtrip Essentials with numbers - Toddler

1. Laundry Basket: A small round laundry basket is the absolute best way to store items that I will need easy access to throughout the drive. Not only is it easy to transport, but it also allows me see all of the contents of the basket without having to dig to see the items at the bottom of the bin. We picked one up for $1 at Dollar Tree and packed it full of snacks and activities for the drive.

2. 13 x 9 in Cake Pan: Bringing a rectangular cake pan along for the road trip is a total game changer! It is the perfect size to serve as a little lap activity tray in the car seat, and the raised sides keep items from falling onto the car floor and getting lost under the seats.

Some of the items we brought to use in our cake pan/activity tray:

  • Toy cars & trains– I drew a little map with a road and train tracks and placed it in the bottom of the cake pan. Tommy LOVED it!

cars

  • Stickers, markers, crayons, & paper: The raised edges of the pan keep the art supplies from rolling onto the floor. Stickers keep a toddler’s attention for a long time, as they can be stuck not only to paper, but also to arms, clothing, and foreheads.
  • Play dough & tools: I rolled out some play dough in the bottom of the pan and threw in some cookie cutters and plastic utensils for easy entertainment!

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  • Building blocks: I brought along a small bag of LEGO® DUPLO® blocks and tossed them into the cake pan. T had fun building structures, and since the blocks click together, we didn’t have to worry about the block towers spilling all over the place when Daddy put on the brakes.
  • Puzzles: I brought along a small $1 foam alphabet puzzle from Dollar Tree. The cake pan gave him a flat surface to lay out the pieces and complete the puzzle while keeping it all neatly contained.

3. Sound Books: Books with sound buttons kept T entertained without me having to sit in the back seat and read to him. He had fun playing the songs in his Thomas the Train sound book, and we could turn on the radio in the front of the car so we didn’t have to listen to it.

4. Convertible car seat with a cup holder: Tommy quickly goes into a panic if he doesn’t have his sippy cup on hand the very moment he gets thirsty. A car seat with a cup holder ensures that he will have his drink close at hand when he needs it and it won’t roll onto the floor and under the seat. Tommy loves his Evenflo Symphony LX All-in-One Car Seat. Not only does it have two built-in cup holders, but it is super cozy with cushioning by the head perfect for dozing. The cover is also removable and machine washable, which makes it easy to keep clean.

He always uses a sippy cup with a straw and a lid that screws on to minimize the risk of spills in the car.

5. Snacks: Perhaps the most important thing to pack for a road trip is the snack bag!

Some good road trip snacks for toddlers:

  • Fruit snacks
  • Clif Kid Z Bars
  • Raw veggies- baby carrots, mini cucumbers & celery sticks (if your toddler will eat them)
  • Veggie straws
  • Fruit/veggie squeeze pouches
  • Pretzels
  • String cheese

Snacks to avoid in the car:

  • Crumbly crackers & cookies
  • Snacks with itty-bitty pieces (puffs, cereal)
  • Fruit that will mush (bananas, peaches, pears)
  • Fruit that will drip & stain (watermelon, oranges, berries)
  • Gum and sticky candies
  • Snacks covered in orange cheese powder (Cheetos, Doritos, cheese puffs)

Also, the cake pan came in handy as a serving tray for snacks throughout the drive!

6. Bib with a pocket: When it’s time to eat, I throw a bib my little road trip buddy! I love the silicone bibs by Ulubulu– there is a big pocket to catch falling crumbs and drips, and then I can easily wipe it clean when he’s done eating.

7. Garbage bags: I always keep a few tall kitchen bags rolled up in the back seat pocket. Besides the obvious use to hold food wrappers, wet diapers, and tissues, you can fold a garbage bag in half and lay it across your lap as a makeshift place mat. It can also save the upholstery to contain a mess in the instance that somebody gets carsick.

8. Smartphone with a data plan: This is a must-have for the grown-ups in the car! There are so many helpful apps out there that make the trip easier for everyone:

  • For navigation, Waze helps us anticipate traffic jams and accidents (and suggests alternate routes), as well as alerting us to upcoming stoplight cameras and police cars to help avoid tickets.
  • If we need to find a nearby place to stop to eat, the Yelp mobile app helps us find a restaurant that fits our budget and taste.
  • I use Road Ninja to find upcoming gas stations, fast food, and rest stops.
  • If we need to stop over somewhere for the night during a long drive, we use the Hotwire app to find a great deal on a hotel and book it right from my phone.

