DIY: Road Trip Play Tray
If you’re wondering what I’ve been up to lately & why I haven’t been posting, it’s because my little family was on an eight day road trip to Arkansas so my husband could meet his buddies for some mountain biking. One of the wives and I had so much fun shopping, enjoying great food, and wheeling around my little guy in his stroller in the sunshine while the boys were biking. Bentonville, Arkansas was totally worth the trip!
We drove from here in Pennsylvania to Arkansas and it was a 20 hour road trip. We stopped to see family twice on the way there and made one overnight stop on the way home. The longest stretch of driving was a 14 hour day.
I have to say, my one-year-old traveling companion did great! Sure there were a few stretches with tears and tantrums, but for the most part, he did lots of sleeping and playing and eating.
I did a lot of research beforehand about long trips with a toddler. I cobbled together a bunch of advice and found some things that worked really well. Oh course, all kids are different, but there are some universal toddler truths: keep them occupied, keep them fed, have sit down restaurant breaks so they can squirm, and stay positive.
The one thing that worked the best was sitting in the back with my little guy while my husband drove. I created what I’m going to call a road trip play tray to have in the back with me. I had so many fun little toys and treats and was able to distract and surprise him almost the whole trip.
I wanted to share this idea because I think it could really help someone else planning a long summer vacation road trip with their little ones.
DIY Road Trip Play Tray
Small snack containers
Toys, games, and books
I did the majority of my shopping for this play tray at Dollar Tree. I knew that these weren’t going to be things that needed to last generations and figured the less I spent the better. Dollar Tree has a ton of basket caddies like this one. You can also use any kind of container you find that has separate compartments.
I bought four snack containers that were clear because they could be both entertainment and good way to serve food. I liked that I could give a little container to my son to use as a rattle or just explore if he wasn’t hungry. I add some sweet and savory snacks: veggie straws, puffs, yogurt melts, and tiny fruits (dried pieces of fruit leather). Really anything works here! As long as you fill them with snacks your child loves.
(Sometimes your baby gets a little clubby. Despite the glow sticks and pacifier, no party drugs were included in this play tray.)
At Dollar Tree I found all kinds of cute little toys! Some of the toys in this play tray are from a children’s store I found in Bentonville, but many are from Dollar Tree. Probably the best thing I bought were glow stick toys. (Normally, I wouldn’t trust a one year old with toys for kids over three, but I was sitting in the backseat and could make sure he used them safely.) We ended up driving through the night twice, so anything that lit up was perfect! I also found a googly rubber monster that lit up when it hit the ground. That soft squishy guy was a favorite!
The shiny Rubik’s Cube was a particular favorite. He certainly can’t solve it at this age (I would be pretty freaked out if he could), but just moving it around and looking at it sparkle in the sun was fun for him. I also found this robot with rubber band connections that turned into a little cube. He loves trying to figure out anything that moves, so both were really fun. The pinwheel and bee car were also a big hit.
I also got a few small books that my son had never seen before. I guess everything in this play tray was new! I think the novelty helped because they weren’t the same old toys he has at home. I found a book with a little handle that he liked and a book on fruits that was super cute. I chose ones with different shapes and textures.
Last but not least, I included some instruments. This is of course up to your ability to handle kids playing loud instruments in the car… I found this cute xylophone and some kazoos (not pictured) that were fun to play with. I liked the xylophone because it packed down small and was about the width of a book. He also loved the drumsticks for tapping on things.
Of course, whatever your child likes is great! I thought the most important things were: novelty, tastiness, different shapes and textures, and things that light up.
This play tray worked amazingly well! I also judiciously used a few kids movies/episodes that I downloaded onto my iPad from Netflix. It helped so much that I downloaded them because cell coverage was spotty in some parts of our trip. I’m not a fan of screen time for my son normally, but this was an extra special (and extra fun) vacation from the ordinary.
I also did some other things that helped a lot: we drove through the night a few times, I put him in his most comfy pjs, and we made quite a few longer stops for meals. This is my happy little camper at Denny’s on Mother’s Day. He loved being out of the car, stretching his little legs, and having some more freedom. We also did plenty of (assisted) walking in the restaurant and outside. The more sunshine the better! I couldn’t be more proud of this tiny guy.
I hope your summer vacation journeys are peaceful and fun. Let me know your tips and tricks for traveling with toddlers in the comments below. Happy travels!