Traveling with a toddler is like Russian roulette: You never know when you pull out of the driveway if you're going to get the euphoric empty revolver click or an all out blood-and-guts explosion. It can go either way, and sometimes it does, all in the same trip.
My parents live a five-hour drive away, so car journeys have been an inescapable reality for us since my son was born. I have mixed feelings about visiting Nanny and Grampy at the best of times. My son adores his grandparents, and I get two sets of spare, more-than-willing helping hands.
On the flip side, though, there is The Journey. Often, I have to practically pluck bunnies from the diaper bag just to keep my son entertained. At such times, even Harry Potter and his otherworldly wizardry can't quell the almighty wrath coming from in the backseat.
For those of you decidedly short on bunnies, here are three vital tips for surviving car journeys with a toddler in tow:
As with so many things in life, when it comes to traveling with toddlers, timing is everything. A strategically-timed trip can make or break a car journey. Aim to stop for a meal and a good stretch halfway through the ride. With a full stomach, a little exercise, and a dry diaper, your tot is more likely to doze for a while and not veer off his afternoon nap schedule. It also means that when you arrive at your destination, your child won't be overtired and cranky or wired when bedtime rolls around.
Sure, your child may be too young for a lingering game of I Spy. Instead, recite favorite stories or rhymes. Don't worry if you don't quite know them by heart; your tot won't care. Traditional rhymes are the best — with so many verses, you can keep them going till kingdom come! This Old Man can play as high as you can count, and there is no good reason why Old McDonald can't have hippos and cheetahs and sloths on his farm. From where I'm sitting, if it buys you another couple miles, it's all good.
Traveling light is a concept lost on toddlers. When packing for a car journey, there is no such thing as too much. Arm yourself with an arsenal of toys, books, and DVDs. We splashed out on a surprisingly inexpensive portable DVD player shortly after my son's first birthday. Simply put: a piece of modern ingenuity. 30 minutes of peace and quiet is a blissful 30 minutes of motoring.
When all else fails, resort to bribery. No matter how you dice it, the car journey is a two-person feat. My son isn't yet two, so someone must chauffeur while the other someone (i.e., me) sits in the back, feeding him grapes or fanning him or whatever. I often use fruit, crackers, or cheese — anything that can be sliced and diced into the most minuscule pieces to prolong the snack. After all, no toddler I know can scream while chewing. (Only moms can multitask that well!) At the end of the day, letting a child eat in a car seat may be hazardous, but then again, so is a 20-car pileup.
The only other advice I can give for traveling with a toddler is: Don't do it unless you absolutely, positively have to. And even then, whatever you do, don't leave home without the Xanax.