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Planning a road trip with a toddler might seem like a daunting mission. Let us give you some of our best road trip with toddler tips – from years of experience.
I’ll admit with our first baby, we rarely went more than an hour from home.
I mean, what if the child starts crying? Or will you be able to keep your child contented while on the road? A little planning (and practice) goes a long way. These are our best road trip with toddler tips – from packing to what to do in the car.
We are now seasoned road trippers, having gone more than 40 hours at a time with five kids in the car. We have been through all ages and stages – baby, toddler, preschooler, grade-school kids, tweens and teens. (Our oldest is grown up now). So yeah, we’ve been through the toddler stage a couple of times.
Here are 17 tips for a road trip with a toddler, which will ensure a smoother ride for everyone.
1. Prepare Your Car for the Road Trip
Since you will be spending lots of your time in the car, and driving many miles, it is essential to have it in the best shape possible.
There are various things that can occur on the road. We have had breakdowns, flat tires, freak snowstorms, vomiting kids, and more!
Always ensure everything is functioning well in the car.
If you are traveling during cold weather follow our detailed instructions and tips for driving in winter weather.
If you feel your car is not capable of going for a long road trip, renting a car or borrowing one is an option too.
Have you thought about renting an RV for your road trip? This is a hugely popular thing to do and you can reserve an RV on so many sites. Follow along with our series on renting and RV by starting with “Should I rent and RV (is it even a good idea?”
2. Have Road Side Assistance
Usually, roadside assistance seems like an unnecessary expense, until you require it. I have been so thankful to have someone to call when we are stuck on the side of the highway.
Always confirm if you are covered before purchasing a standalone plan. We have had plans that came for free with a new car purchase or along with car insurance.
Other times, I have relied solely on my AAA membership. I have not found a plan for roadside assistance that is better than AAA.
There are some clubs that offer their members roadside benefits such as Sam’s and Costco.
You should always ensure that your plan covers as many of the road trip problems as you can foresee. Also, if you are driving a motorhome, towing an RV or boat you will need additional coverage.
3. Know Your Driving Route
It is important that you know the route to your destination. While at home map out your travel route, download the digital maps and make sure to have written copies of directions and maps.
Although you might be headed for the beach in California, you could drive over high mountain passes in the snow. Knowing this will help you to pack the essential items that you will require to carry during the road trip.
I always keep a duffel bag of snow clothes in the car just in case we get caught in the snow. Also, I take along swimwear if I think we will stop at a hotel with a pool or at a lake.
Also, because rules can change by state, check the driving laws, speed limits and car seat laws in each state that you drive through.
4. Fill your Gas Tank
Another comfort and safety tip that seems obvious is to always ensure that your gas tank is full. Of course for safety reasons, you do not want to run out of gas.
Here’s the other reason. Once your toddler falls asleep you will experience a good hour or more of driving … if you can keep driving. It never fails for us that the kids fall asleep and we have to stop for gas.
If you can keep everyone asleep, by the time they wake up, all of you will be ready for a stop where you will refill your car. (During this time, ensure that the kids take a potty break too.)
Pro tip for gas station stops: They can drag on forever, at least ours can. I now set a timer for 15 minutes and everyone has to race the clock. We all pile back in before the timer goes off.
5. Car Seat Safety
Road trips with toddlers mean car seats. I love car seats for safety but
Having your toddler’s car seat inspected is essential for your child’s safety. If you haven’t already, you should have a certified child passenger safety technician to assess the seat and check if it is correctly installed. We usually get this done at the local fire station.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends having your child’s car seat rear-facing as long as possible.
In fact, 11 states (California, Connecticut, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia) now require children under 2 to be in a 5 point harness and rear-facing.
Related content: We talk more about taking a RV trip with a toddler and car seats in an RV here
6. Stock Your First Aid Kit
During a road trip with your toddler, you should always be ready for sunburns, allergic reactions, bites, bruises, bumps, and splinters, among other minor accidents. Since accidents occur on the road, it is advisable to be prepared for anything that comes your way, whether big or small.
If you are like our family, we go through a plethora of bandaids. My first aid kit is perpetually low on band-aides and some other necessities.
Before beginning your road trip, it is essential to equip your first aid kit with necessary supplies.
I keep a small first aid bag accessible upfront with me so I can grab a band-aide or eye drops quickly. Then, I keep a larger well-stocked bag stored in the back.
These are a couple of the basics that I include in my first aide bag –
- Triple antibiotic cream
- Anti-itch cream or hydrocortisone cream
- Aloe vera
- Baby fever and pain medication
- Allergy pills – in case of an allergic reaction
- Children’s motion sickness pills
- Disposable eye drops.
