After our first road trip with a newborn I remember thinking, “Never again.” After a few more journeys we learned how to handle road trips with a newborn and felt like total pros. Then our son turned into a toddler and changed the rules of the game. Road trips with toddlers? Totally different than with a newborn.
The good news is that road trips with toddlers don’t have to be a nightmare. In fact, they can be a lot of fun when you prepare for them! But, failure to prepare all but guarantees a rough trip. So, grab some coffee or beer, get a pen and paper, and prepare to learn how you can make your life a whole lot easier.
13 Tips for Traveling with Toddlers
When traveling with a newborn, you’re pretty much concerned with one thing: keeping them alive. With toddlers, you’re obviously still hoping to keep them safe and in good health. But, you also have the added challenge of keeping them entertained and in good spirits throughout the journey. As someone that’s taken multiple 1,000-mile trips with a toddler, I promise you it CAN be done.
Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to having a great trip!
1. Pack More Than Necessary
It’s easy to pack what you think you need. This is no time to be a minimalist hero. Go above and beyond and pack what you think you need and then some.
Make a checklist that includes the essentials, like clothing for everyone, toiletries, favorite toys, tablets and phones, chargers, and so on. Then, double back and add in some additional clothing, extra toys, and so on.
It’s often dangerous to give your toddler too much control, but this is a case where it’s helpful to hand them the reins and let them pick out which toys they’d like. (Just don’t let them pick all your clothing or you’ll leave the house looking like me.)
2. Keep Toys Accessible
All the toys in the world won’t help you if they’re in the trunk. Keep your toddler’s toys accessible and within reach.
We have a big toy bag that we let our son fill up before a trip. It sits in the backseat, next to his chair, so we can easily pull toys out as he requests them. Patience is a virtue and one worth teaching children, but when you’re traveling with toddlers, keeping them happy in that moment is often more important!
3. Bring Travel Snacks
Eating out is expensive. Like, really, really expensive. And it can add a lot of time to your trip, which is likely going to feel lengthy already given you’re traveling with a toddler. Instead, bring some travel snacks.
We like to make miniature sandwiches out of Hawaiian rolls, which keep really well in the cooler and are perfect for eating while driving. Think about what your toddler likes to eat and make some bite-sized or travel-friendly versions. Goldfish make a great car snack, as they don’t get TOO crumbly. Also, chopped veggies and blueberries are fairly safe snacks to include. (Be warned that blueberries can still be utilized as warpaint by your toddler in the backseat.)
You’ll also want to pack a ton of water. Bottled water is often costly and particularly wasteful, so try getting a jug of water that you can pour into reusable cups and bottles instead. This will save you money, produce less waste, and give you something to hold over your more wasteful friends. (That last part is my favorite.)
4. Have Spare Clothing Available
You really can’t have enough clothing when you’re traveling with a toddler. Your little one will inevitably spill something all over their shirt or pants. There’s also the chance they have an accident, especially if they’re in the midst of potty training. In either event, you’ll be glad you have spare clothing in the trunk.
It’s also a good idea to pack extra clothing for you and your partner in an easy to reach spot, not the suitcase. You may spill something, or whoever is on backseat duty may wind up wearing some milk or berries. Road trips are long enough, let alone when you’re covered in crusty food.
5. Stock Up On Music
A lot of cell providers are stingy with data and don’t offer unlimited. Even if you have unlimited data, you may not have signal everywhere you go. Because of this, you should have music downloaded on your phones for offline use and maybe even pack some CDs. (You remember those, right?)
This can save you money on used data, and it can prevent heartbreak when your little one wants to hear their favorite song and you’re unable to stream it in a total dead zone.
Also, if you’re not already doing this, I highly recommend building a playlist of your kiddo’s favorite songs long before the trip. This ensures they’re handy anytime, whether you’re taking a road trip or simply heading to the grocery store.
6. Take Frequent Breaks
Sure, breaks make your trip take a little longer, but they also keep you and the rest of your family happy. Not to mention, it’s recommended that little ones stay in a car seat no longer than two hours at a time.
While toddlers may be able to stay in the car seat a little longer, two-hour gaps are a good rule of thumb regardless. These frequent breaks give everyone a chance to stretch their legs and roam around, as well as use the bathroom. This is especially important when you’re potty training, as your toddler can easily have an accident if forced to wait for more than two hours.
7. Keep a Wingman in Back
If you’re traveling solo, more power to you! You’re an absolute trooper and I could never do it.
For those of you with a traveling buddy, it’s a great idea to keep someone in back with your toddler. This person can help entertain, assist with any messes or feeding, and help take pressure off the driver.
Keep both parties feeling fresh by rotating roles if possible. The driver will likely appreciate the break, as will the person on toddler duty.
8. Pack a First Aid Kit
It’s a good idea to have a first aid kit in your car regardless of whether or not you have a toddler. This point is especially important when taking road trips with toddlers, though. With all those frequent breaks, trips, scrapes, and boo boos can happen. Some ointment and band aids can go a long way.
Bonus points if you have fun band aids for your little one to enjoy!
9. Bring a Surprise Toy (Or Two)
Pick up an affordable toy or two that your toddler has never seen. Save these for milestones on the journey as a little motivator for the rest of the trip.
For example, if you’re taking a two-day trip, you can give your little one a toy when you reach the hotel at the end of day one as a reward for their great behavior. This can help them stay excited about the trip, and give them something new to play with during the lengthy trip.
10. Get Your Oil Changed
Before any long trip it’s a good idea to get your oil changed and have your car inspected for general safety. AAA has reported that the majority of cars on the road face an above-average risk for breaking down, so it’s not a bad idea to have your car looked at.
On a similar note, look into getting roadside assistance if you don’t have it. It can be costly, but having it for lengthy trips can be a lifesaver. Being stranded is already a nightmare. Being stranded with your toddler? That’s not something anyone wants to experience.
11. Bring Wipes and Trash Bags
Your toddler may not be a baby anymore, but baby wipes are still a great idea. All those berries and drinks? That’s a lot of potential ick all over your toddler, you, your partner, your car, and everything else. Baby wipes can save you a lot of grief here.
You’ll also want some bags for any trash accumulated during the trip. You likely have some plastic grocery bags at home that are perfect for this. If not, use plastic bags during your next grocery visit and save them for your road trip. These make great trash bags and can easily be tied up and thrown away at rest stops.
12. Pack Car Chargers for Devices
There’s a big chance someone in your car has an electronic device. (Likely all of you.) If you don’t already have them, invest in some car chargers for your devices. Even if you’re playing music that you’ve downloaded, you’ll burn a lot of juice and will need to top off your phone or tablet.
It’s also wise to keep your devices charged up in case your car does break down, again, making car chargers an awesome idea. Don’t splurge on the name brand or “official” chargers for your devices, but instead opt for generics online. Just make sure you read the reviews first!
13. Take it Slow
We’re always in a hurry. Take your time on your trip and enjoy it! You’re on a grand journey with your loved ones, and should make the most of it. Turn your frequent pit stops into exploratory trips, take tons of photos, and don’t be afraid to make the trip a vacation itself.
Your toddler is at the stage where they’re starting to form memories. Use this road trip as a chance to make those memories great ones!
Mastering Road Trips with Toddlers
Road trips with toddlers have the potential to be stressful, lengthy, and downright terrible. But, they really don’t have to be. With some planning and the right mindset you and your family can have a great time.
You’ve survived road trips with a newborn, you can easily survive this. Pack heavy, get creative with the in-car entertainment, and enjoy the ride!