ROAD TRIP! We love road trips in the lil Wykes family, but it is not always easy when you have a toddler and a tight budget. In June, we took a quick six-day vacation to Saint Petersberg, Florida (from Houston), a total of 15 hours driving. Here are some of our tips for taking a road trip with a toddler including budgeting strategies, packing checklists, recipes for food to take on the road, and overall the reality of a family roadtrip!
Watch the video for this post!
Let me start off by saying we used to take a trip after looking at our finances, thinking we had enough money, going out and doing whatever, then coming back and crying over the credit card statements. Now we’re about to be a family of four, and we’re starting to make grown-up savings goals. Thinking about stuff like retirement and health care. So, those footloose and fancy-free days of spending are behind us! Time to get anal about our budgeting. But hey, it can still be fun, right?
Rooms + Gas Money
When I budget for a trip, I always start out with the fixed costs. We’d already booked the Airbnb and knew exactly how much it was going to be. On top of that, I calculated about how much we would spend on gas. In a perfect world, we’d load that money to a gas card or pay cash, but we live in the real world where credit cards are much faster to use at the pump. When you’re traveling with a toddler (and a pregnant wife), you have to go with what’s going to keep you sane and, if possible, happy.
In Mobile, we stayed at a Candlewood Suites, but we were able to use Ryan’s IHG reward points for both nights (there and back). The rooms there are great! Some of them are even two rooms – bedroom and living space/kitchen. We had a one-room (because we were using points), but it was still roomy enough for us. Plenty of room for Genny’s pack-and-play to be far enough way from our bed so that we didn’t bother each other at night.
Eats + Drinks
Using the magic of Google, I looked up gluten free restaurants near where we’d be staying a jotted down how much it would probably be for the three of us to eat at each place. In addition, I also created a grocery list so I could purchase sandwich fixings, ingredients for breakfast, snacks for the road, and alcohol for Ryan. Not buying alcohol when we’re out can easily cut our eating out budget in half! It helps that I can’t drink right now, too…
With this information, I could then put a certain amount of money aside for each day of the trip just for food. I also put a chunk aside for anything we wanted to do while we were there and for any alcohol Ryan would want while we were out.
Ultimately, the packing comes down to four categories: clothes, food, toiletries, and other. I usually make a list of what we’ll need a day or so before I want to pack so I can make sure clothes are clean and stuff.
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Clothes for each of us: 8 shirts/dresses, 2 pants, 4 shorts, walking shoes, sandals/beach shoes, swimsuits, 8 underwear, coverups, socks, towels
Genny: hair ties, toothbrush, toothpaste, brush, tylenol, pullups, sound machine, sheets for pack and play, pillow/blanket, sleeping bag
Toiletries/Overnight bag: shampoo, conditioner, soap, razor, shaving cream, toothbrush, makeup, toothpaste, flossers, q tips, brush, hair ties, sunblock, nail clipper, tweezers, washcloth, baby tylenol, advil, Emergen-C, Essential oils: Thieves, Lavender, Eucalyptus, baby cough medicine, nyquil, claritan
Other: games, pillows, pack and play, stroller, beach cart, floatees, folding chairs, books, notebooks, laptop, ipads, chargers, phones, toys, beach hat, camera
Food: Breakfast for Friday, road snacks, made sandwiches, sandwich stuff (for 4 more lunches): bread, lunchmeat, cheese, mayo, mustard, tomatoes, lettuce, onion, pb, honey, alcohol (wine, cider), Izze, ice chest, coffee, cutting board, knife, scissors, brownies, plastic bags, paper towels, plasticware
My go-to breakfast item on the morning that we leave for a trip is actually my own recipe. Last year, Ryan and I went to this little cafe on Galveston Island for brunch, and they serve the best sausage and apple frittata! I went home and crafted my own take on it. It actually has no sausage in it, rather I use bacon (which is always better) and two secret ingredients that you probably wouldn’t expect!
For lunches, we usually pack sandwiches to eat on the road. For this trip, we also planned on eating 4 additional packed lunches, so I prepped everything I could ahead of time. This included slicing tomatoes, cutting onions, washing lettuce, and bringnig along condiments, paper plates, paper towels, and plasticware. I also baked two boxes of Betty Crocker’s Gluten Free Brownie Mix and brought them along for a sweet snack!
See my Gluten Free Costco Haul video here!
