How I Drove 14 Hours Twice in One Week Without a Toddler Tantrum

14 Hour Drive pin

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The first family vacation after becoming a parent is both exciting and scary.  Our daughter was 15 months old when we took our first family vacation. We underwent the dilemma of do we drive, or do we fly?  After lots of thought, research, talking to other more experienced and more well traveled parents, we decided to drive.  It really came down to how much equipment we would need for our daughter given our destination. We also really didn’t want to be those parents thousands of feet in the air with a screaming toddler (if you are one of those parents, no judgement coming from this direction, parenting is tough!).

I put in a lot of work the weeks before our trip to try and be as prepared as possible.  I wanted to set us up for a successful vacation.  I made a huge list of everything to pack including food, clothes, entertainment, and toiletries.  We were very nervous about this trip. We hadn’t been out of state for three years and we really wanted to go to the beach. We thought about a closer destination for less time on the road, but decided to go for it in the end.  Apparently all the effort was well worth it.  We drove 14 hours twice in one week without a single temper tantrum. This is no joke!  I was shocked, especially since we usually can’t make a 30 minute drive for groceries without a few tears.  After arriving at our destination, I just knew it had to be a fluke that we had made it so far with smiles on all of our faces. But then we did it again a few days later. I’m going to tell you exactly what we did to give you a good chance at having a successful vacation as well.

Destination and Living Arrangements

We put a lot of thought into this one.  I really wanted to go explore the mountains. The problem was that we would be in a car all the way to the mountains and again once we arrived in order to get through them. I knew that was way to much time in a car for my toddler.  We wanted a destination that would allow us to walk everywhere we wanted to go for our entire stay.  Of course that meant choosing a touristy location. We were okay with that.  We chose Destin, Florida.

The next challenge was finding somewhere to stay close to the beach, restaurants, and other entertainment. I went a step further and had my mind set on a condo with a fully equipped kitchen as well as a washer and dryer available.  After doing some research, found us the perfect location.  We were right across the street from the beach, had inexpensive rent, that kitchen and washer and dryer I was looking for, a balcony with ocean view, a pool, and a bedroom with all the linens we needed.

We are so, SO happy that we chose a condo with  We needed this with a toddler in tow. We walked to the beach in the mornings and could easily go back to our condo for nap time or just to give our daughter a break from the sun. The kitchen was a lifesaver! It not only saved us money, but also the stress of eating out in restaurants with a busy child. We ate breakfast and supper in our condo and enjoyed the local restaurants and seafood for lunch.  This was a perfect balance for us.

What We Packed

Here I will tell you the what we packed that made the trip go so smoothly.  You must know that we took a truck in order to get our equipment to Florida.  Here is a list of the big items:

  • Pack and play
  • Stroller
  • High Chair
  • Two coolers with food and drinks for our entire trip
  • One large suitcase with all of our clothes and toiletries.
  • Beach umbrella and beach mat
  • Sand bucket and shovels – not big, but very important!

If we didn’t have a truck, we would have done without the pack and play, high chair, and extra cooler.  There were so many things that I wanted to have within reach in the truck.  Here is a list of those items:

  • Hand wipes and kleenexes
  • Easy foods for my daughter to eat on the road – Fruit, crackers, cheerios, cheese, etc.
  • A sippy cup with milk – I kept a small cooler in the cab of the truck. Every time we stopped we refilled the cup from a milk jug in a bigger cooler in the back.
  • Paper plates and plastic forks and knifes
  • Window shades for napping
  • Sunscreen and a bucket hat for my daughter
  • Extra clothes, diapers, and wipes
  • Cell phone chargers
  • Plastic bags for trash
  • Entertainment (keep reading!)

This car organizer was so handy for keeping the little things within reach.  Here comes the fun part, the toys and entertainment! Be creative when planning this part. When traveling this far, its all about making the clock tick away without anyone noticing. Here is what I packed, hopefully this helps!:

  • Mess free markers and paper
  • A couple of the child’s favorite books – interactive books are great! We look some touchy feely and slide and see books.
  • Small handheld books – this was a lifesaver! We could use an hour at a time on this. My book set has 12 books. I would hand one to my daughter and let her flip through it as long as she wanted. Then I would read it to her and let her flip through it again until she was finished. Then we would move on to book number two and repeat.
  • Sensory bottles – There are a lot of ideas on Pinterest. Make sure you super glue the lids on!
  • Bubbles – Yep! We blew bubbles in the car.
  • Glow sticks and other light up toys for night time driving.
  • A metal cookie sheet or pizza pan and magnets
  • A snuggle buddy – my daughter loves sleepy bear.
  • A few toys your kiddo has never seen before. For us this was a car and truck.
  • Amazon’s Kindle Fire Kids Edition – I don’t believe in very much screen time for toddlers, but I knew that we needed powerful tools in our arsenal of entertainment. You can download games, books, drawing apps, and movies.  We bought it before hand and didn’t introduce it to her until the trip.
  • A ball for driving breaks to stretch our legs.

Another great idea from my in-laws is to give your child a small present to open about every hour or so.  Go to the dollar store and find little things that your kids can unwrap.  Not only is a new toy fun, but so is the anticipation and unwrapping it.  This is such a great idea! We did not do it this time because our daughter was so young, but we will next time! When your kiddo has been through your entire bag of secrets, make up new games and songs.  Be silly and fun and creative!  We made up all kinds of games, sang songs, danced, tickled, and my 15 month old daughter even learned to count 1-2-3 on her fingers and toes and we completely wore out the five little monkeys.  Have fun with it!  Once you are worn out with all that creativity, go through your bag of secrets again. Keep reading because there is more important information below for a successful road trip.

The Drive

Another really important step that we took to make sure the trip went smoothly was to plan the actual ride in a smart and strategic manner. I rode in the back right next to my daughter the entire trip.  For some families this may not be feasible due to multiple children, car sickness, or other reasons.  I knew this was something I had to do to make the trip as peaceful as possible. It was well worth it!

We left home mid-morning in order to give our daughter time to run around and get some energy out.  Then we drove for three hours at a time stopping in between for about an hour to stretch our legs. We stopped at rest stops and parks to use the restroom and to play with our little girl.  This is when the ball came out a we chased bubbles as well. Right before getting on the road again, we would pull out the coolers and prepare our lunch or supper.  We wanted our stops to be for getting energy out, stretching our legs, and restroom use. Food was a great way to settle the toddler back into the car seat again. Eating on the road used up about 30 minutes of our driving time. Remember, its all about knocking time off the clock.

When it was raining at the time of our stop, we found a mall to walk through. This wasn’t as good as a park but at least it gave our daughter space to stretch her legs.  She enjoys people watching so she was perfectly happy holding my hand and walking circles around the mall. We continued this pattern of three hours on, one hour off,until our daughter fell asleep for the night then we continued on for another 2-3 hours before finding a hotel.  I refused to drive all night long because I wanted my husband and I to be rested up for a fun time on the beach.  During the last stop before bedtime I changed my daughter’s clothes as a signal for sleep and to make her comfortable.  This also allowed us to remove her from her car seat without needing to wake her once we stopped driving for the night.  We did so well on day one that we only had about 3-4 hours left to drive the next day.

This pattern and the entertainment that we planned worked like charm. We were even stuck in traffic for two hours on the way back, and still no tantrums.  I hope this helps you plan your next family vacation and eases some of your planning fears. Leave me questions and comments and I’ll get back to you!

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