One of the very best uses for a data-enabled smartphone is the ability to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot. The iPad that Tommy uses is Wi-Fi only, but his tech-savvy Daddy taught me how to set up a hotspot to connect the tablet to my iPhone’s data plan. T having internet access in the back seat meant that he could watch endless kid-friendly videos using apps like PBS Kids and YouTube Kids so I didn’t have to fork over $20 for a single season of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

9. Tablet: In addition to movies, music, and e-books, my iPad is set with two screens full of apps just for Tommy that can keep him entertained for hours! For a full description of Tommy’s favorite apps (for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch) check out our Favorite Art, Shapes, and Colors Apps for Toddlers, our Favorite ABCs & 123s Apps for Toddlers, our Favorite Puzzle and Sorting Apps for Toddlers, and our Favorite Games & Video Apps for Toddlers.

10. Bedtime Items: So that Tommy had less of a chance of skipping naptime during the drive, I moved all of his comfort items out of his crib and into the back seat of the car. When it was time for him to sleep, I tucked him in with his favorite blanket, his little stuffed Elmo, and his “pup pup” lovey blanket that he always sleeps with in his crib. A small pillow is also helpful to prop up the drooping head.

Some other ways that I survive road trips with a toddler:

  • I keep wipes, diapers, a changing pad and a change of clothes in the back seat pocket directly in front of Tommy’s car seat for easy access.
  • I dress him in comfortable, easy-to-remove clothes and shoes. Pants with an elastic waist and no buckles or zippers are best for quick diaper changes, and slip-on shoes allow him to remove them himself and slide them back on easily when needed. I like to have him wear something that is cozy enough to sleep in, so that I can easily transfer him right to bed if he is asleep when we arrive at our destination.
  • I keep hand sanitizer in the center console at all times! Gas stations and rest stops are full of germs- I try to remember to use hand sanitizer on the whole family before returning to the car and digging our hands back into the tube of Pringles.
  • When he gets restless in the car, I move to the back seat and keep him company. He likes to talk about what he sees out the window (“blue car,” “big tree,” “airplane”), sing songs with hand motions (“Wheels on the Bus,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider”), and to have me read books to him.
  • If time allows, we try to stop at kid-friendly spots to stretch instead of just gas stations and restaurants. After being confined to a car seat for hours, moving straight into a high chair at a restaurant is not fun for the little guy. He is thrilled if we let him burn off some energy by running around a park while we eat lunch at a picnic bench instead. A plus if there is a scenic spot for a photo-op, like this park we found just minutes off the freeway in Richmond, VA.

11403400_1690763834488884_107700619930078715_nDo you do a lot of long-distance driving with little ones? What are your must-haves and tips for the road? Share in the comments!

And if you have any air travel plans coming up with little ones, check out our 10 Must-Haves for Flying with a One-Year-Old.

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Countdown Calendar for Out-of-Town Parents

My husband travels quite a bit for business, but it’s usually only one or two nights once or twice a month. This past week, though, Dada went away on a week-long “man trip” to hike and mountain bike in Utah, and I was worried about how  little Tommy (23 months old) would handle it. He LOVES his time with his daddy and has certain routines that revolve around their time together, so I knew that 7 nights with just mommy would be a challenge. T will ask for Dada every night when he expects him to come home from work and then again in the morning when my husband routinely gets him out of his crib and changes his diaper while I slowly drag myself out of bed.

In an effort to help T understand that Dada was going on a trip, I brought him to the airport with me to say goodbye and send him off. I explained to him that Daddy was going on an airplane and would be home in seven days. He said his goodbyes and seemed okay with it, and I realized that he did understand that Daddy was traveling when we were out later that day and he kept pointing at airplanes in the sky and saying “Dada! Dada!”

But when we were at home later that night, he started looking around the house for Daddy and getting upset. I knew that there had to be a better way to help him understand that Dada would not be home for a few more days, but that he would indeed come home eventually. So, I decided to make a little countdown calendar.

