Overnight Roadtrippin': The Toddler Survival Guide

overnight road trip, toddler survival guide, camera, mac computer, map, notebook


Do you ever feel like you need a vacation from your vacation?

Hello, everyone!  Yes, I am back at it again after a lovely (and hectic) week off spending time with my Minnesota family.  I had a fantastic time in the land of 10,000 lakes (and ten million mosquitos) seeing my wonderful family and celebrating my grandmother's 84th birthday!  But boy am I beat!  We got in early yesterday morning after driving 12 hours straight through the night.


If you haven't been following me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, let me give you the 30-second rundown.  Basically it goes: me + the hubby + a 21 month old + 30 hours in the car = a great/not-so-great/memorable/tiring road trip to be remembered.  And here I am with a newfound wealth of knowledge on what worked and didn't work in making this trip a success.

Each year of my life I have spent a part of my summer vacation in Minnesota.  It is where my dad's half of his family lives so, needless to say, the state holds a place near and dear to my heart as I have so many fond memories there.  Now, my brother has moved to the twin cities, making one more reason for us to continue the tradition of going each year.

Before I had a child this trip was as simple as boarding a plane and renting a car.  Easy Peasy.  Nowadays the fear of traveling with a toddler combined with the price of toting everything around and buying an additional seat has been enough to turn away from air travel and say hello to the wide open road.  Yep, we are a station wagon shy of becoming the Griswolds.

Though I actually find road trips to be quite enjoyable, especially when you can break them up into mini vacations along the way, ever since my baby turned into a toddler we decided that traveling in one long swoop would end up making the process so much easier.  Although, there is only so long my son will sit awake in his car seat before he becomes restless, cranky and basically a demon spawn screaming at the top of his lungs for hours on end.  Therefore, we chose to drive through the night.  Because if there is one thing we made sure our son was excellent at it was sleeping all night long.

The trip from Cheyenne, WY to Minneapolis, MN was about 14 hours.  We decided to leave just shy of E's bedtime (7 p.m.) allowing him some time to play in the car before crashing for the night.  I cannot tell you how nervous I was for this.  My son is a great sleeper, but like his mama, he tosses and turns.  Would being strapped into a car seat all night change that somehow?

Fortunately, the trip out for E was fantastic!  I am not joking when I say he slept the entire night without making a peep.  My days before of praying for safe travels and a restful night for my little man certainly paid off.  And I am happy to share some of the techniques I used to ensure he did well. I must also add my lessons learned.  Because, as with the parental life in most cases, I spent all my ton prepping my son for the trip and never once thought about myself or my hubby and how we were going to make it through the night.  Let's just say we learned some valuable lessons on this trip.

Without further ado, here is my Toddler Survival Guide for an Overnight Roadtrip.

What you will need:

1. Healthy Snacks: Yes, we did travel through the night, so for my son at least there was very little eating involved.  However, not only are snacks great to have around with a toddler in case things go south, but mom and dad need to stay alert and happy while driving.  For me, that means staying hydrated, caffeinated and full.


In our cooler, I packed a bunch of E's favorite travel-friendly foods, particularly organic strawberry rice rusks and fruit and veggie pouches from BeechNut.  I find both of these snacks incredibly portable and not very messy.  I also made sure to have enough juice, water, and whole milk to last us the entire trip.

For myself and my husband, I packed some apples, crackers and a newfound favorite--Chocolate Chip Cookie Woats.  Though not pictured I also brought along my favorite snack/meal replacement: Lenny and Larry's Complete Protein Cookies.  If you haven't tried them drop everything you are doing and go buy them.  You can find them on Amazon through the link above.

half gallon of milk, apple juice, apples, crackers, woats, veggie and fruit pouches

2. Good Tunes: Road trips and good music go together like peanut butter and jelly.  You simply cannot have one without the other.  Especially when you are driving at night and need something hopping to keep you jazzed.  For the hubby and I, I loaded my Spotify with a bunch of new jams from country to rock and everything in between.  Normally I listen to 99% Christian, but for this trip, I needed to make sure the music was hopping enough to keep us going but not too much to wake up my kiddo.  And yes, I really did just refer to my music as "hopping."