Additional Resources: For a more detailed packing list and first aide kit see our ultimate packing list for a family vacation.
7. Pack Extra Road Trip Entertainment
Having entertainment onboard is essential for a road trip
Having toys, books, and activities will help your toddler to pass the time during the trip. At some point, she will lose interest in those toys or books that she has at hand.
A lap book is easy and cheap to put together for kids. You can see the instructions for a free DIY printable lab book on this guest post on our site.
I keep an extra bag of activities to switch out the toys and books. We have favorite CDs with singing and sleeping music and some books on tape to listen to.
8. Consider renting an RV
We have rented an RV for a family road trip and it made meals, and potty breaks, and changing locations so much easier! RVing is an amazing way to see the road trip and see the country. You can say goodby to packing and unpacking every night along the road.
You can combine transportation, lodging, and dining in one self-contained unit. Especially for small children, consistency is helpful when traveling and resting. In an RV they get used to one routine and sleep in the same bed every night. In fact, road tripping with toddlers is what convinced me to rent and RV (and buy one shortly after) .
We got you covered with all the tips for your first road trip and RVing with Toddlers.
We loved renting so much that we have a whole series on the blog to help you rent and plan an RV road trip. Start here – Is renting an RV a good idea?
9. Don’t Forget the Binkies, Blankies and, Loveys
Trust me, you don’t want to be 3 hours from home when nap time arrives and the favorite lovey is sitting by the front door…. at home.
(Even my big kids have favorite car blankets).
I know this is hard because you may be leaving early in the morning and their favorite comfort items are now tangled in their bedding. Make a list, use a sticky note or sneak in after they are asleep to pack it in the car.
Plus, you might consider bringing extra binkies and blankies in case
10. Bring a Car Sick Kit
Unfortunately, we are very familiar with car sickness. So far 3 of our little ones have been very car sick. Take it from us on this road trip with toddlers tip.
After a few times of pulling over and cleaning up a toddler, car seat and car and I finally got smart. I pack everything I need for heading off sickness and cleaning up if necessary.
My kit includes the essentials like children’s chewable Dramamine, mints, ginger chews, sea bands, and minty gum. I also have bags, wet wipes and trash bags in case a little one does throw up.
Pro tip: If we do all have to pile out of the car for a clean-up, I look for a safe spot to stop. Sometimes this is a pull-off or rest stop so I spread our picnic blanket on the ground and everyone sits on it until I am done with the cleaning.
11. Keep Necessities and Activities within Reach of Toddlers
As a parent, the number one priority is to keep your family safe (and happy). Flailing your arm into the backseat to find a special blanket or digging through the glove compartment for a CD is not safe.
Keep things like favorite CDs, books on tape and wet wipes close to you in front, so you can access them easily. I drive with the kids alone
As for the backseat, keep blankies, activities, and toys close by so you can concentrate on the road and have your hands on the wheels throughout the trip.
I drape each
On a long trip, I keep a separate bag in the back to switch out toys and activities at each stop. Same for snacks. If I give the kids all their toys at once, they rifle through them decide what to play with and what is boring. So set some aside for an element of surprise.
12. Don’t Stress Over Spilled Milk … or Tears
Crying, whining and spills happen on a road trip.
However, if you are not close to a rest stop or a safe place where you can pull over, try calming her down with stories or songs.
Remember though that safety is the first priority. So if you can’t stop or calm your child, stay focused on the road despite your discomfort. In this
Remember that your child is crying but is safe in the car seat.
13. Get Out and Run
Rest stops are essential for everyone, especially toddlers. They will get restless and need to get out and play.
We schedule pit stops every couple of hours and we get out and move! Adults and older kids might enjoy sitting longer or going for a nice sit-down meal but this is asking for trouble with a toddler.
We try to stop at playgrounds that are just off the highway. Check google for “playground near me”. Sometimes I can hold off a meltdown by letting my little one look at the pictures of the park we are headed for.
Our other option is open spaces with trails or near water like a creek or pond. Throwing rocks is one of our favorite break activities.
If you are in a tiny town or in the middle of nowhere look for nice rest areas, open spaces or roadside attractions.
I keep a frisbee and ball in the car, so we can all get out and run in an open field if we can’t find a playground. The nice thing about toddlers is they do not need much space, a small patch of grass or sidewalk along a creek to throw rocks will do.
14. Save the Electronics for Last
During a long family road
Our kids don’t do well sitting for long periods of time and staring at screens. When the novelty of the screens wears off or we arrive, the kids are wild. Plus, we have kids that get car sick so they can’t look at screens on windy roads.
