How to Handle a Long Commute with a Toddler

When we moved three months ago, one of my biggest worries was how Abbie would handle the longer drive. Our drive home is typically about 45 minutes to an hour, and that’s a long time for an energetic toddler to sit still in her car seat. Overall, Abbie has been pretty good about it, but it does have its challenges. It’s so important to be prepared, and over time I’ve learned what helps us.

 How to Handle a Long Commute with a Toddler

  1. Be mindful of your toddler’s mood. Most of the time when I pick Abbie up, she’s happy and in a great mood, which usually means an easier ride. If she’s already cranky, I adjust my focus from being fun to just keeping her as happy as I can.
  2. Have snacks and water handy. Toddlers are finicky, but most of the time a snack will help. I usually stash one of Abbie’s water cups along with an easy snack (like goldfish) in the car, and it’s saved my sanity countless times. Toddlers sure love their goldfish.
  3. Talk and play when you can. Obviously, this is something you have to judge, since it’s more important to drive safely. While I can’t turn around and look at Abbie while I’m driving, I can talk to her, even though she’s not at the point where she really responds. When I’m at a red light, I’ll reach back and tickle her, grab her hand, or find a way to be silly. If she’s whining while we’re stuck in traffic, I’ll tell her about the cars or the scenery, or ask her questions – even though she can’t answer me yet. It helps her to know I’m still with her and engaged, but focused on getting us home safely. I’m hoping it’s a precursor to conversations about her day as she gets older.
  4. Have distractions ready. As much as I hate it, Abbie’s pacifier is a necessary part of our commute. It’s a good comfort and distraction for her. We occasionally are able to make the drive without it, but usually need it. I also keep toys in my car that are specifically car toys – stickers and Doc McStuffins flashcards are great because they’re easy to hand to Abbie and she can play with them quietly. Of course, there’s two last resorts – the Disney Junior playlist on my phone, and my Kindle Fire. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve listened to the playlist, and while I don’t love listening to it, it keeps Abbie happy for the most part. The Kindle is always the last resort – I try to limit Abbie’s screen time when I can, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
  5. Try to be patient. There will be days that it sucks. Northern Virginia has some of the worst traffic in the nation, so this is something I know all too well. Sometimes traffic is backed up for no reason. Sometimes there’s an accident, and sometimes more than one. Sometimes your toddler will be in the worst mood, and maybe you will do. Just keep in mind that it’s okay, and you’ll get through the drive, one day at a time.

Anyone else out there with a long commute? How do you keep your toddler happy?


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  1. Jenny
    December 17, 2014 / 1:08 pm

    Great tips for car travel! We don’t commute every day but we do have an hour trip to the new house a few times a week. I like to get stuff from the target $1 bins as new car toys for travel and rotate them. A favorite is a minnie mouse doodle board I picked up and anything princess!

    • Jess
      January 15, 2015 / 3:32 pm

      Yes! Distraction is a must!

  2. December 18, 2014 / 10:58 am

    Ok, first off, that picture is SO CUTE! Secondly, great tips. Fortunately for us, our commute is only about 10 – 15 mns but you are right – having snacks on hand is a MUST to keep our ride smooth. Maddy is also at an age where I can talk with her about her day so that helps. Great tips!
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    • Jess
      January 15, 2015 / 3:33 pm

      Thank you! I miss the days when our trip was only about 15 minutes…dang DC traffic.