If you didn’t already know, the Husband and I are crazy roadtrippers. We drive. A lot. We bought a brand-spankin’ new car and managed to put nearly 30,000 miles on it in a year. Needless to say, we know what you need (and don’t need) when you’re spending a few days on the road with a small child who may or may not be potty training and/or car sick at any given time.
My wonderful mother, who has her own blog, wrote a list about car ride necessities. I can vouch for her expertise on the subject, since I got most of my awesomeness from her and I’ve spent waaay too many hours in a car with her. She knows a thing or two. So, in addition to the basics, here’s what you need when you’re traveling with a toddler.
Healthy Kid Snacks
Okay, so this is really just elaborating on my mother’s snack category. The Husband and I are very particular about what our kid eats because we’re trying to establish a healthy lifestyle for all of us. That’s not to say he doesn’t eat junk, but we make sure he gets his fruit and vegetables first. This kind of reinforcement is especially important when traveling.
Specifically, we take string cheese for protein, and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. I love to take string cheese because it doesn’t really go bad if it’s not refrigerated for a while. It just becomes not string-y. As for other kinds of healthy snacks, they now sell individual packets of peanut butter, carrots, and the fruit and veggie pouches. I’ve never been a big fan of the pouches, but they are very convenient on the road. They don’t tend to be filling for a three-year-old with a hollow leg, so we use them sparingly.
You can also buy ultra-pasteurized milk, which is shelf-stable liquid milk. You can also usually find your preferred milk replacement. We prefer it to dry milk because it tastes better and comes in single serving packs. We also stock up on individual serving-size packs of everything the kid likes, mostly to control portion size. Teddy grahams, goldfish, pretzel sticks, you name it, we’ve got it. Not much is worse than running out of snacks and having to buy the first thing you see at a gas station.
A note on grown-up food
We always take V8 in the car for us. It’s easy to remember to feed your kid vegetables as snacks. It’s harder to remember that you need them too. For us, V8 is the easiest way to make sure we get something close to healthy in our bodies at some point during the day. For the same reason, we often stop at Subway. They’re everywhere, and if you build your sandwich right, you’ll get a bunch of veggies (go for the spinach, not lettuce!). It’s not low calorie, or even healthy, but it’s better than a hamburger and fries.
It’s boring enough to be an adult in a car all day, can you even begin to imagine how hard it must be for someone who is biologically programmed not to sit still for more than half an hour? Let’s just say those every-few-hour potty stops won’t just be an opportunity to go potty. They’ll be a life-saving ten minutes to expel massive amounts of pent-up energy. So when you stop, let your kid run around for a while.
We take lots of things for the kid to do. On every road trip we have a few stuffed animals, matchbox cars, lace-up toys (you can usually find them at Target in their dollar bins), his Leapfrog book-reading thing, and his tablet. We try to limit the amount of time he spends on his tablet, because otherwise he’ll spend all day on it. Usually, we only give it to him in the evening, when it’s hard to do anything else because it’s getting dark. Also, for digital toys, I recommend kid-sized headphones, or else you might go crazy and start quoting what your kid likes to hear on repeat (“Can I go next? Of course you can, Pilar!”).
Recently, we’ve also added a clip-on light to the collection because it gets dark so early. This way, he can do things when his tablet battery dies or he gets bored. We also found a magnet race-track thing (I have no idea how to describe this; we got it at Cracker Barrel) that he uses as a lap desk when he’s not playing with it. This way he can color or play with his Usborne sticker books. Before, we were using a clipboard, but it wasn’t as effective.
Toddler Sized Emergency Gear
Basically, here’s some of the other gear you might not “need,” but if you have it, you’ll be glad you brought it:
- Kick mat for the back of the seat (okay, I admit, this isn’t an “emergency,” but if you have even a halfway decent car, you’ll thank me).
- “Dropped” toy bin on the floor under the car seat.
- A set of toddler dishes, like silverware, a cup, and a bowl for eating out, just in case.
- Disposable bibs and place mats (or reusable ones, if you’re cool like me and have no problem washing your kid’s stuff at a restaurant bathroom).
- A travel bottle brush set (which I bet you didn’t know you really really needed), sponge, and soap to wash all the toddler food stuff I recommended bringing.
- Extra clothing. You will go through so many pairs of pants, and probably some shirts, too.
- Blankets for nap time.
- Motion sickness supplies, if applicable. I wrote an entire other post on this because it turned out to be too much for this one.
- A potty, if you’re still potty training or you’re driving through the boonies. Again, I wrote another whole post on this topic (and how to survive it) because there’s just way too much to cover.
- Cleaning supplies. Not just wet wipes, but disinfectant wipes, too. You never know what’s going to happen.
- Downloaded kid movies and shows on your phone. Trust me, they will be necessary at some point, but only as a last resort.
- A first aid kit and a broken-down car survival kit (especially in the colder months). I might do a post on this at some point. Until then, you can just buy a commercial one and supplement to meet your own needs.