Friday, May 24, 2013

Ways to Keep a Toddler Busy on a Road Trip

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* 11/17/14       Welcome Pinterest friends! SO many of you have come to check out this one post, I just thought I'd say "Hi! Welcome to my blog." I hope that something here will make road-tripping with your little one(s) a bit easier. Let's face it, being stuck in the car with a toddler is possibly even more miserable for you than it is for them. :)  While you're here please feel free to look around and see what else we've got going on here. If you need ideas for cheap, quick, easy activities to do with your baby/toddler this is a good place to be. Also, feel free to check out some of my boards on Pinterest that might be helpful to you as well. Good luck and have a safe trip!

As I mentioned last time, we are currently staying with family in New Mexico after having moved from Mississippi. In case you've never thought about it, you ought to know that the distance between those two locations is about 1300 miles and it takes two 12-hour days of driving to get from one to the other.  Now think about doing that road trip with an almost two-year-old. Sounds like *fun*, right?
Yeah, that's what I thought too so I spent the time leading up to our move perusing Pinterest and the web in general for ideas on how to survive such an ordeal adventure. I got pictures of most of the things we did, so I'm going to share those with you today. With a little advance planning a long carseat ride doesn't have to be pure torture for everyone in the vehicle.
I assembled all the activities I'm going to talk about later, along with snacks and anything else I thought I'd need (scissors, glue, etc), in what I dubbed my Box of Tricks. It was all organized and ready to go, so I had everything I could want right at my finger tips.
First, a few tips:
***Remember, you're pretty much living in your car for however long it takes to get to your destination so resign yourself to a little mess, and noise, and stickiness, and crankiness, and all the other fun things that are part of life (just condensed into one tiny location).
***Put a towel under your toddler's carseat before you buckle it into the car. This makes clean-up much easier when you arrive. Now take a deep breath and remember you can wash/vacuum it all away when you get wherever you're going. (update: A reader commented on this post warning that placing anything between your child's seat and the seat of the car may decrease the effectiveness of your child's seat. See the comments for other suggestions to keep the mess at bay, and feel free to add to the discussion.)
***Hit the dollar store before you leave and pick up a new toy or two to pull out of hiding when you're desperate. This little treasure was one of Erik's favorite ways to pass the time on the road and it only cost me a dollar. Best buck I ever spent.

***Unless you have a very strict schedule that you HAVE to keep, don't give in to the temptation to hit the drive through for meals and just keep rolling while everyone eats. Look for somewhere to stop where Jr. can get out and run for a few minutes. The break will make everyone happier and you'll be glad you took a few minutes to relax.
*** Try to stay organized. Trust me, the chaos and clutter of toddler travel will make you nuts if you don't try to keep on top of it. While some mess is to be expected and accepted, try to make sure you have all the important things (toys count as important here!) where you can find them when you need them. I chose to keep all our things in a box, but I seriously considered this idea.
***Pack some fun snacks. And when I say "some" I mean "a TON". I used this idea to make some "Surprise" Snack Mix. I just bought a couple varieties of snacks (making sure to get a mix of sweet and savory, crunchy and chewy) and mixed them all together. (*we did learn that the french toast goldfish grahams make everything else in the container taste like maple syrup, so consider yourself warned!). Whenever Erik would get crabby/munchy I'd fill up a designated snack cup with some of the mix and he'd go to town.

*** Sit in the back seat with your child if at all possible, at least while he/she is awake. I know, it's not as fun, but remember they don't enjoy being stuck back there anymore than you do and maybe if you work together you can make it better for everyone.
***If there's enough room keep a comfort item or two within easy reach at all times. Erik got to have his favorite blanket and stuffed animal on the seat next to him at all times so he could grab them for a snuggle whenever he wanted.

And now for the activities we did (links take you to the sites that inspired me or to Amazon):

  • Play dough in a balloon. I used the idea from this pin to stuff the play dough in there and it worked great! All the squishy fun of play dough and none of the mess. It builds strong fingers too! (Here is our favorite play dough recipe)
  • Books. Lots of books! Grab a couple old favorites, and maybe even consider picking up something new to pull out when you've all had more of each other's company than you think you can handle.
  •  Mobile magnet boards. I made my magnets out of some magnet paper I had leftover from another project (this paper also gives you the option of printing images from your computer to make your magnets with). I used a light layer of glue to put the pictures on the magnets and then after they dried I covered them with contact paper. You can also get some adhesive magnetic sheets in the craft aisle in Walmart that would make it possible to skip the gluing step, or just do like the mom in the link above and just use magnet tape or stickers. The magnet board is just a cookie sheet I picked up for less than a dollar at Walmart. It doubles as a tray for other activities we did, and was small enough to fit nicely in the top of my Box of Tricks. 
         *These magnets are made from a couple of books I picked up at the dollar store.
         *These magnets are made from magazines I picked up off the freebies table at our local public library. We discovered that fashion magazines have the biggest pictures of faces, so look for those. 

