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Road Tripping with Toddlers

9 ways to get your whole family through the long haul.

Road Tripping with Toddlers

Road tripping with young children can seem daunting, but I actually rather enjoy it. We love to watch the country change outside our windows. We love to play games and eat snacks. And most of all, we love how car traveling is so much less stressful than air travel.

We set out from New York City to our new/old Denver home, with plenty of stops in between. And while this is not our first road trip with children, it will be the longest. I don’t like a lot of clutter in the car, but I also don’t want my girls to spend the ride with an iPad in front of their faces. So here’s 9 of our tried-and-true ideas for a cross-country trip.

  1. Create your own reward system. A road trip is a good exercise in learning patience. In an effort to help my two toddlers manage their restlessness, and to preserve the specialness of the activities I provide, I only hand out activities, snacks, or prizes at specific times. I’ve heard some moms do this once an hour or after so many miles; we set personal markers: “After you’ve played on your own for 30 minutes…” or ““When Daddy stops to put gas in the car…” This gives them something tangible to look forward to without making me responsible for the time in between. It works like a rewards system and gives us some structure in what otherwise could be a free-for-all.
  2. Pack your bag! My girls think that packing their own backpacks for the car is the greatest. It used to drive me nuts. But then I realized that their taking ownership made their decisions important later on. Perhaps I don’t find the pony with no hair left to be exciting road trip entertainment, but they chose it and so it was interesting once we hit the road. Ordinarily, they can’t wait to dive into their backpacks, and so whatever they bring entertains for at least the first hour (which can sometimes be the trickiest before interstate hypnosis sets in).
  3. The secret of the book basket. A few weeks before a trip, I will collect some of the girls’ favorite books into a medium wire basket and set them up high on a shelf. The basket easily wedges in between their carseats, where they can reach for a book at will. They’re pretty good about enjoying the same books over and over anyway; but having them out of sight and out of mind for a short time before the trip garners even more excitement for reading in the car.
  4. Skip the coloring books! It’s all about printables. I used to buy a brand new coloring book before any trip. Until once, when I couldn’t make it to Target in time, I printed off some coloring pages a la Google images in a pinch. I bought two clipboards at the dollar store (because I think those carseat desks are cumbersome) and I can keep loose coloring pages in a folder up front with me and distribute at will.
  5. There’s nothing like new crayons. You remember what it was like to open up a brand new carton of Crayolas? Something about the newness and the smell makes an average everyday activity a lot more interesting. To help contain, I immediately ditch the cardboard boxes and load the crayons into these cute tins.
  6. Two-for-one: String candy necklaces. My youngest can get carsick now and then, so sometimes she needs to take a break from words, images, and paper. Plus, we all know one of the most tempting road trip pastimes is snacking, but with kids you’ve got to do it in moderation. Before we take a trip, I’ll cut a length of yarn, tie a loop at one end, wrap the other in masking tape, and toss it into a bag with a handful or two of fruit loops. It takes time to thread your own necklace, especially when you have chunky toddler hands; and once the task is done, the kids think it’s great fun to eat their work. (Especially exciting when Mom doesn’t normally let you have sugary cereals.)
  7. Stretch your definition of storytelling. Maybe it’s being a writer, but I firmly believe my kids should be able to entertain themselves on imagination alone. Of course, littles need help sometimes, and so in our car we make storytelling go a long way. Sometimes, the girls will read books on their own. Other times, we will listen to audiobooks. Sometimes the girls will use finger puppets to act out the story. I also like to encourage them to tell their own stories. They love to make silly things up, but these sets also make for the cutest prompts.
  8. Create a scavenger hunt. Shortly after becoming a mother of two, my oldest got incredibly sick in the middle of winter. In an effort to beat our Cabin Fever, I doodled a few things on to a piece of paper: a house, a tree, a cloud, a dog, a taxi. Then we went out for errands. “When you see these things, point it out to your baby sister and then scribble over it with a crayon to mark it out.” Now these car scavenger hunts make for great road trip activities. I think about where we’re going to be driving through and try to plan accordingly. It really involves my girls in the drive and helps draw their attention to the cities and various landscapes we’re exploring. (If you’re not much of a doodler, look online for pre-made cards like these!
  9. Don’t feel guilty about the iPad, sometimes. This is not to say that our girls don’t watch movies on road trips too. In fact, I’ve just downloaded their new favorites (Home and Inside Out) for our upcoming journey. But with other things to do, and hopefully some calculated attempts at drawing their eyes to the world around them, the movies are a treat instead of a norm (and therefore a good chance for mommy and daddy to steal a few quieter moments to chat and rest)!