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I just drew a simple calendar with the days of the week from the day Daddy left to the day that he would return (Monday through Monday). Then, rather than listing the actual date, we counted down the number of nights left until he would return. On the final day, we pasted a picture of Daddy. Then, each morning when T woke up, we would go to the calendar and put an X through the previous day. Any time during the day that Tommy asked for Dada, I would take him to the calendar and point to the number and ask him “How many more nights until Dada comes home?” and he could look at the calender and tell me.

After the second night with the countdown calendar, he understood what was going on and stopped looking for Dada at bedtime and in the morning, and instead would tell me “Dada airplane” or “Dada bye bye” or “See you soon Dada.” It made him excited to see the days getting crossed off and was a great visual to help him comprehend that each day that passed was getting closer to the day when he would get to see his daddy again. On the final day, he kept shouting “One day Dada home!” to all of our friends and neighbors.

We will definitely be doing this from now when my husband goes out of town, and it would also be a great idea if we ever get a chance to go on a getaway together and have to leave him overnight with a babysitter or relative. It could work, too, for a little one with a sibling going away for summer camp, or even to look forward to an event, like a countdown starting the week before grandma comes to visit or a birthday countdown.

Do your little ones have a hard time when a parent goes out of town? What are some tips that help you pass the days? Share in the comments!

Nature Walk & Flashcards for Toddlers

Photo Scavenger Hunt Nature WalkAs I have mentioned before, my little man gets very irritable when we spend a lot of time inside the house. As spring is arriving here in NC, Tommy and I have enjoyed spending more time outdoors. We are lucky to live very close to a beautiful lake with walking trails all around. Nature walks are our very favorite activity to do together and are our guaranteed way to turn around a bad mood… his or mine! It is amazing how a little fresh air and wide open space can instantly relieve stress and calm restlessness.

Last week, I decided to try something new during our walk. I usually have a goal in mind- make it to the park by 10, or finish walking the 2 mile loop by lunchtime… but this time we slowed down and stopped a lot along the way. We started our walk early so that we would have lots of time to let T explore at his own pace. (We even had time to meet up with some friends to play along the way, and then continued our walk after they left.) I had made a quick note before we left of a few things I wanted to point out to him along the way so that we could work on expanding his vocabulary.

Some things we looked for: leaf, rock, stick, pinecone, lake, tree, path, roots, moss, bug, creek, log, squirrel.

Explore Textures in NatureI let him out of the stroller and let him stop to touch or pick up things along the way that seemed interesting to him. (I supervised closely to make sure he didn’t get his hands on anything dangerous or disgusting.) Then we paused for a moment and talked a little bit about what he had found– what it was called, how it felt, what color it was, etc., and I snapped a quick picture to document what he had found. When I saw one of the items that I had on my list, I pointed it out to him and we talked about it.

We continued to do this as we walked, and when he got tired and wanted to ride in the stroller, I made sure to point out things that we saw along the way and describe them to him. “Look at the tall green trees. There’s a big lake full of water. Do you feel the cool breeze? Do you see the bright yellow sun in the blue sky? There’s a dog running. Do you hear what the dog says? Woof!” I like to use a lot of descriptive words when I talk to him to familiarize him with the different ways to describe an object and to use his senses to learn about the world around him.

This was a great way to work on expanding his vocabulary with nouns, verbs, and adjectives describing the things that we see in nature in the area where we live. To have a way to practice these new words while we are indoors, I decided to make some simple flashcards.

Nature Flashcards

Here’s how you can make your own nature flashcards:

  • Go on a nature walk, talk about the items you see along the way, and take some pictures.
  • Print some of the pictures. Cut out the pictures and glue each one onto an index card.
  • Below each picture, write three words: a noun telling what it is a picture of and two words describing the object or what is happening in the picture.

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When Daddy got home in the evening, T was so excited to show him his new flashcards and pointed out the pictures of the things that he saw, and even used a few new words that he had learned! We can now refer back to the cards to practice our nature words any time. I plan to take more pictures as we go on more walks this spring and make new flashcards as we see and learn about new things.

Now it’s your turn! Take your little one out on a nature walk and tell us about what you learned. Ready? Make, learn, go!

10 Must-Haves for Flying with a One-Year-Old

Flying Essentials- Toddler_textFebruary was unusually cold and snowy in North Carolina this year, and my little Tommy was starting to go stir crazy from being cooped up indoors… so, we decided to take a little trip to sunny Florida to visit our cousins! We knew that sunshine, beautiful beaches, and great company would await us when we arrived, but you know that saying that “getting there is half the fun?”… well, I can guarantee that whoever came up with that definitely had never traveled alone on an airplane with a one-and-a-half-year-old!

