On the road with toddlers

Last Summer Beautiful and I set off on a road trip with our three year old and one and half year old sons, from Portland, Oregon to Indianapolis, Indiana. We needed to get back to the house we owned in Indy to turn it over for our new tenants and we also needed to get out of town for a little vacation. The thought of driving 36 hours in a small car with small children is enough to inspire night terrors in the best of parents but for some reason we thought we could handle it. We were right too, we did handle it. It was a great trip for a number of reasons and I think your road trip can also be great with a couple of these tips:

  1. Have in car entertainment – We brought the laptop and a stack of movies with us, along with an electrical converter to plug the laptop into the cigarette lighter. I know a lot of the cars and mini-vans have the entertainment built in but if not you can easily use your laptop or portable DVD device. We built a little platform for the laptop in between the front and back seats so the boys couldn’t reach it and so that it would stay stable. We also brought the audio out of the laptop and into the speaker system of the car to give the boys a surround sound experience.
  2. Make the stops fun – We had to make a stop about every 2 hours for bathroom breaks, food stops, or just to stretch out restless toddler legs. We would try to make one or two of those stops, especially around meal times, a fun stop. In Spokane, Washington we played in the water fountain down by the river and in South Dakota we found a playground that was a full size old western town. By making the stops fun and getting out and running around a bunch the boys were good and tired when we did drive.
  3. Drive while the kids sleep – We would take advantage of the times that the kids were sleeping by continuing to drive. That meant driving later at night and sleeping in and playing in the morning. We would pass up on our own bathroom breaks if the boys were asleep and we could get some precious miles in. Our schedule had us on the road around 10 AM with a movie going. Then a lunch stop and play time around noon. We would hold off on the after lunch movie and hope the boys fell asleep for a nap and that would take us to dinner time around 5 PM. Dinner and some play time would get us back on the road at about 6:30 or 7 and we would get the boys in the jammies and start another movie. After they fell asleep we would drive until midnight or 1 AM. The best driving was always when they were sleeping and Beautiful and I could listen to The American Life and just watch the road.

It takes a bit of planning to find the stops, map the route, and make sure that you are prepared for dealing with kids on the road but it can be a nice way to travel. That trip last summer was a great time for our family and we will definitely be doing it again, if not this summer then the next. Happy trails!

Portland Dad writes over at Stay At Home Dad PDX about raising two boys as a stay at home dad. You can also find him on twitter as Portlanddad.

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