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We're so glad to live in a time when modern baby gear exists. Sure, no one is going to argue that having a baby is easy—but it can be easier with support from some gadgets designed to help your baby and put your mind at ease.

As you build your baby registry, look for products that go the extra mile to make your life a whole lot easier. For example, what's better than a bassinet? A bassinet that can rock by itself. And what's better than a traditional baby monitor? One that allows you to actually take a peek at your baby. Believe us when we say these upgrades can make all the difference.

Here are 10 baby gadgets that will make your life so much easier… relatively speaking, of course!


A bassinet to promote safe + sound sleep

HALO Innovations Bassinest Swivel Sleeper Essenta Series Nautical Net

The safest place for your newborn to sleep is in your room, but not in your bed. Thanks to the swivel function of the Halo Bassinest, you can easily tend to your baby during the night—which means more sleep for you, too. Trust us when we say that is the best gift you can give a new parent.

$239.99

A smart swing for your baby

4moms mamaRoo 4 Bluetooth Enabled High-Tech Baby Swing - Classic

Believe it or not, many babies are born with strong opinions about how they want to be rocked, swung or shushed to calm down. With the mamaRoo's various motions and reclining positions, you'll be able to find a setting your baby loves when you need to free up your hands for a bit.

$219.99

A complete travel system for car + sidewalk

Chicco Bravo Travel System - Indigo

No matter where the day takes you—or what mode of transportation you need to get there—getting a complete travel system for your baby will equip you for anything.

$379.99

A swaddle you don’t have to wrestle

Love To Dream Swaddle UP Original

What do babies and Harry Houdini have in common? A knack for breaking out of tight constraints—which can be a headache when swaddling is the best way to help promote good sleep. Thanks to a breakout-proof swaddle that allows your baby to sleep with their hands up, you don't have to work up a sweat just to get your baby comfortably swaddled.

$29.99

A nursery wherever you need it

Baby Trend Lil Snooze Deluxe II Nursery Center

During the early days of parenting (when you are feeding and changing your baby around the clock), having convenient access to everything you need with a go-anywhere nursery station can save you serious time and energy.

$99.99

A little help for stuffy noses

Fridababy NoseFrida Nasal Aspirator

Up until the point years down the road when your child is able to blow their own nose, the sniffles can be a real struggle—but not with a nasal aspirator that makes it easy for you to get that snot out of their nose.

$15.99

A way to keep an eye on your baby

VTech 5" Digital Video Baby Monitor - VM5251

Trust us when we say you'll sleep better when you know your baby is also sleeping soundly. That's why we're so thankful for modern-day video monitors, which allow you to check in on your sleeping baby without running the risk of waking them up when you sneak in for a peek.

$79.99

A bassinet for hands-free rocking

Simmons Kids Silent Auto Gliding Elite Bassinet - Odyssey

Babies are soothed by rocking motions. But what does that mean for you if you can't rock them throughout the night? With an auto-gliding bassinet, they can comfortably drift off to sleep... and continue snoozing.

$99.99

An easy way to contain diaper smells

Diaper Genie Expressions Pail

Sometimes it's the little conveniences that make a big difference in the quality of your day-to-day life. That's why a great diaper pail should not be undervalued: By containing the smell, you will save yourself dozens upon dozens of trips to the garbage can.

$24.99

A white noise machine that pulls double duty

Hatch Rest Sound Machine, Night Light & Time-to-Rise

A phone-controlled sound machine may be something you never considered until now, but it will be a major lifesaver for years to come, especially as it can also function as a time-to-rise clock that promotes good sleep habits for your child.

$59.99

And as for securing all these awesome products? Well, a Target baby registry is the way to do it. By creating your baby registry with Target, you will also enjoy their Year of Benefits registry program, which includes perks like a welcome kit with more than $100 in savings and samples, two 15% off coupons to complete your registry, and a full year of returns. The benefits are better than ever right now: Target just launched the Year of Exclusive Deals perk as one of its registry benefits, and this includes a year's worth of discounts on baby essentials (think diapers and formula) and comes complementary when you sign up for Target Circle.

Because while parenting may not be "easy," deciding to register with Target definitely is an easy decision. Start your Target baby registry now and enjoy shopping with a Year of Benefits featuring a Year of Exclusive Deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more!

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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