Living across the country from all of our family, our little guy has taken quite a few airplane trips. It takes a bit of planning to get the right mix of items to entertain a squirmy toddler who will be stuck on your lap for hours, and I know that mine refuses to sleep on the plane. So, (besides the obvious diapers, wipes, medicine, ID, and change of clothes), here I have my list of 10 must-haves for flying with a one-year-old:

Flying Essentials- Toddler

1. Baby Carrier: I can’t get through the airport without my Ergobaby Original Carrier. It allows me to have my hands free to deal with checking bags and baggage claim, it keeps Tommy strapped to my chest and not running off to another terminal or eating food off the ground, and TSA lets you keep the baby carrier on (with the kid still in it!) when you go through security, which saves the hassle of folding up a stroller while simultaneously trying to hold on to a runaway toddler. It’s ergonomic design is easy on my body and Tommy’s, it has a convenient front zippered pocket to hold my driver’s license and boarding pass, and it’s the only way that I can get down the aisle on the plane walking to my seat without the little guy trying to make a break for it.

2. Backpack: I would be a total mess without my Petunia Pickle Bottom Boxy Backpack. It has a zillion pockets inside to keep things organized, and the sturdy shape doesn’t tip over or cave in on itself, allowing me to see everything inside without having to hold it open. It has a zipper closure to keep the contents from falling out, a clip for my keys so I don’t have to dig around for them, and two exterior side pockets- perfect for a sippy cup for T and water bottle for me. I love the fold-out changing station in front with a detachable changing pad and easily accessible pockets for diapers, the included wipes case (that never lets the wipes dry out), and a tiny pocket perfect for storing hand sanitizer or diaper cream. The glazed canvas material is so great because it’s waterproof and can easily be wiped clean and looking new. And what makes it most essential for me at the airport is that it can be worn not only over the shoulder, but also as a backpack, which allows me to rush through the airport with Tommy on my front in the Ergobaby and the diaper bag on my back. Amazing!

3. Hand Sanitizer: If I don’t have hand sanitizer close by while traveling, I get a little paranoid. Airports and airplanes are so full of germs, and nobody wants to get sick at the start of a vacation. I love my Bath & Body Works Pocketbac Sanitizing Hand Gel that my cute husband put in my Christmas stocking this year. The 1 oz size is perfect for travel, the Pink Chiffon scent smells incredible, and there’s even a little glitter in it. I use it on both Tommy and me to clean hands after touching tray tables and window shades and before eating snacks.

4. Individually Wrapped Snacks: It always takes a while for the flight attendants to come around with the little packs of peanuts and pretzels, and, when Tommy is hungry, it’s like a scene from those Snickers commercials with Roseanne Barr if he doesn’t get something to eat right away. To avoid the screaming and kicking, I like to have a variety of individually wrapped snacks on hand, like Motts Fruit Snacks, Honey Maid Graham Crackers (he loves the cute minion shaped ones), and Clif Kid Z Bars. I stopped bringing plastic snack containers on the plane because they are too easy for him to knock off the tray table and we kept losing the lids. Instead, I put a few different individually wrapped snacks inside of a Ziploc bag. Then I can just throw the snack wrapper away when he’s finished, and if he doesn’t eat all of it, I can keep the leftover bits in the Ziploc bag so they don’t get crumbs all over.

5. Sippy Cup: My little guy is constantly asking for “wawa” (water), so I have to have a sippy cup close by at all times. I like the Munchkin Click Lock Insulated Straw Cup and he loves that this one has Elmo and his Sesame Street buddies on it. This is the one sippy cup that I have found that doesn’t leak, holds enough water that I don’t have to refill it constantly, and really keeps the water cold. I bring it empty and then fill it up after we get through security. If we have time to stop and grab a bite to eat, I ask someone to fill it with ice water for me from the soda fountain machine. If not, I fill it at a water fountain and add ice on the plane.

6. Sticker Book: Stickers are a great way to keep my little guy busy while keeping the mess to a minimum. I’m a big fan of sticker books because they have all of the stickers together in one place with cute scenes to stick them to so there aren’t a bunch of loose sheets getting crumpled up in my bag.

