Taking road trips with tiny toddlers

It’s been a quiet past 3 months in terms of posts which is due to it being a very busy past 3 months in our household!  As summer winds down I’m hoping I’ll have more time to write.

Most summers, we try to do a family road trip to the Okanagan.  Getting to the there from Calgary involves a solid 8 hrs of driving which translates into 9 or more hrs on the road depending on pit stops.  We’ve had two very successful trips that we’ve done with friends and their children so I thought I would share what’s worked for us!

In particular, these tips are geared towards the tiny toddler crowd.  Little bear is almost 20 months and is old enough to need entertainment and toys but not quite old enough to play by herself or watch a cartoon.  There’s a big variation in sleep patterns/preferences and development in toddlers so your mileage may vary with some of these tips :)

Destination: Okanagan!

Destination: Okanagan!

 

Planning

After several overnight and weeklong trips with a kiddo, I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) that the further ahead I plan and pack, the more relaxing a trip will be.  Many of the items we bring are ones that we use everyday so I start with lists.  Many, many lists.  My favourite way to keep track of lists is using Google Keep.  Every time I use a list, I’ll label it (ie “Toddler Overnight”, “Toddler Weeklong”, “Toddler Camping”, etc), color code it (all toddler lists are one colour, adult lists another colour, etc) and then archive it.  That way on my next trip, I can easily find the list that most closely applies to my trip, make a copy of it, re-name it and reuse it!  This saves time as I create my lists fairly quickly and edit them as needed.  Then I can check things off the list as I pack them throughout the week and see in a glance what I’m missing before I head out the door!

Packing

The day before a road trip, I pack the car up with as much as I can so that come the next morning, I just have to grab a few last minute items and head out the door.  To help with this, I’ve bought doubles of toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, etc … so that I can pack those without waiting for bedtime.  It’s also key to be as fully packed as possible the night before so that …

Getting an early start

The best way to make a long trip with toddlers feels shorter is to ensure they’re sleeping for a large chunk of it!  How do you get an active, wiggly toddler to sleep? Well, one answer is to drive through the night.  For us, we didn’t feel comfortable doing this as the Trans-Canada through the mountains is full of wildlife, is not twinned for a majority of the trip, and involves driving up and down several mountain passes with no shoulders and extremely steep drop-offs.  Instead, we leave around 4am which allows us to leave the city and hit the single lane section right when the sun comes up.  We set our alarms, finish any last minute packing and the last thing we do is wake up Little bear, change her diaper, buckle her in and take off.  It usually takes LB 30-45 minutes to fall back asleep and she’ll stay asleep for 2-3 hrs.  For us and our friends, this little trick has worked every time for all three kiddos (19 months, 26 months, 4 yrs).

Snacks, snacks, snacks …

At home, we have a routine for meals and snacks and try to limit sugar and processed food.  On road trips, all of that goes out the window! We pack a variety of fruit, cheese and yogurt (which we try to offer first – ha!) but also bring copious amounts of favourites (Multi-Grain Cheerios, yogurt melts, fruit pouches, rice rusk cookies, homemade protein bars with generous chocolate topping, juice boxes, etc).  Little Bear is old enough to tell us when she’s hungry so it’s a good time killer to go through the snack pack and find something that suits her.

Toys!

Often, hubby and I will intentionally pack less for ourselves so we have more room for toys and games.  I’m ok with wearing the same thing a few days in a row but I’m less ok with running out of things to do in a car!  We try to bring a bag of favourite toys, a bag of books and a bag of new toys that are bought specifically for the trip.  Some toys that worked well at Little Bear’s age are Mr. Potato Head (my childhood fav!) and a Crayola coloring book and markers (we went for markers that will only colour on Crayola’s books).

Pit stops

Once Little Bear is awake, we found ~2hrs is the sweet spot for how long she can happily be entertained.  After that, we try to plan a break or if she falls asleep, we keep driving until she wakes up.  This makes it hard to predict where where’ll stop so part of my pre-trip prep involves finding a kid-friendly restaurant and or/park every 1-2 hours on our route.

Other

If we’re lucky, grandma will join us on our trip. On other road trips we’ll rotate who is driving and who is on toddler duty to give everyone a break.

Have any other tips for road trips with toddlers? Know of some good places to stop on the Trans-Can? I’d love to hear!

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4 Comments

  1. Teagirl Katie

     /  November 6, 2015

    Recent trip Vancouver – Calgary & back, with 3yo & infant, here were our stops (I also do lots of planning for potential stops, you never know…):

    Brambles Bakery in Merritt (stopped here both ways). Great food (they are even licensed! Although we already planned our beer stop for later so we didn’t imbibe…), good amount of space and great little play area which my older daughter loved. Couch near the front is a comfy place to breastfeed. Gets busy but the line moves fast.

    Naked Pig in Vernon (**don’t confuse with Noble Pig in Kamloops!! I was confused, we had previously stopped at Noble Pig. Naked Pig was much better in our opinion**). We were here between lunch & dinner time (I often find that works best, to go at a slower time for the restaurant), we had excellent service, lots of space, TONNES of food (we got one of the BBQ platters with sides, we were all full after lunch and had lots of yummy leftovers for dinner once we got to our cabin). We really liked that you can add your own sauce to the meat, and good beer selection.

    Kicking Horse Coffee cafe & Arrowhead brewery in Invermere. The cafe is a bit expensive but we did quite like the food. We were here in summer so sat outside, indoor looked like it could get crowded. Coffee obviously is AMAZING (and I am not a coffee drinker). Arrowhead brewing like most breweries allows kids, has a big space including a nice big bathroom (can’t remember if they had a change table – we have few qualms about using floors so I don’t usually notice!!), lots of fun decor our 3yo enjoyed checking out.

    Visitors centre @ Rogers Pass was a great place to breastfeed (I stayed in the car), go to the bathroom (big bathroom with change table), eat a snack (something we brought – not sure if they have stuff you can buy, they probably do but likely $$$). It looks like you’re “supposed” to have a park pass to use the bathroom, but we didn’t and nobody stopped us (it was a super busy summer day). Interesting stuff to explore outdoors in summer.

    Stopped in Golden but didn’t really like the place we ate (White Mountain Bistro), walking around town after it looked like “Taps” would have suited us better but we didn’t actually go. (I have a note from a previous trip that “Turning Point Cafe” is recommended for kids, but I can’t remember if we went there or not)

    Owl Street Cafe in Hope, just off the highway (it’s on the old highway, makes you grateful for the new highway), looks a bit odd (part of the RV park) but has good inexpensive diner-type food, kid-friendly.

    And randomly in case you’re in Pemberton: Mile One Eatery, amazing food, great kids play area, also licensed. And Mt Currie Coffee Company. And Blackbird bakery. Hm I need to go to Pemberton again soon.

    In Squamish, Howe Sound Brewing allows kids ’til 9pm, lots of space, pretty good food, quite good beer!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much Katie for all your tips! That is a fabulous list of pit-stops :) I’m especially excited to try Naked Pig now. I had been thinking it may be a while before we attempt a long road trip with Little Bear and cub #2 but sounds like you have already done it so perhaps I might not have to wait so long!

      Reply
      • Teagirl Katie

         /  April 4, 2016

        I’m randomly back: I just found this which is SO helpful for planning road trips!! https://trips.furkot.com/ui
        Just wanted to share. I’m currently planning a 23 day road trip with our 2 littles :)

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