15 Tips on How to Survive a Road Trip with a Toddler

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To start our family gap year, we decided to forgo our scheduled flight from San Diego to Denver to take a road trip to Colorado Springs. We initially thought a road trip would be a lot of fun, but quickly dismissed it because who would willingly drive 17 hours with a 14-month-old baby, when we already purchased airline tickets from Southwest for only $42. The answer is we would. We canceled our flight (received a voucher that we used for another trip) and began to plan for our big adventure. Although it wasn’t as tough as we thought it would be, we did learn a few things along the way. Here is what we learned and how to survive a road trip with a baby or toddler. 

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Plan Ahead

You must plan for a road trip, but there may be some things that you may not notice during your planning phase. When planning your route keep in mind if there are major weather differences. During our road trip from San Diego to Colorado Springs, we decided to avoid Utah because of the weather and snowstorms. We anticipated making a stop in Denver, but it did not go as planned. Although it took us an additional few hours, we experienced great weather in Phoenix (the high 70s) and even stopped at the Phoenix Children’s Museum. 

Make Frequent Stops

Playing in snow during Road Trip with toddler
We made a quick stop outside of Albuquerque, NM to let our little guy play in the snow for the first time.

We wouldn’t have survived our 18-hour road trip without making frequent stops. Since learning how to walk our toddler has been on the move and gets upset if he has to sit too long. We stopped at rest stops as much as possible to allow him to stretch his legs. We let him run around in the grass to stretch his legs and have fun. Our goal is to try to get him to run around for at least 10 – 15 minutes. That is long enough for him to get tired and for us to get fresh air and stretch. Do not underestimate how important this is. If you do not stop enough you may have a very irritable toddler on your hands.

Read More: 10 Reasons to Travel with Toddlers

Do NOT Drive Through the Night

Airbnb with toddler on road trip
Getting ready to hit the road after a getting some rest

You may think driving through the night is a good idea, but there are some major reasons why this is a bad idea. Driving at night is more dangerous especially if you have been driving for an extended time. Your eyes are more tired, and your reflexes are not as sharp. Also, you must think about the other people on the road, they are likely just as tired and may not be in the shape to drive.

Another great reason is to allow you to rest. Everyone is in a better mood after getting a good night’s sleep. I can personally tell you our little one is not a happy camper if he does not get a good night of sleep. He is very cranky and upset the next day if he doesn’t sleep well. If you want to survive a road trip with a baby or toddler stop and get a full night’s rest.

Have Plenty of Entertainment

Toddlers are always on the move because their brains are constantly going, and they are always learning. You must keep them stimulated with different activities. There are a lot of travel toys to keep your toddler busy. Our favorite ones help our little guy learn and improve his hand-eye coordination, language, and fine motor skills. He has a 100-word book from LeapFrog, and it is awesome for toddlers. He can learn animals, opposites, colors, pets, and activities in English and Spanish.

Play Fun Road Trip Games

Our toddler is too young to play road trip games, but we like to interact with him. He still enjoys playing peek-a-boo so we played peek-a-boo, with him through the seats. Since my wife is a preschool teacher, she cannot help playing learning games. She counts with him, sings songs, and name animals.

Pack Road Trip Friendly Snacks

Road Trip Snacks with a toddler
Some of the snacks we packed for our road trip.

Our toddler LOVES to eat, it is his favorite pastime. He is a lot happier when he has food, so we are always prepared with snacks, this road trip was no exception. We took a trip to Walmart to stock up on food to get us through to dinner each day.

We had bagels, yogurt, and coffee for breakfast every morning. This is a quick and easy meal to have in the morning before hopping on the road. We would snack throughout the ride on fruit, pretzels, string cheese, and granola bars. Our toddler eats differently, so we prepared his snacks separately. We use reusable snack pouches to make it easier for our little one to eat without help. They are perfect for a road trip with a toddler because you can fill them with applesauce or yogurt and it helps prevent huge messes, plus it saves money since the individual pouches are over $1 each. My wife buys a large jar of sugar-free apple sauce and pre-fills the pouches. Don’t forget to pack water. We purchased 4 gallons of water to refill our water bottles throughout the trip.

You may have noticed some of the snacks we listed need to stay cold. We have a cooler bag that we’ve used since I was breastfeeding to keep his milk cold when we would travel. Here are the brands that we use.

Our goal is to use environmentally friendly reusable products as much as possible. If you travel frequently these products are great to have with you to leave no trace.