7. Touch and Feel Books: I like to pick books for the airplane that keep my busy boy’s hands occupied. Books with flaps to lift and different textures to feel are great because they keep his hands on the book and off of the tray table, window, arm rests, and other germ-infested spaces. Playtime Peekaboo is one that we love. For ideas of other books to pack, check out our 20 Favorite Board Books.

8. Tablet with Kids Apps & Videos: I have a screen on my iPad full of apps and videos just for Tommy. With just the iPad, he can pass hours playing games, doing puzzles, coloring, watching movies, and reading books. (Check out our Favorite Art, Shapes, and Colors Apps for Toddlers, our Favorite ABCs & 123s Apps for Toddlers, our Favorite Puzzle and Sorting Apps for Toddlers, and our Favorite Games & Video Apps for Toddlers.)

9. Pacifier Clip: Dropping pacifiers on the floor is so gross, especially in high-traffic places like airports and airplanes. With a paci clip, I can clip it right onto Tommy’s shirt when we are on the plane so that we have it close by to soothe him if he starts to whine. I love Ulubulu Pacifier Clips– they are durable and the clip stays put, the patterns are adorable, and there is even a place to write your little one’s name in case it accidentally gets left behind (great for playdates and daycare!)

10. Pacifier: During take-off and landing, since T is still too young to chew gum, sucking on a pacifier is key to helping with the change of air pressure so it doesn’t mess with his ears. It’s also a quick way to quiet him if he starts to scream. I love these cute Ulubulu Orthodontic Pacifiers with funny sayings on them. He always gets a lot of compliments on them, and since he was about 4 months old this has been the only brand of pacifier that he likes.

Even with the most careful preparation, flying with a toddler can be rough. We had a full flight coming home, and the little monkey did NOT want to stay on my lap. The best advice that I can give you if there is open seating on the plane is to sit in a window seat (so there is one side with no people to bug and a view to look at), and to try to sit near other kids. People with kids won’t mind if yours is fussing because they will understand. And, if you totally luck out like I did, you might have an angel grandma take pity on you and actually switch seats to sit next to you and offer a helping hand and an extra lap to climb on.

What are your must-haves and tips for flying with your little one? Share in the comments!

And if you have any long drives coming up, check out our 10 Must-Haves for a Road Trip with a Toddler!

Adventures at Best Buy

Maybe you are lucky and the local groundhog predicted an early spring, but here in North Carolina, it is definitely too cold to play outside right now. This winter has been very hard for my little man, as he LOVES to be outdoors. At some point every day, Tommy will grab his shoes and coat and start banging on the door to the coat closet where I store his stroller, shouting “WALK! WALK! WALK!” If my keys are left within his reach, he will snatch them up and run to the front door, standing on his tiptoes to try to unlock it. A meltdown always follows when I regrettably tell him that today will be yet another “inside day.”

So, we have had to get creative to find indoor places to pass the time without breaking the bank. Tonight we discovered that a stroll through Best Buy can be a fascinating adventure for a toddler!

Tommy LOVES to ride in shopping carts, so that in itself was an exciting start. And, like most kids, he is attracted to expensive, breakable things like a moth to a flame. So, while restrained by the lap-belt of the shopping cart and under direct supervision of both parents, we felt that it was safe to let him explore the wonders of technology. The little guy was in heaven, surrounded on every side by touch screens, buttons, and other high-tech gadgets and flashing lights.

But, the most intriguing thing he encountered was the HP® Sprout. I don’t even know how to describe this space-age contraption, but it sure was fun to play with!

IMG_2228He could take pictures of his hand, snap some selfies, and rotate, manipulate, and decorate the photos with cute little images. I love seeing the excitement in his eyes as he interacts with new technologies. I can’t even fathom what other kinds of amazing innovations he will experience in his lifetime, but one thing is for sure- familiarity with technology will be necessary for this generation of children.

So, go to Best Buy! Play with some cool new devices. Marvel at the big, shiny curved, smart, and 3-D TVs. And, if you still have a few hours to burn before bedtime, let them pick out a fun new DVD or Blu-ray to buy so you can go home and snuggle up with some popcorn, a warm blanket, and enjoy the rest of your “inside day.”

Then, come back here and post a comment to tell us about your adventure 🙂