10 Travel Tips for a Fun Road Trip with A Toddler
For some parents, there’s nothing appealing about the idea of taking an eleven-hour drive with a fussy kid. Just thinking about it will have you reconsidering the entire family vacation. I get it. I’ve been there, a few times over.
This summer we did A LOT of road trips with our littles, and I had a blast!
The kids actually loved it too… just not the driving part of it. LOL.
Spending hours on the road cooped up in a car doesn’t sound like much fun for us adults; so can you imagine how frustrating it must be for the kiddos (who just seem to need to MOVE THEIR BODIES lol)?
If this is your first time on a long drive with a toddler, you’re probably thinking it’ll be a nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be.
With a little bit of planning and a whole lot of preparation you’ll pull it off – and even have fun!
Every year we take off on a twelve-hour drive and now that I’ve been through it enough times, I’ve got it down pat.
I now know how to make the drive a more pleasant experience for all of us. To prepare you for that long haul:
Here’s my best travel secrets + tips for having a successful and stress-free road trip with little kids:
Of course, the older they get, the easier it gets, but these tips and ideas still apply when your kids are over 5! You might even find yourself adding “family road trip” to your list of summer activities to do with toddlers / kids by choice!
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Head out late at night on your road trip with a toddler
This small adjustment in our traveling plans made a world of difference in our overall trip, and it’s now our new normal.
I found that if you let the little ones stay up a little later than usual and then head out late at night, they’ll sleep early in the trip through a nice chunk of the drive.
You’ll have to adjust your sleep schedule for that night but it’s so worth it. It’s a nice change to start out a long road trip with the kids sleeping. The more time spent asleep is less time they spend feeling cooped up.
There’s another great perk to driving at night too, No traffic!
You’ll avoid the headache and make great drive time.
Snacks, snacks, and more snacks.
If your kids are anything like mine, they love their snacks.
Children tend to munch even more on a long trip, and you’ll want to have a variety of snacks within arm’s reach. I always pack a car bag to keep up front with me and pack snacks, chargers, meds, and water. I like to pack fruit, cheese and crackers, gummies, dry cereal, and whatever other snacks they’re into. I’d be cautious about the sugary stuff though; the sugar is just going to make them hyper and make that drive even more of a struggle. Here’s a list of clean road trip snacks if you need some new ideas!
If you want to avoid a backseat wrestling match, try having a separate snack container for each child to have their own.
Bring a Backpack of their favorite travel activities.
Pack each child a special activity bag full of fun things to do on the road trip – chosen just for them.
Small toys (especially if these are new toys they haven’t seen before, coloring, magnets, and stickers are some of the best activities for small kids in a car.)
Here’s a list of my favorite 20+ travel activities for kids (tried and tested on our out 4+ month epic road trip last winter.)
Break out that DVD collection.
I’m not ashamed! I usually don’t like to use TV as a babysitter and prefer to limit screen time but hey, sometimes you got to do what you got to do (and my kids definitely DO watch TV.). Treating them to a movie could be a nice break for both of you and be especially helpful if your child is struggling; so, let go of that mom guilt, now’s not the time for it. Opt for a movie that is kid-friendly, low-key, and brings them joy.
I like to save the DVDs for the last leg of the drive. It helps to keep them entertained for that last hour or two when everyone tends to be most on edge.
Believe it or not, music can set the tone for your entire trip. The radio can be your enemy or friend. Music can incite emotion and it can make the ride more comfortable, more joyful and relaxing; or it can make things more difficult for your child. If the music is too loud it can become a sensory issue and be over-stimulating or it could create frustration when they can’t get your attention
or communicate with you. For the nighttime leg of the drive keep the volume low and choose easy listening to support their sleep. During the day to complement their good mood go with fun, playful tunes.
Consider investing in a children’s CD and treat them to their kind of music for an hour, engage with them in song, be goofy and have fun with them.
Plan for stops.
It’s unrealistic to expect a long car ride without having to stop, and just not fair to the kids.
Build time in your schedule for multiple stops and opportunities to get a break from the car. Give kids some space to move around and burn up restless energy. Don’t make it a chore; DON’T RUSH THEM – if you can plan on stopping to see unique sights on the way, a popular park, or even just take advantage of the green space at rest areas along with the way, do it.
I always plan for a picnic lunch, so we aren’t in a rush, and this gives the little ones extra time to reset before getting back into the car.
Spend time in the backseat.
Not doable if you’re traveling solo (sorry!) but for everyone else, plan on having Mom or Dad spend a little time hanging out in the backseat.
Children love the one-on-one attention.
You can play games, read a book, or point out stuff along the way. Do this at a time when they are already in a fun, playful mood. If they see you heading to the backseat when they are fussing, they’ll use it to get your attention and you might regret it the rest of the drive.
It’s not a bad idea to keep a small box with a couple of new toys in the backseat, they’ll be plenty of time to check them all out but also remember, Hugs go a long way.
Change it up or swap out if you can.
If you’re traveling with extended family or in a group, and you have separate vehicles, let the kids ride with grandma and grandpa for a while.
Children love getting that special time with their grandparents / cousins / friends and it gives them new scenery and new faces to interact with. This can give you both a much-needed break where you can enjoy a little peace and quiet or even snag a few minutes of shut-eye.
Keep supplies nearby and accessible.
Oh, I remember the frustration of having to unload half of the trunk to dig through luggage to find that one specific thing. Trust me when I say, this is a hassle you do not need! Avoid this nightmare by keeping necessities nearby. Consider keeping diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, snacks and water all within reach. It’s so much better to be over prepared than trying to come up with something in the heat of the moment with a cranky child.
I always put the kiddo’s stuff in the car last, just in case – and often at my own feet so I can reach everything to pass around without having to stop the car.
I’m a planner myself but when you have children you have to be flexible. With kids plans often change, be prepared for it. Children will need to use the bathroom or get a diaper change,
They’ll get tired and frustrated being trapped in a car, they’ll get hungry, bored, and irritated; expect that.
Allow for changes in your schedule, if your child is sleeping drive further instead of stopping as planned. (I always recommend getting as far in the drive as you can while they are sleeping!) If they’re really struggling, fussy, and having a hard time you might have to stop earlier than you wanted. You might want to consider staying overnight at a hotel or even taking a long break along the way to enjoy an indoor pool, a lake, or a park. You have much better odds of a great road trip if you go into it being adaptable.
No matter what happens keep your stress and emotions in check, if you get frustrated, I promise your child will too.
Embrace your inner child.
Your mood sets the tone for the entire family, including the little ones.
Be willing to step outside your comfort zone and will yourself to act a little silly. Be playful; sing, dance, make goofy faces, tell jokes, or play car games or pretend. Tell yourself nothing is off the table!
You want your child to have a successful road trip and have a good time, let ‘em! Show them how it’s done. Help your children navigate a long, difficult drive by gifting them the best, joyful version of yourself.
Whatever your reason for taking a long road trip with a toddler, it’s important that you leave at the right time, pack accordingly, and start out with a flexible and positive attitude.
It took me a couple of trips before I got it all figured out, you’ll get the hang of it too. Children will surprise you. With a few adjustments and a little preparation, you’ll find that a successful, and good road trip is possible even with young children.