However, the screens are invaluable at the end of a long trip to get that last hour or two in though. So we save the screens for last.
We pack some of the favorite movies and a
15. Stop at a Kid-Friendly Hotel to Rest
During a road trip minimizing the stress of being in the car is very important.
We have an ongoing family debate whether to leave early, break the trip up by stopping for the night, or leave at bedtime and drive through the night.
Some families find it very unrealistic to be on the road for five hours with your young one without having a stopover.
If your child is young and you are traveling during the day then spreading out the road trip can be a good option. You might consider stopping over certain towns or cities on your route where you can rest.
When I am the only driver we stop more often for the night because both I and the kids need a break. Sometimes I have a specific town and hotel in mind and other times I drive as far as we can get.
The easiest way for me is to jump on Booking.com and search the area that I will be staying for the night. They frequently have the best list of options, all the information I need and cheap last minute rates. (I have been known to book a room online from the hotel counter when the online rate is cheaper) Keep our link handy for the best rates.
Either way, I find an affordable hotel that is good for kids and preferably has a pool.
Read More: How to Find Affordable Accommodations that Your Family will Love – tips from our family travels with babies, toddlers, kids, tweens and teens.
16. Nighttime Driving Tips
Some people prefer traveling during their child’s bedtime. We have done this when we have 2 drivers. Sometimes we can drive just 3 – 4 more hours after bedtime before stopping for the night. That helps us to make a better time than when everyone is awake.
Keep in mind that if you plan to stop at a hotel, you risk everyone being awake at midnight when you check-in. So we try to check-in and then bring the sleeping toddler in under a blanket.
(Side Note: This is one of the things I love about driving the RV. You pull over and carry the kids from the car to their own bed Read more about RVing with kids here.
We have driven straight through the night but this is not advisable with a baby. New research has indicated that an infant should not be in the car for longer than 2 hours due to the risk of breathing problems and strain on the spine (source).
Also, remember that without sleep, you will be worthless the following day. So we have only driven through the night with 2 drivers and when returning home from a trip where we can rest the next day.
17. Toddler Snacks, Drinks and Meals
You will need to carry enough amount of water which is capable of serving both of you during emergencies. Having extra for cleaning accidental messes such as juice spillage is essential. Snacks are exceptional in keeping the toddler happy and prevent him or her from being cranky.
Food and drinks are absolutely necessary for the road trips with toddlers. You want to carry enough water for you to drain during your trip an extra in case of an emergency.
I have a spillproof water bottle for each child in the car. I reserve juice and sweet drinks for a treat when we stop. This will help in preventing sticky spills as well as excess sugar consumption.
I learned my lesson by handing a toddler juice box at the very beginning of the road trip. Which she proceeded to squeeze all over herself and her car seat.
Snacks and extra food are important to stave off meltdowns due to hunger. They keep toddlers happy and prevent him or her from being cranky. Plus snacks can keep kids busy in the car.
Before leaving a pack a cooler with each meal that you plan to have in the car separated and snacks for along the way. I found that serving meals and snacks in a basket helps keep everything together and minimize the crumbs.
18. Potty emergencies
When having a road trip with a toddler having a good supply of diapers or pullups and wipes at your disposal is very critical.
Even if your child is potty trained, using disposable pullups is helpful since it can be tricky to find a bathroom while on the road. At
You might consider bringing a travel potty for situations such as this also. Especially if you are traveling through a city alone
Final Thoughts on a Road Trip with a Toddler
When having a road trip with a toddler, be prepared before you even leave the driveway. You can help avoid emergencies and be ready in case of one with a little preparation.
Pack all the necessities for a comfortable car ride including extra activities, blankies and lots of snacks. Furthermore, all the essential things you will use while on the road should be within reach.
You now have our best road trip with toddler tips from a large family. When on the road stick to the plan and be flexible when necessary.
Additional Resources for a Road Trip with a Toddler:
- Should you rent an RV for your Family Vacation
- Which Type of RV Should You Rent
- RV Road trip Destination Moab to see the Arches
- Essential Driving Tips for a Winter Road Trip
What are your best tips for a long road trip with toddlers? Leave your best tip in the comments or ask a question about road trips.
**Note – Unless otherwise noted all the photographs on this post are taken by me of our family and all rights are reserved by Shauna Kocman.
Hi, I’m Shauna – Welcome to Family Travel Fever. We are a large family, that was bitten by the travel bug! We travel with kids and extended family. I take the kids by myself sometimes because I don’t mind flying or driving solo with my crew to discover the coolest places.
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