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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 12°C
parents panel

'Sit in the back with the car seat if you can': 9 tips for winter travel with toddlers, according to parents

Winter generally involves at least one long car journey or flight. Here’s how to manage.

BY THE TIME your little one reaches toddler and preschool age, they’re well able to tell you what they want. And that’s where the trouble starts, from dealing with tantrums to navigating playdates. That’s why it can be so helpful to hear how other parents are getting through it all.

Our Toddler and Preschool Parents Panel is made up of parents with little ones from 24 months up to age five.

This week, we asked parents for their tips for traveling with kids, from having nursery rhyme playlists ready to play, to packing right snacks. With the holidays coming up, you might want to take note of these if you have a long car or plane journey with small kids ahead. 


What’s one tip for making holiday travel with kids less hectic? 

Here are some of the best answers: 

Pack a lot of snacks: All of the snacks, and preferably a passenger to root out and pass back the snacks if you’re driving! Raisins, bananas, apples, bags of Snax, brioche rolls, non-spill beakers… literally all of the above if it’s going to be any longer than an hour on the road! And if it’s a serious drive, have your research done and pick a good stopping point with a playground or at least a decent area to sit and eat something to break the journey. 

- Michelle

shutterstock_1129025474 Shutterstock / Yaoinlove Shutterstock / Yaoinlove / Yaoinlove

Snack, nap, repeat: For us it’s songs, snacks and sleep! We tire them out singing every song they know, stuff them full of Chickatees and milk, then it’s nap time. Then repeat until we reach our destination.

- Nicola

Opt for Sky Rules: I always find this is a lesser or two evils option. Either you can maintain regular rules and routines about betimes and screen time limits, and the parents suffer through stress, sweat and trying to be the in-house entertainer to stop the little ones from annoying everyone else (be it the other siblings in a car or fellow travellers on a plane) for the entire travel time.

Or eff it all and go with Sky Rules. At the first sign of any disgruntlement, let them have screens whenever they want for as long as the journey continues. Maintain healthy food for as long as you can, but when you need to bribe them to be quiet, sit down or keep their seatbelt on, throw treats at them like nuts to crazy monkeys. The fall-out from this is dealing with sugar crash and screen withdrawal anger, so it’s a tough choice.

- Emily

Cue up an audiobook: We try and pack loads of snacks if it is a car journey and that keeps them busy for a while. Then, the usual colouring, I Spy (which my kids do not get and spend the whole drive roaring “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with red” or some other colour, frequently now as Gaeilge thanks to having one in school and one in preschool).

I also find audiobooks are great. A bit of Stephen Fry reading anything keeps us all going, then crank up the heat and watch them drop off to sleep so myself and himself can get back to a true crime podcast that’ll have me afraid to get out of the car if it is dark when we arrive. 

- Tracy

Plan out toilet stops: My first tip is do your homework, even if you’ve done this trip hundreds of times before without kids, google map your route and know where ALL the possible toilet stops with baby changing facilities are on the journey. The bigger service stations or fast food chains are good for this. 

Next tip, learn the art of distraction because inevitably as soon as you pass the last service station for 60km you will hear “I need go toilet” being shouted from the back seat even though your three-year-old was adamant that she didn’t need to go when you asked her two minutes ago and there was still time to pull off the motorway. “Can anyone see a red car?” and “let’s all sing Old McDonald had a Farm“ have bought us time in the past when searching for somewhere safe to stop for an emergency wee.

Always pack spare clothes for all the kids somewhere that is easily accessible so you don’t have to unpack half the car to find a dry pair of trousers for someone. Give yourself loads of time, bring snacks, play music that you can all sing along to, try to treat the journey as the start of your break or holiday and don’t let it get you stressed. 

- Deirdre

Drive to the sound of nursery rhymes: All of our car journeys, no matter how short, are complete with a soundtrack of nursery rhymes. There are 99 songs on our CD, and our two-year-olds have most of the playlist memorised now. It usually keeps them happy, which is the main thing! Pressing play as soon as we get into the car is automatic, just like putting on our seatbelts.

I have often been driving without the kids but forgotten to switch off the CD and listen to the radio – probably singing along to it too…

- Ger

Get petrol beforehand: For us, going with routines works best, so making sure we are packed and ready to leave at nap time. Have petrol in the car so you aren’t stopping as soon as they drift off (mine wake at the sniff of a shop!). If it’s extra long, I’ll sometimes squeeze myself between the two car seats (I’ve a six-month and three-year-old) so if either wakes I can entertain them while the other sleeps.

Our three-year-old is truck obsessed so we always have a steady stream of trucks and tractors for him to play with. But yes, always a cartoon downloaded should things go particularly awry and we are… in a 4G free zone, the horror!

 - Niamh

Stock up on new library books: We always used to plan our two-hour drive home around naps, but to my absolute horror my two-year-olds have recently dropped their nap. We have a trial run for the Christmas trip this weekend and the plan is to give them new library books for the first part of the journey, and then we have Julia Donaldson audio books to play which we all quite enjoy – unlike the dreaded nursery rhyme CD that I used when they were younger. 

- Joanne

Download Netflix shows before you board: Our Christmas trips are usually by plane as my family live abroad. We prepare by packing loads of mess-free snacks and activities. It’s just down to just enduring it really. Luckily, the flight we take is only three hours long so having even done this a few times on my own with our two boys, I can safely say, it’s not necessarily pleasant but it’s definitely doable.

One thing that does work though and can’t be bought on board is downloading a hefty selection of Netflix shows on two tablets and bringing headphones for the kiddies. Yes, we area those parents – on the plane at least.

- Kaisu

More: What’s one parenting issue you and your partner never agree on? 9 people share theirs

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