Sage and I have gotten ourselves to a very good place when it comes to jumping in the car and driving to wherever we please. We went from needing up to a week of planning and prep time to needing almost no time and jumping in the car with about an hour notice. After field testing lots of different strategies I think I've come to a place where I can finally share some of my tried and tested tips for traveling with a little person in tow.
1. Technology is awesome.
I would love to start this post out by saying that I don't rely on the iPad or travel DVD player, and that we drive cross-country with only wooden puzzles and organic fruit snacks, but this simply is not the case. The Lord put me on the Earth in in a time when iPads exist and it is a large reason we are able to pick up and go with little to no problems from the person in the back seat. The trick with technology is to find something that works for your child and go with it. Sage has a special place in his heart for The Lorax, Up, and Brave. We watched Brave on a loop during this last drive, and I say if it ain't broke don't fix it. The most important part of this is to pick quality movies that you as the driver don't mind listening to. This is the sole reason why my child loves the movie Fantastic Mr. Fox. Because the child isn't the only one that needs to survive the car trip, you want to get to your destination with as many as your wits as possible, too. These are all movies that I don't mind listening to and that Sage enjoys watching. Win win.
Some apps worth downloading are the SoundTouch app the Disney Junior app, and the Puzzle is Fun app. And while in the iTunes store, a couple episodes of your child's favorite shows are worth downloading to have in your bag for times when you're stuck waiting at a restaurant or for a cab. If you're really in a pinch search "Little Einsteins full episodes" on youtube and you can stream full episodes. Lifesaver, I tell ya.
2. Snacks are awesome.
The key to road trip snacking is having snacks that are easy for your child to eat independently. These snack cups are the end-all-be-all of baby snacking on the go. Fill one with fruit snacks and one with cookies (for when you're getting desperate and you're in need of a bribe). I've found that the mini white Oreos or Nilla Wafers are the best travel snacks, because regular Oreos are messy and stain clothes if your drooling teething baby gets any on their collar. Stick to light colored snacks. Sage also eats a lot of these pouches while we travel. I didn't buy them for the longest time because they are a bit pricey, but after seeing how much easier my life got with them in it I was sold. True love. Pirate's Booty is fun to eat and fun to say (and healthy. and delicious. I bring the Pirate's Booty mostly for myself if we're being honest).
3. Bring a diaper bag.... to leave in the car.
I'm not a fan of diaper bags because I think they're bulky and usually pretty ugly. I also hate having straps that are constantly falling off my arm while I'm trying to pump gas/sign something/chase the baby who is running away from me. Instead I opt for a large cross body bag that is big enough for your stuff and your child's stuff. The bag just needs to be able to fit a wallet, phone, chapstick (always chapstick), diaper, travel wipes, a couple snacks, and a sippy cup. I can usually fit an extra outfit in there for any just-in-case moments if we're going to be out for a day trip, but for the most part I just leave those sorts of things in the car. Find a spot for your camera and you're ready to go.
4. Make pajamas the outfit of choice.
If your child is going to be stuck in a carseat for a long stretch of time, at least make sure they're comfortable. It's no secret that I'm a big fan of baby skinny jeans and cardigans, but long car rides call for some cute pajamas. These are a favorite at our house, plus the dinosaur skeleton is glow in the dark which is cause for little boy celebration in itself. If you want your child to sleep in the car (and you do) make them as comfortable as possible. A favorite blanket adds bonus points.
5. Get a little stroller.
This last trip we took to Monterey I realized when we got there that I had forgotten to pack the stroller. This was a problem. Because I have an awesome stroller with all the bells and whistles. So in a pinch I went to Target and bought a little umbrella stroller. This ended up being perfect because we were able to maneuver in and out of places easier, it slid under tables in restaurants while eating, and it was easy to collapse and throw in the back of a cab at the end of the day. If you aren't doing full day trips and just need a stroller for walking around the city, I highly recommend getting a small stroller.
6. Chances are there will be a Target there.
This goes along with #5 in that if you do end up forgetting something, it's not hard to run to the store and get a replacement. Remember any medicine, glasses, phone... and the rest is fairly easy to pick up when you get there and have that "oh crap!" moment in the hotel room. Its safe to just plan on needing a trip to Target when you reach your destination. Mine is always for a razor. I can't seem to ever remember that dang razor.
7. Pack in open baskets.
I like packing for trips in open baskets instead of suitcases. This is a trick I picked up while I was a nanny, and it does wonders. If you're packing in suitcases it's really hard to get in and out of them while you're traveling, but in open baskets you can see what you need and grab for it easily. These bins are ones that I would order if I didn't already have some. It also makes things easier once you're in the hotel room, because you're not constantly folding and unfolding to find something in a suitcase. I pack a bin for myself, a bin for Sage, a bin for snacks to keep up front, and a small bin for toiletries.
8. Give your child choices for the car.
There's beauty in giving your child a couple of choices in car activities. On the seat next to Sage's car seat I pack another open bin with his snacks, juice cup, a couple of cardboard books and a couple of different toys that he might like to play with in the car (new toys are an added bonus). This way he gets to look through the bin and see what I've packed for him and decide for himself what he wants to play with, look at, or eat and when. If nothing else looking through the bin will eat up some drive time.
9. Plan an activity before driving.
I've had road trips where we left at 5 in the morning and I've had road trips where we left at 3 in the afternoon, and there is no question about which is easier on us. Afternoon departures work best for us because I can plan a trip to the ocean for the morning, go to a park, get lunch, and then get in the car when Sage is tired and ready for a nap. It's not the most convenient way to travel, and I love getting places early, but it's worth at least planning some activity to get the energy out before getting in the car.
10. Map out the In-N-Outs on your drive.
This one's for you, mama. Because sometimes you need an animal fry and extra large Diet Coke pit-stop to look forward to when the drive seems endless.
Travel on, adventurers. There's a lot of world to see!