Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and a commission may be made from any purchases. I choose when, where, and which affiliate links are used on this site :-). For more information on the above click here.
Pictured above is a parent’s dream case scenario when it comes to taking a road trip with small children. I mean, don’t they look so peaceful?! I snapped this picture on our way from St. Pete Beach, Florida to Orlando, Florida, just under a 2 hour drive. I think it was a little before 6AM when we left, it was still dark out and the boys quickly fell asleep in the car. If I could only say that were the case for our drive to St. Pete Beach, Florida from Central Illinois and back. The drive straight through with no stops is just shy of 16 hours, so a total of 32 hours. Yes, I am aware that airplanes exist and furthermore, we did briefly look at flying -there were some reasonably priced flights that we could have booked but in the end we decided to drive. We knew going into it that it was going to be rough. We expected some fighting, some complaining, and the “are we there yet” question over and over. However, we liked the idea of some of the freedoms that come with driving your own car somewhere with kids (especially since we were going to be staying in multiple hotels at different locations):
- Having the ability to come and go as we pleased.
- Being able to pile as much stuff in our vehicle as possible, no restrictions. Think double-stroller, beach toys, snacks, coolers, etc.
- Having car seats with us already.
- Having our own space.
So we went for it. Originally I had mapped out a plan for us to leave early in the morning on a Saturday with a stop in Cave City, Kentucky at Dinosaur World and then again in Chattanooga, Tennessee in the early evening. The plan was to head through Atlanta, Georgia after 10PM and stay in a hotel in either southern Georgia or northern Florida depending on how long we could make it. The day before we were going to leave, Ben came up with a different plan to leave around 4PM with ideal stops in Nashville, Tennessee and Valdosta, Georgia after making it through Atlanta around 1:30PM. Ultimately we’d stay in Lake City, Florida with a hopeful arrival time of 5:30AM. In either of the above scenarios we would then leave the following day to drive a few hours to St. Pete Beach, Florida. So with all of our planning, guess which option we went with? Neither.
We ended up leaving Friday evening around 10PM instead. When we decided to leave Friday evening, we had actually been aiming to depart more like 9-9:30PM but that didn’t happen. I’ll spare you all of our back and forth conversation about how we decided when to leave, but our 10PM departure meant we’d be going through Atlanta, Georgia at one of the times we were actually trying to avoid going through…who needs plans anyway??? With that thought, we took a route that went through Alabama instead, automatically making our drive longer -but we accepted this to avoid the likelihood of being stuck in Atlanta traffic.
This is when the electronics came in handy, strictly speaking a portable DVD player with DVDs. We actually don’t own one of these yet, we’ve just never had a need before. My parents have an older one that we borrowed and it did the trick. We could have benefited from bringing more DVDs with us (somehow we forgot Polar Express and that was a mistake) but we were running low on space and I also hate to have them watching the screen for too long at a time. I might be able to make an exception in the future for trips like this though…just saying.
I foresee us purchasing one of these in the future for road trips, Amazon has a slew of options to choose from if you are in the market and don’t know someone that you can borrow one from -you can check some of the options out below.
We also brought a kid’s tablet and Leaptop which would have proven useful had we made sure to download what we needed on the tablet and had we remembered that we even brought the Leaptop. I just found the Leaptop stuffed at the bottom of a bag while unpacking yesterday -oops!
In an effort to limit screentime I packed a number of other non-electronic items: coloring books, crayons, and books are timeless go-tos. I brought along all “new” items that the boys hadn’t seen before to keep their interest longer. I say “new,” but you can get these items for next to nothing if you want to -which is what I did. I bought 4 new coloring books at the Dollar Tree and then checked-out a pile of books from the Social Sciences, Health, and Education Library at the University of Illinois. We already had the Usborne Sticker Book as well as the 1,500 Stickers Adventures book (similar one linked). I did buy the Learn to Write Your Letters book for the trip. I tried to find things that were going to be interactive for the boys. They will look through regular story books and make up stories to themselves or I of course will read to them…but the goal was to have a healthy amount of items that they could look at and be entertained with all by themselves.