A few of my favorites:
  • Sing by Ed Sheeran
  • More Than a Feeling by Boston
  • Road Trippin' by Dan + Shay
  • Home by Phillip Phillips
  • Jack & Diane by John Mellencamp
  • Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond
  • Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Keep in mind, if you have Spotify or Pandora, simply typing in Road Trip Songs into the search engine can yield some fantastic results.

For the kiddo, I was prepared with one of God's greatest gifts to moms and dads everywhere: Dave and Ava.  If you do not know the glorious power of Dave and Ava you need to.  Simply hop on YouTube and look them up.  My child, who does not watch TV, will literally drop everyone when they come on.

Dave and Ava is a cartoon that is nothing but classic nursery rhymes.  The music is catchy and doesn't make you want to poke out your ear drums like some kids shows--I am looking at you Caillou.

The app to download all the shows commercial and data free is $20.  Seems like an ouch until you realize how amazing it is and you would gladly pay ten times the amount for the peace and quiet it allows you.


3. Do Your Prep Work: Right before heading out on our trip I gave E a nice hot bath and got him into his coziest jammies.  I had spent the afternoon letting him run to his heart's content in order to tire him out, so the bath definitely served a dual purpose.

Once he was in his car seat with his bear and cozy blanket I made sure to give him a little extra milk that was slightly warmed.  It is still summer, so I didn't go overboard with heating it, but something about warm milk is amazing at helping kids, and adults, fall asleep.

4. Bring Reading Material: This one also goes for both parents and kiddos.  I made sure I had packed at least 5 of E's favorite books for him to turn through while we started our trip, as well as for us to read to him before bed each night we were gone.  Fortunately, we have all of the books committed to memory, so we could "read" to him in the car while he thumbed through the pages.

For myself, I was loaded up with books on my Nook.  One for fun, one for Bible study, and one for necessity, which of course was Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki.  I plan on potty training soon and figured what better time to brush up on my technique than this road trip, right?

Oh crap! Potty Training book, Nook, roadtrip

5. Make Sure the Diapers are Accessible: Thankfully, E slept through the night without waking up but had an accident occurred, or he peed out of his diaper, I am thankful I made sure the diapers and wipes were right within reach.  I can only imagine the horror of having a screaming and cranky toddler combined with the midnight frustration of digging through a packed car.

Last years during this road trip we purchased a cargo carrier for our vehicle to hold all of the big suitcases, fishing gear etc.  That allowed us plenty of room to keep E's things inside the car without feeling like we were too crowded.  Best purchase ever.

Lessons Learned:

1. Don't forget how dang uncomfortable it is for a fully grown adult to sleep in a car.  We decided to break up the trip in half.  My husband would drive the first stretch and I would bring us home.  Unfortunately, I severely underestimated how hard it would be to fall asleep in the first place.  By midnight I was finally at the level of exhaustion that I could possibly force myself to sleep in whichever position available.  Of course, it was my turn to drive within the hour.

After a trip to a gas station for coffee (Starbucks pre made was my only drinkable option) I was awake enough to get us three hours on the road before I had to wake my husband and ask him to take over.  Fortunately, I think he was a truck driver in another life because he finished our drive like a champ.  I, on the other hand, was cranky, hungry and not feeling too hot.  That is until we found a nice roadside diner and I could stuff my face with pancakes.

2. Midnight to 4 a.m. is not the time to make a gas station run.  I am from Wyoming and fully understand just how sheltered from the real world I am.  So, in hindsight, I should have packed my pre-made coffees before heading on the trip.  Running into a gas station in a big city for a coffee run at 1 a.m. is not the best idea in the world because typically the ones that are still open are of the shady variety.  Also, the bathrooms tend to be rather disgusting.  If you can, hold it.

3. Get gas at the right times. Speaking of gas station trips, keep in mind that two things are certain to wake up a toddler in a car: a stopped engine and bright lights.  Of course, you will run into both when gassing up in the middle of the night.  Do it fast if you can.

4. Take time to enjoy yourself!  It is so easy to get caught up in the stress of travel that you can easily forget that you are, in fact, on a vacation.  We had some very hot and humid days that led to both a cranky toddler and mama.  That combined with the stress I feel from getting off schedule added to some stress at the beginning of the trip.  But I recovered.

Remember, you will never remember the time you snapped at your husband for going the wrong direction or when you wanted to cry because your kiddo had been whining for the past hour.  You will remember the fun you had, the time you spent together, and the memories you made.  So make sure they are good ones!

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