  •  Remember I said we used the cookie sheet for other things besides magnets? I stuck some painters tape and a few pieces of contact paper in my Box of Tricks to make a mini sticky story board

  •  Pack a container of Fruit Loops and some pipe cleaners. Encourage your child to thread the cereal on the pipe cleaner to make an edible bracelet or necklace. Snack and activity in one!Just be careful to help them finish off the ends so they don't bite down on any sharp ends of the pipe cleaners. 

  • Remember to pack a few favorite toys from your toy box. You may have noticed our Mr. Potato Head in my Box of Tricks. We also had some matchbox cars and a few other small toys. If you can stand the noise, toys that have buttons to push and that light up and/or make noise are great for the car as they are engaging even when the child is strapped in (unlike, say, cars which may be more fun when the child is able to drive them around the house). 
  •  Pack some paper and crayons or colored pencils. We put ours in an empty PB container to keep track of them easier. Here is another time when the cookie sheet came in handy!
  • Stickers! Hit the dollar store and stock up. And learn to be okay with stickers going on more than just the intended piece of paper. 
  • Activity Boards. We were going to make this one that I saw on Pinterest, but then we found this one and decided it looked like WAY more fun. This (along with the ball I mentioned earlier) was one of the top 2 favorite things of the whole trip. When everything else was boring, the Latches Board never failed to entertain. 
  • If worst comes to worst, you can do what we did towards the end. Pull out your laptop/ipad/ipod/whatever you have and watch videos. Erik can sit and watch videos of himself for hours, so we just played all our home videos over and over for about two hours the last day. Not ideal I guess, but hey, we all made it there without one of us killing the other so I count it as a success.
  • And for one more thing that I had tucked into my Box of Tricks: I took a  big handful of our Rainbow Rigatoni and a piece of string all prepared as I described in that post and put them in a ziplock baggie. This was a great way for Erik to pass the time and it was nice to have an activity he was already familiar with.
Remember to just relax and try to have fun with your family. Look out the window and talk about what you see. Sing silly songs. Turn on the radio and dance/wiggle (as much as you can while belted in anyways). Stop and see the sights along the way (if time allows). And when you start to feel tired of being the constant entertainer and the seat gets hard and the road seems to be going on FOREVER and you find yourself asking yourself "are we there yet?", remember that it's worse to sit and listen to a screaming kid. So chin up and put on a smile (their contagious you know) and hang in there! If mamma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!

*****Be sure to check out the sequel to this post that I wrote on 2/9/16 for lots more ideas!

What tips/tricks do you have for traveling with little ones? 

*Diedre Mower is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This post contains affiliate links.


  1. Great advice, but I would ask that you remove the bit about the towel under the car seat. It is not advisable to have anything between your car seat and the seat. Even those third party upholstery protectors are not by recommended by certified child passenger safety technicians

  2. Kara you can get round that by using a few towels laid flat in formation around the base. Still catches the mess but doesn't interfere with the car seat

  3. Planning a cross country road trip from Idaho to Michigan to North Carolina! We do this trip every year and I usually do the same thing for them but they're getting older, 5.5 and 4.5 years old, and wanted to give them some new options. I love your list and am very grateful that you took the time to put this together.
    THANK YOU! :)

  4. This is a great list!! :) We are doing our annual cross country trip to see family in 2 different states and I was looking for new things for my kids to do for the drive. I usually do the same thing every year but since they're getting older I wanted to do something more for them then just coloring, reading, and movies.
    I am very grateful to you for taking the time to put this together! Thank you. :)

  5. Some great ideas in here. I was wondering had you thought of laminating the magnetic pieces so they last longer?

    1. I think that's a great idea. I don't have access to a laminator, so I use contact paper to cover things when I want them to last longer. I did that with these magnets and they lasted several weeks with pretty hard use.

  6. I also use a cookie sheet as an activity/coloring/snack tray but I stead of magnetic "stickers" I used a hot glue gun to glue magnets on some small toys. My LO loves my little pony so I glued magnets on a bunch of little figurines. BIG hit!

    1. That's a great idea! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Thanks for these great ideas! I unfortunately only stumbled upon this a few days before my trip, so I don't have too much time to prepare. But the cookie sheet idea is great! My son (21 months) loves playing with magnets. The button snake was a bit too advanced for him. Thank you so much for taking the time to write up this blog to help all moms out there!

    1. Etta, I'm so glad there was something here you could use!