I’ve linked most of the books that I checked out from the library below so you can see them more clearly (view from a Desktop to see all options; not all available on mobile version). Many of the books prompt children to do some sort of action whether that is finding an animal on the page or deciphering what picture does not belong with the group. For many of the books I took a picture of the page with my phone so that I could tell them what to look for without having to get up out of the front seat. You’ll notice there is a Christmas book in there…as I noted earlier -not bringing along the Polar Express DVD was a mistake -the boys LOVE anything Christmas! The 2 Photicular books were something different to have too -each page has 3-D moving objects on it that are entertaining to look at. Dan Kainen has wrote several of these -we took along the Ocean and Jungle versions and will soon checkout some of the others. There is a Dinosaur one that I know the boys would love. The boys really liked the Atlas of Animal Adventures book too -however, this is one where I needed to read to them for them to really enjoy it. This large book is super educational -I learned multiple things on each page and it would honestly make a really nice gift for any child that loves books.
Lol -yes, those are cookie sheets that the boys are coloring on. They worked perfect as a hard surface and if your car seats have cup holders they double up great for holding crayons! I bought 2 new cookie sheets, also from the Dollar Tree, for this purpose. For some more fun -bring magnetic toys to stick to the cookie sheets. I whipped up some Dinosaur magnets in no time (check back soon for a quick tutorial :-)).
We also bought some alphabet magnets from Target for super cheap and my parents bought the boys the mini magnetic animal puzzles.
I loved the idea of magnetic toys while traveling so much that I grabbed a few other things that I stumbled across – Magnetic Fire Fighters, a Magnetic Train Station, and Take ‘N Play Magnetic Bingo. The magnets ideally make it easier to keep track of little toys that otherwise would slide off and fall to the floor.
The Magnetic Fire Fighters and Magnetic Train Station come with a landscaped, magnetic board and magnetic pieces for little hands to play all sorts of make believe.
Take ‘N Play Magnetic Bingo was an easy win for a traveling game. The game comes with two boards which is perfect for families with 2 kiddos. I took the spinner and called off animals from the front seat.
You may have noticed the two small, personalized tote bags in some of the pictures. I bought a three pack of these from Hobby Lobby probably about two years ago. I had made Chase a Disney-ish Trick or Treat bag with one of them. The other two have just been gathering dust ever since so I thought I’d personalize them with their favorite colors and use them to stash some of the smaller things we took along. I had the bags sitting out about a week before the trip and wouldn’t let them touch what was in them…another strategy to try and get them excited for the long car ride. I put the magnets and crayons that I referenced earlier in Ziploc bags and then divided them evenly in each bag. We also had some cheap sticker pads from Michaels, some Water Reveal Activity Pads, Imagine Ink Activity Pads, and Wooly Willys (courtesy of my parents -flashback to my childhood).
Lastly – tons of snacks! We brought along strawberries, blueberries, peppers, apples, and peanut butter sandwiches. Our kids love fruits and veggies. We also had granola bars, fruit snacks, mini bags of chips, peanut butter crackers, and some bottled water and Gatorade.
With all of the above our trip was a piece of cake…NOT!!! Remember I titled this post “Road Trip Survival With Toddlers” so this is just what we did to get ourselves through…to try and make it easier on everyone. Had we not prepared with any of this our trip would not have been bearable.
I don’t think I mentioned this earlier, but we ended up driving straight through from Central Illinois to Tampa, Florida…with everything combined the trip lasted about 19 hours. On our way back, we drove straight through from Orlando, Florida to Central Illinois…with everything combined the trip lasted about 17.5 hours. That is A LOT of driving, I was dying to get out of the car so I can’t imagine how it felt being a 2 or 4 year old. We had one hour long temper tantrum from Jack on our last stretch to Tampa, but otherwise the trip there wasn’t too bad…considering. On the way back I lost count of his temper tantrums…I’m talking screaming at the top of his lungs and kicking his legs with more strength and aggression than one would imagine a 2 year old having. Our 4 year old on the other hand was a trooper, I don’t think he cried once. Of course, gotta keep in mind there is a 2 year age difference here. Needless to say, I felt like I spent the majority of my time on the way home leaning over my seat to accommodate to these little people more than I spent actually sitting regularly in my seat. Would we do it again? That is a good question…lol. Allegiant flights were calling my name on the way home, I’d be lying if I didn’t say so. Nevertheless, we finally squeezed in a family vacation and created a lot of memories that are keepers in my book. I hope to share some of these soon!
Are you going on a road trip with kids??? Pin the below image for use later to help make your trip a little easier!
More importantly, please share other ideas in the comments to help those of us out making travel plans with kiddos! Thanks for stopping by everyone!