We recently returned from our first road trip with our spirited, sensitive toddler. We drove from San Jose to Los Angeles (roughly 5-6 hours). Leading up to the trip, I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and stress just thinking of all the firsts: first time in a car for 6 hours, first time in a hotel room with us, first holiday without a “safety net”. (Safety-net meaning staying with family where we had everything we needed). We had a couple of rough days (the first day we arrived in LA and the day we arrived in Disney Land), which is to be expected. But overall, he handled the whole thing extremely well. There are a few factors that I think helped contribute to this success.
Mini Adventures Around The Bay
Although this was our first long road trip together, I think the mini adventures we’ve had around the Bay Area have helped. We’ve driven an hour or so up north to the Jelly Belly Factory and Sausalito, as well as a couple hours down south to Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay. So I think these mini trips were great preparation: you sit in the car for a period of time and then get to do something fun. I’m really grateful that we have done mini trips like that. At the time, it wasn’t our intention to prepare him for a bigger trip like this last one, but it certainly paid off.
Fully Potty Trained and Ready To Go
Just over a year ago, we decided to start potty training our stubborn, strong-willed little 2 year old. Those were trying days but by July last year (after a big move), he had figured it out himself. He would go to the toilet without help. Fast forward to January 2018 and we started night time potty training. It went really well and, surprisingly, didn’t take that long. With this said, we’ve still had accidents on occasion but they have become so few and far between.
So, given the schedule change and the general upheaval of travel, I expected him to have accidents. I ended up packing a couple of waterproof pads to cover the mattresses with. I also packed a little container of laundry detergent. Well, turns out it was all for nothing. He CRUSHED it! Now I’m sure if I wasn’t as prepared, it may have gone the other way, but we are unbelievably proud of our little guy.
We also packed a portable potty in the car in case of emergencies and we didn’t have to use that either. He told us when he needed to go and waited until we were able to pull over/get to a bathroom.
Sleep Training for the WIN
To date, the hardest decision we’ve made is to sleep train our child. We started at 4 months old. It was extremely difficult and upsetting but, thankfully, it only took 3 nights and he was asleep. Once he stopped the night time feeds and he figured out daytime sleeping as well, I decided to introduce the Gro clock. There was a lot of teasing as people thought it was a ridiculous concept. In general, you set the time for the sun to rise and they can’t leave the room/bed until that time. We started implementing the Gro clock at 12 months old, making sure to be there when the sun came up. Now as a three year old in a toddler bed, he knows the deal. Mornings consist of little footsteps across the floor, followed by the door flying open and the announcement “the sun is up”.
So knowing how integral the Gro clock is to our bedtime routine, I made sure to pack it. This worked out so well for us. Especially by the time we got to Disney Land. He stayed put until the sun came up, allowing us to get a couple extra minutes, sometimes seconds, of sleep.
Along with the Gro clock, I also made sure to pack his favourite blanket, his cuddle creature, and his pillow case. I also packed his favourite bedtime books. So we were able to keep bedtime routine fairly intact and it worked really well for us. We only struggled for the first night in a new place but he adjusted – even for nap times.
But, overall, the road trip MVP goes to…
The Portable DVD Player
Oh man!! This saved us! It was a last minute purchase (Amazon delivered it on Thursday, we left on Saturday), and it was such a clutch move. His favourite show right now is Scooby Doo. We had purchased a DVD with 24 episodes and it worked out great. Plus, it was a bit of a cheap clunker so there’s no touch screen and we could adjust it to cover the buttons and the DVD part so there was no messing about with it. It was so great!
We also packed some toys, including his favourite Imaginext characters, mini mister potato heads, and Magformers. He played with his Imaginext characters in the car for longer than we thought he would. And he enjoyed playing with his potato heads in the hotel room. So it all managed to work out well.
Looking back, we could not have had a better experience for our first real family holiday. It helped that the second half of the trip was to see family at Disney Land, but he managed himself really well. Considering we are making that trip to LA again in 3 months, it bodes well that this first time was so great.
I may have jinxed it by typing that but hey, that’s life right?!
If you have any tips and tricks, or something you found that worked great for you and would like to share, please let me know in the comments. I love to hear about different strategies and celebrate any and all parenting victories! I’m also super empathetic to strategies that didn’t quite work either. So, again, please feel free to reach out to me even if it’s just for someone to talk to.