By Christina VanGinkel
When my daughter told her young son that they were moving into a new house, the first thing he asked her was if he could bring along one or two of his toys. She realized instantly that he thought they were going on another trip, as he had been traveling with her and her husband extensively throughout his two and a half years of life. The first thing they always did when packing up for the next trip on their never ending list of travels was to allow him to pick out one or two toys in addition to the basket my daughter always packed of assorted items to keep him occupied for the long car trips.
She always said that the most important item packed for each trip was whatever item it was that happily kept him occupied during the long hours that were spent in actual travel time. Once they arrived at their newest destination, she always spent the first day finding out where the local park was, and if the community had a swimming pool, if the hotel they were in lacked one. A young child craves activity and things that keep them occupied. Staring out a window as the endless miles roll by is not a fun way to occupy their time.
Because she traveled with him as a baby, and then as a toddler, much more than most parents will ever with an infant or toddler, she learned the value of keeping a young child entertained safely while strapped in a safety seat. Her and her husband also made sure to add plenty of rest stops and lengthy breaks to their travel time that they might otherwise not have done. She said that the stops were so refreshing for all of them, that even when they traveled without their young son, they still followed the same course of action, as it meant they did not become tired or stressed behind the wheel as they often did before they had him.
As to what they brought along to keep him occupied, she always said that it was the variety of things, which worked, better than any one choice. They brought with quiet items such as books and soft puppet style toys, and they brought along noisy toys, such as a small electronic musical toy that strapped right onto the bar of his seat. When he was small, they also made sure that when possible, the toys they did bring were ones that could be conveniently snapped onto his seat so that they were not continually picking up the toys, because as with any child of a certain age, he went through a phase of throwing anything they gave him to play with. Her and her husband also took turns sitting with him in the backseat so that he did not feel as if he were all alone. Even if you travel with more than one child, occasionally mixing things up by allowing an older child to sit up front while one of the adults sits in back is a great way to break up the monotony of a long vehicle trip.
If you have a vacation or other travel situation coming up that is going to require long periods of time in a vehicle with a young child, or even a couple of kids, be sure to pack with their comfort in mind above and beyond all else. Be sure to pack snacks and drinks that can be easily consumed in the car or at rest stops along the way. Be sure to pack a few surprises for them to play with, and allow them to pick out one or two favorites on top of what you have packed. If possible, travel when you know it is normally their naptime, and if the travel time is so extensive that it will encompass the better part of a day or two, be sure to make plenty of time for extra stops and plan to stay in a hotel that is accustomed to kids. Often, it is the small things such as these that will make what could be an unbearable trip all around into one that is not only bearable, but even fun!