This saves us loooots of time and money when traveling. We also pack lots of snacks to eat on the road including beef jerky, chips, crackers, nuts, and water. The key to traveling with a toddler is SNACKS! Lots of them, endless amounts of them.
The Packing Part
One secret to packing efficiently is to roll your clothes. Now if you know how to do the whole Marie Kondo thing, then that’s great. But I’m also not a minimalist. I’m an essentialist. I believe in bringing anything you need to be comfortable and to have a good time. If that means the car is packed to the roof, then THAT’S OKAY! Where did this notion that you need to bring as few things as possible on a trip come from? Again, when you’re going on a road trip with a toddler, you need to do what is going to make the trip enjoyable. No matter what.
When we go on trips, I usually want to look cute, too. And I want my kid to look cute. This means bringing maybe an extra pair of shoes or a cute dress that wasn’t really needed. That’s okay, too! I won’t tell Marie.
Preparing Your Toddler for Travel
We talk about states a lot because Ryan travels frequently. Every now and then, Ryan has to take a trip to Alabama, and whenever he’s out of state, I always tell her where he is. Sometimes we even pull out her map of the United States and point out where we are, where he is, and trace the route that his airplane might take. This helps her feel connected to him, even when he’s gone. And it gives her a teeny tiny frame of reference for what we mean when we say he’s out of town.
It was fun taking this trip with Genny because she finally was able to see how the routes on her map translate to driving. It takes quite a bit of time to drive from Houston to Mobile!
Talk about it – When you’re preparing to take a road trip with a toddler, talk about it well in advance. Talk about where you will go, how you will get there, how long it will take to get there, and how long you will be there. Include details about what things you will eat, see, feel, and do. One time we forgot to tell Genny that we were not bringing Howdy on a trip with us, and she burst into tears halfway there when she realized Howdy wasn’t in the backseat.
Bring a variety of things – Bring a variety of activities and toys that will entertain during the drive AND when you’ve reached your destination. Some ideas are coloring books (but don’t leave those crayons in the hot car!), familiar books, interactive toys, when you need to pull them out, electronics. We like to save tv watching as a last resort, but no judgement if you pull that out for every road trip! Ryan loaded his old iPhone with some episodes of Genny’s favorite shows for this trip since it was so long.
Take frequent breaks – If your toddler is potty trained, you know the importance of stopping already! But don’t rush the trip. If you’re always focused on getting to the destination, you’ll miss out on the fun of the journey. Stop off at a Scenic View or two. Stretch your legs at a family-friendly rest stop. Take ten minutes to play on the park playground. These simple adjustments to our schedule have redeemed many a tiresome road trip!
Pack the car smart – Doubtless, your toddler will be calling for snacks or a sippy cup or a specific toy five seconds after you’ve pulled out of the driveway. When you pack the car, put those things well within YOUR reach so you can be quick to the draw. It usually doesn’t matter if these objects are within reach of your toddler. Chances are, she’ll demand you fetch them anyway.
Snacks. All the snacks. – Need I say more?
Our Florida Trip
The plan was to leave early Friday morning, drive 7.5 hours to Mobile, Alabama, and stay a night there. Saturday, we would get up, have a bite on the road, then drive 7.5 hours to Saint Petersberg, Florida. There, we had an Airbnb for 3 nights – an adorable little two bedroom with a full kitchen, two full baths, and a hot tub (!!).
Our day started a little rough. I had good intentions, but everything just didn’t pan out. I ended up spending like 3-4 hours on my computer working on a project.
Our trip didn’t start out flawlessly. We were on time until we pulled out of our neighborhood and my car started making a weird noise. Turn around we went. Right back home. Where we, in astonishing speed, transferred everything from my car to Ryan’s truck. Thankfully, we had already dropped Howdy off at Ryan’s parents’ the night before so we didn’t need to worry about her.
After we were loaded up AGAIN, we had to go through a quick oil change garage. So in total, we were about an hour and a half behind schedule by the time we got on the road. Oh well. We didn’t really care about that.
Genny was in an especially grumpy mood that morning, and Ryan was slowly shedding the worries of home and work as he drove. We were all about halfway to Alabama before we felt like it was actually vacation. We ended up having a wonderful time all together, and we got to meet up with my good Insta friend, Cait Englebert, and her family, which was great!
Overall, so grateful for the chance to get away with my family!
What was your most memorable trip as a kid? Share with me by commenting below!
Love, Emily XOXO
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