Since today is the official start to the MLB baseball season (anyone else’s significant other salivating right now? No? Just mine?), I thought it was perfect timing to finally push publish on this post that’s been sitting in my drafts for far too long!
When Spring rolls around softball season kicks into high gear around here. Sikmon coaches 10U girls softball and after a long Spring season, we get a brief 1 week break and then dive right back in for a brutal 6-8 weeks of Summer All-Star softball which consists of out of town tournaments every Friday-Sunday. I literally don’t know how travel ball families do it for longer stretches of time because from January – July, softball season literally sucks the life out of me!
While traveling all over Southern California the past two seasons for softball tournaments with a toddler we typically call it a day at a nearby hotel but our days are spent (I’m talking dawn till dusk!) at the fields. So while Sikmon is out there coaching I’m just trying to wrangle a 2 year old, keep her on a consistent eating/sleeping schedule, and maintain my sanity.
While a single day at the fields, the beach, camping, etc…with a toddler doesn’t sound that daunting, it actually is. I definitely noticed the shift last year in terms of difficulty compared to when we did this the first year and our daughter was just a baby. Babies are so much easier to travel with! They’re sleepier, they’re less mobile, and you can literally strap them to your body all day and they wouldn’t mind. Strap a 2 year old to my body all day? Psh! Please.
I know this post doesn’t apply to all but I think some of the tips and tricks I’ve discovered are universal for any situation where you find yourself outside your normal environment for long periods of time with a toddler – I call it TOGO: toddler-ing on the go! Basically…I’m sharing all my tips and tricks for keeping your toddler fed, rested, and alive while out and about.
If Traveling By Car
If your timeline allows and you’re traveling by car, we always try to time our departure during a normal sleeping period and hope that she will sleep while we hit the road. As she’s gotten older, her car napping isn’t great but if we’re only traveling a few hours away, chances are we we’ll get lucky and can make it to our destination before she even wakes up. Comfy clothes are a must for any long distance travel – jammies are usually a great travel outfit. These solid colored ones are my favorite and I’m slowly converting her entire jammie wardrobe to these. We use this short sleeved version during the Summer too.
Keeping Toddlers Entertained
Luckily being outside is the best kind of entertainment for a curious toddler so not many extras are required but a few things have been helpful for our all day excursions:
- Toddler Chair (because they always want yours – if you have babies, this would be great to feed them in)
- Beach pail and shovels (we bring this everywhere – there’s always dirt to dig and treasures to tote)
- One of my best Mom-hacks is to use the above mentioned pail, fill it with water and just use some cheapy foam brushes to draw fun shapes or write words! We draw on benches, rocks, concrete, even the side of random buildings – it’s just water!
- Picnic blanket (for picnic lunches and a clean spot to sit or snooze – I love a nylon blanket with weighted corners because grass / debris cling to anything fabric like)
Travel With Food. And Then Bring Some More.
I always try to be mindful of traveling with on-the-go friendly snacks – things that don’t need refrigerating. Depending on where you’ll be, toddler friendly foods might not be readily available so keep this in mind. For days at the softball fields I know that the snack bars technically DO HAVE food that she could eat but it’s expensive and most of it’s just junk so I try to avoid it if I can. Very rarely do they offer anything healthy such as bananas, yogurt, or food of that sort, so I always pack lots of food in advance! Once in a while I’ve gotten lucky, but the last thing I need is a cranky toddler on a sugar high.
- Mini Muffins (my go to recipes here)
- Smoothies or fruit purees like applesauce (they travel well in these re-useable pouches)
- Bananas (we use something similar to this to avoid bruised bananas)
- Dry cereal (we use these snack cups)
- Cereal Bars
- Fresh fruit
For Lunch / Dinner:
- Soups or pasta salads (we portion out them into these containers and if heating is necessary we use this)
- Mini PB&J / nut butter / grilled cheese sandwiches (they travel well in these re-useable zip bags)
If we’ll be out of town for multiple days and staying in a hotel, I’ll make a few days worth of meals for the baby and store the extra in the hotel refrigerator. If we go out to eat she will eat off the menu but often times we’re at the field literally ALL DAY and unless I leave the field, go back to the hotel, or go to a nearby restaurant, I have to come prepared. Sometimes leaving the field is more hassle than it’s worth when you have to navigate a town you don’t know and fight for parking when you come back.
Napping on the Go or in a Strange Environment
This has been the hardest obstacle to tackle and overcome but I’ve been at it now for a while napping a toddler on-the-go and this is what has worked for us to keep our sleep schedule mostly in tact!
If our tournament schedule requires us to be at the field during a normal nap time I bring our pack n play and set it up in a shaded area. I try to find a remote part of the field that is quiet enough for her but close enough for me to still see the game – this isn’t always possible but I do my best and cross my fingers. I prepare the pack n play in advance making sure to bring all her pacis and/or anything she normally sleeps with. The idea is to create a sleep environment most like the one she’s used to at home.
To block light, wind, and noise, I use this SnoozeShade for our pack n play and a this portable sound machine that we charge via USB in the car. This isn’t a fool proof method to getting a good nap out of her but it helps. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to just lower my expectations. I can’t expect her to take a long nap like she normally would at home in an environment that is strange and loud. She doesn’t sleep well in the car or the stroller so even though I might not get her to sleep as much as she normally does when we’re at home, what I can say is that without these 2 things, she wouldn’t nap at all. Any nap is better than no nap in my opinion! I’m just a Mom trying to prevent major meltdowns and tantrums due to being overtired and I bet there are so many other parents out there who can relate
The other place we use these 2 things (the SnoozeShade and the portable sound machine) is whenever we stay in a hotel or go to a friends/relatives house during nap time. But specifically regarding staying in a hotel – ever share a hotel room on vacation with your toddler who goes to bed at 7:30 pm and then feel trapped in the darkness for fear that even TV watching will wake them up? Yep, that’s me! Or used to be me…
Let me explain how we solved the hotel sleeping situation with the help of these three things: the pack n play, the SnoozeShade, and the sound machine…
I set everything up just like we described above – SnoozeShade on the pack n play, sound machine on, BUT we put the pack n play into the bathroom!!! After doing all our normal bedtime routine stuff – diaper, pjs, story, back rubbing – I lay her down inside the pack n play that we’ve set up in the bathroom (the top of the shade zips open and closed), and shut the bathroom door behind me.
This does a few things: setting up her sleep environment in the bathroom gives her a dark and quiet space to sleep in (we haven’t encountered a hotel room yet that the pack n play hasn’t fit in), just like at home and it gives us the freedom to watch TV, eat, etc. without worrying that the baby will wake up. If she does wake up, the black out shade literally blacks out the surroundings of the bathroom, so all she sees is darkness and isn’t freaked out waking up in a strange environment and typically puts herself back to sleep. When we do this, we do have to go down to the hotel lobby if we need to use the restroom but small sacrifices.
I always love reading posts like this because everybody has a different experience and what works for one person may not be the same for the next so I hope you found something that may be helpful for your next TOGO outing. If you have any other tips for toddler-ing (and surviving) on the go, I’d love to hear! I think I’ll follow-up this post up with a toddler must haves – similar to my post on our favorite baby essentials because while writing this post, I realized just how many products I love using and make my Mom life so much easier. And we all need that, don’t we?!