Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tips for traveling with toddlers

I don't mean to imply any sort of expertise, because honestly we mostly just borrowed ideas from others...but just in case anybody else is looking for help, here is what we did RIGHT in getting our 2-year-old bouncy boy moved from Ohio to Idaho via cramped, overloaded family sedan.
1. Emotional Preparation: THE MAP. I am pretty proud of this one. Months (okay, maybe weeks?) ahead of time, I let Mr. Lo help me create a map from Ohio to Idaho. We used scrapbook paper, stickers, markers, photos of family members, etc. and I haven't scanned it but for your visualization help, see below: We discussed and examined the map on at least a daily basis, so frequently that Lo became able to read it aloud to any friends who came to visit. "My home," he would say, pointing to the house on the far side. "And this GrandMom's home. I move Idaho, live GrandMom home." We especially made sure to pull it out during the trip whenever Lo started pleading to "Please nap my own bed?" rather than a hotel room/carseat/etc. and we'd remind him why we were on the road. He really did seem able to understand and respond positively to the visual of the map.

While driving a few days into our trip, Lo enjoyed using the map to talk about places we'd already seen and activities already done. "What this, Mommy?" he queried, pointing to one spot or another, and I'd tell him what the pictures on the map represented.
2. Special Treats: OUT OF SEASON FRUITS. We tried to keep Lo's candy intake to a normal level, and instead supplemented our roadtrip snacks with special fruits he hasn't had in awhile to delight his palate. He regards fruit as the same category as candy anyway--gets equally if not more excited over watermelon, grapes, and strawberries compared to chocolates or whatnot. The watermelon was something like $6/lb. Yes. Worth every penny.

3. Special Clothing: SLIPPERS. We don't normally allow Lo to wear slippers out and about, but he got this pair for Christmas from a friend and loved them. They became his number one pair of footwear throughout the trip and he seemed to really enjoy wearing them. Simple pleasures to make the car ride more comfy. ps. he was making Nauvoo rope in that photo below, just happened to be the shot that showed his slippered feet. =)

4. Plan to be spontaneous: CHUCK-E-CHEESE. We ended up getting a hotel one night that was located directly across the street from a Chuck E Cheese (sp?). We decided to go there for dinner and it really boosted Lo's mood. On another night, we were musing about dinner plans and then drove past a McDonald's that had a playplace. No hesitation--we had gotten tired of fast food by this point, but knew the playing and running around would be good for that Lo. It is good to leave enough time in the trip schedule for unplanned playtime. When opportunity presents itself, take advantage.

We temporarily lost his slippers at Chuck E Cheese. =)

5. Teach. CARTHAGE JAIL: probably one of my greatest joys of the trip is when Mister Lo absorbed the brotherhood and love between Joseph and Hyrum Smith. He saw this statue, became enthralled, and for days afterward mentioned at random moments in the car,"Hand on arm" (referring to the pose of Joseph and Hyrum). I am glad we had a mindset of teaching our son during this trip because it made us as parents more patient and loving overall--and Lo picked up on our attitude. He was more coachable because he could sense we were intent on coaching.

On one of our other trips a few months ago, an irritable fellow flier on a plane trip with us snapped that we should be using Benadryl to keep our child quiet during the flight (Lo hadn't been crying, but was making loud happy playing noises at the time). The reason we Tams choose to abstain from drugging our child into complacency during trips is because we value teachable moments. And those moments often come unexpectedly. The brain of a child is precious and geared to learn--even on a long cross-country journey.

6. Activities: BUSY BAG EXCHANGE. We stuffed an entire 18 gallon tote full of hundreds of small activities. Some were dollar-store toys, some were more quality Christmas gifts (thanks again for the Aquadoodle, Joanne!), and some were hand-crafted treasures to keep a toddler occupied. I wrangled together a group of Mommy friends and we all made activities, then got together and traded what we had made so we each ended up with a huge pile of different activities. It isn't making sense the way I explained it just now probably, but suffice to say we all got some great ideas and ready-made "boredom busters" from each other. These photo cards were my favorite. My friend Chelsea pasted photos of all the little kids in our group, along with a tidbit of info about each child. There are also stickers on the laminated cards. Endless entertainment for Lo! He loved looking at the photos of all his friends, talking about their likes/hobbies, etc. and sorting the cards.

The item I made to give everyone was a clothes pin color matching game. I only used the colors Red, Yellow, and Blue, thinking to keep it simple for the younger set. But it still seemed a little over the head of our 2-year-old. He needs a lot of help to do this game. Still fun though.

By the end of the trip, we had gone through almost every toy in the box. It seemed like a near-perfect amount. We supplemented by buying a few small toys along the way (bouncy-ball from a vending machine, additional stickers from Wal-Mart, etc.) (By the way, the sticker book and stickers were a huge hit, I think because Lo recently hit that developmental stage of being able to easily manipulate the stickers on his own).

7. Spiritual Preparation: FAST AND PRAY. Both us Tams and others in our extended family/friend group were sending serious supplications heavenward that the journey would go well. I know this effort was heard and rewarded by a loving Heavenly Father.

I think that's about it. We had a fairly happy toddler for the majority of the trip, even with him getting pink-eye a couple days into the journey and coming down with a cough/cold the last day of driving. Seriously, it was a miracle how well the trip went. Best wishes to any others attempting a similar journey.

ps. I should cite this blog post for giving me the original framework of ideas to make traveling with toddlers a positive experience. I love her idea about incorporating literature, and though we didn't choose a specific book to be our theme for the trip, we did read a ton of books about cars/trucks etc. in the months preceding said driving, which made Lo be extra excited to see all the other vehicles on the highway. =)


Trina said...

You are amazing Courtney! Good Job! Your in Idaho? So close yet so far away :( It must be great having family around!!!! We need to chat & catch up.

Jeanette said...

The idea of drugging your child when they aren't sick makes me grumpy. Grrr. People are dumb.

TheTamFam said...

Trina! I know, I need to call you.

Jeanette,I was equally horrified when it first occurred to me that people misuse drugs just to conveniently keep their children dull--but then I found out a couple of my friends routinely use benadryl on their children while traveling. And these people are "normal" parents who I'm sure will have kids that turn out fine. But it does seem like a slippery slope to teach kids it is ok to use drugs other than for their intended purpose...