Stay Organized

One of the things I wish we would have done better on our road trip with a toddler is being organized. It would have been easier to have a backseat car organizer for our son to keep his toys and tablet in one place. He kept dropping his tablet so my wife had to keep reaching in the backseat to pick it up when he would get upset. The pockets can be used to store snacks, toys, wipes, clothes, or diapers. For this trip, we faced our toddler forward but is usually rear-facing. If you have a rear-facing toddler or baby, do not forget a baby car mirror. They are the best for keeping an eye on your little one.

Pack a Separate Overnight Bag

We stopped each night of our road trip with our toddler for rest, a shower, and food. My wife told me to pack a bag with clothes and toiletries for each night, but I didn’t listen and had to dig through suitcases to find clothes. It was almost impossible to find socks in the suitcases, so I highly recommend setting aside clothes for a few days. It was no fun digging through 3 suitcases to find unclothes, socks, and a shoe.

Make Time for Fun

We love to have fun, so much so that sometimes it seems as though my wife is the only adult in the family. During our road trip, we stopped at the Phoenix Children’s Museum and had a blast. We were able to play with puppets, drive cars, climb a huge jungle gym, play music, and build with life-size blocks. This also gets your toddler tired enough to take a long nap while on the road trip so you can enjoy adult time. By “adult time” we mean listening to something other than kids’ music or shows. Hearing the same episode of Elmo’s World would drive anyone crazy.

Toddler playing with Hot Dog Stand

Play Fun or Learning Music

Our son loves listening to Little Baby Bum Learning Songs, but it drives me crazy after an hour, so we like to play Disney music on Pandora. I am a huge fan of Moana, Lion King Soundtrack, Frozen, and even Kidz Bop. As a parent you know these songs get in your head and you cannot help but give in after hearing it 5,410,645 times. This will put your toddler in a better mood and can uplift everyone when you start to get drained from the road.

Rotate Seats

If your little one does not like sitting alone in the back seat take turns sitting with them. We sat with our son until he was 6 months then slowly started letting him sit alone. For a long road trip with a baby take turns sitting with your baby and getting rest to maximize your time. Babies are easier on road trips because they sleep more often and do not need much to keep them busy. A few hanging toys and a mirror should be enough to keep them occupied. Our son loved his security elephant, which was a life-saver for us. He would self-soothe with it and put himself to sleep. It was so helpful we purchased a 2 or 3 just in case we lost one while traveling.

Take it Slow

Slow travel is the best way to go with a toddler. Unless you are on a strict timeline it is best to take your time. During our road trip, we took it slow and decided not to drive more than six hours per day. We also decided not to drive more than two at a time to keep our little one from getting restless. This also gave me a break from staring at the rode.

Cover the Windows

This was a great tip from a mom from a Traveling Facebook group. She mentioned that her daughter gets motion sick when she is in the car for an extended time. She says she covers the window with a tee-shirt or something dark and it helps her stay calm. There is also kids Dramamine available for severe motion sickness.

Pack extra Medicine (just in case)

Nothing can derail a road trip with a toddler like a sick kid. We always pack extra medicine such as teething tablets, Benedryl, and Tylenol. The tablets help when his mouth is hurting, and Tylenol helps reduce his fever when his teething gets bad. No one wants to have to find a store to get medicine for a sick little one while on the road.

Do not forget to pack medicine for yourself too. While on our road trip I randomly started getting headaches and it was helpful that we had Excedrin available. My allergies also went crazy from the different, so having travel size non-drowsy medicine was a life-saver. I would not have been able to drive with sinus pressure. We have a small first-aid kit in our diaper bag just in case, you never know when you will need a bandaid.

Make your little one as Comfortable as Possible

Sitting in a car is not fun at all, especially if you must sit in a car seat for an extended time. It is important to try to make your toddler as comfortable as possible. If your toddler is anything like ours, he is not a fan of sitting down so staying in his car seat is always a fight. To make him more comfortable we always have a blanket for him and a teddy bear that he loves. This makes it a lot easier for us to travel in the car because he can self soothe, and we do not have to sit with him. We would not have been able to survive our road trip with a toddler without his blanket and teddy bear. 

Bonus: Enjoy the Moment

Mama & Baby Relaxing
Hanging out with my little guy while working on the blog.

Oftentimes, we spend so much time on the go that we forget to enjoy the moment. According to StudyFinds.org, American families spend an average of 37 minutes of quality time together a day. That is scary considering most people take an hour lunch every day, so we spend more time eating per day than we do with our families. A road trip is a perfect way to spend real quality time with your family and truly enjoy time together. We had the opportunity to sit and talk (baby talk) as a family and had a lot of fun.

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