4 Tips for Road-tripping with a Toddler

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Mr. T and I are travelers at heart.

We were married on a beach in Aruba. We flew to Australia for a concert. I took Mr. T on a surprise trip to St. Kitts for his 35th birthday.

I — I mean, we — really enjoy traveling.

But since we became three, we’ve stayed close to home. Baby Bird has a passport, so that’s not the issue.

It’s the thought of traveling with a toddler that’s stopped us from leaving the nest.

Until last weekend.

My family and I were invited to visit Idlewild and SoakZone in Ligonier, Pa. (more on that later this week). Daniel Tiger lives at Idlewild, and if you’ve read this blog before, you know we’re a Daniel Tiger-loving family. We had to go.

Idlewild is less than 90 minutes from our house, so I figured the trip would be a piece of cake.

I could not have been more wrong.

Getting there was relatively painless. The ride back was HORRENDOUS.

Baby Bird cried because she wanted to nurse. She cried because she wanted out of her car seat. She cried when my phone died and she couldn’t see Sesame Street anymore.

She cried and cried and cried.

When we got home, I vowed I’d never do that to her — or myself — again.

Then I came up with these four “Ts” for successful travel with a toddler.

  1. Temper your expectations. Don’t expect your baby to stay cool as a cucumber during 19 hours of travel. It’s highly unlikely that Little One is gonna stay cheerful through eight straight hours of driving. Unless you have the most chill baby in the world, you should expect some tears at some point.
  2. Timing. We left Pittsburgh at exactly the right time — naptime. Baby Bird was awake for the first 30 minutes of the drive, then she slept until we were 10 minutes away from Idlewild. We COMPLETELY screwed up on the return voyage and got back to the car after she’d fallen asleep.Instagram post after a day at Idlewild and SoakZoneI tried to ease her out of the stroller, but I failed miserably. The tears began soon afterward. Moral of this story: Leave home near nap- or bedtime, and plan your return so Little One will fall asleep during travel.
  3. Treats. I packed Gerber puffs, my homemade oatmeal baby bites, sliced seedless grapes, and watermelon pieces. I had milk in her diaper bag, and a bottle of water in case she wanted that.
  4. Toys. I usually keep a few toys in the diaper bag, but I cleaned them out so I could pack “essentials.” If I’d had her favorite blocks or her learning lion, the meltdown might have been avoided. Toys — don’t leave home without them!

If you’re a family that’s OK with TV time, you could benefit from my DIY iPad mount. Making it takes 5 minutes.

You’ll need a gallon-sized storage bag, two no-slip flat headbands, and scissors (and an iPad or iPad mini, of course).

Cut slits 1.5 inches from both sides of the bag and 2.5 inches from the top. Then cut holes 1.5 inches from the sides and 3.5 inches from the top.

“Xs” mark the spots.

At this point, you should put your iPad in and seal the bag.

Thread a headband through each bottom hole, then bring the bands through the top holes.

Step 2 of DIY iPad mount

Pull the bottoms over the tops, then bring the loop down onto the bag. It’ll look like this:

Step 3 of DIY iPad mount

Once you’re in the car, just put a band over each headrest.


If you have a middle headrest, you’ll follow the same directions but cut the holes at 3 inches in and 4 inches down, and 3 inches in and 5 inches down.

You can play movies you’ve stored on your iPad, or you can turn your cellphone into a WiFi hotspot and let Little One watch PBS or Netflix. (An additional phone battery or portable charger will come in handy.)

We will travel again. Soon. And when we do, we’ll be ready.

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Road Trip with a Toddler: Four Essentials for Nearly Tearless Travel

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