How to take a road trip with a toddler

About 2 years ago, I was at a Fiesta themed birthday party being bombarded with questions about taking a road trip with my toddler. I had just mentioned we were planning on going to Disney World for a weekend with my then 2-year-old son.

“Do you really think you’re going to have fun? Won’t he cry the whole way? Aren’t you nervous you’re going to hate it?”

After hearing all of those concerns from seasoned moms, it’s only normal to begin to doubt your decision, right?

Then began the hours of research and preparation to try and make this experience as seamless and painless as possible.

Why taking a road trip is the best way to start traveling with a toddler

If you’re nervous about traveling with a toddler, the best way to start is to take a road trip.

  • Road trips allow you to stop often which gives your toddler a chance to burn energy and stretch their legs.
  • Traveling in a car gives you privacy. You and your family are in your private bubble and you are the pilot.
  • Road trips allow you to be in control.

If you’re on an airplane and your toddler starts crying, you’re going to feel pressured to make them stop. You don’t want to be THAT person with the crying baby.

On a road trip, your toddler can have a meltdown with no problem.

Tantrums are unpredictable and the last thing you want is the added stress of people staring at you, waiting for you to calm down your child.

Road trips can be a fun adventure with your toddler and I’m going to show you what you need to do to make that happen!

What to do before you begin your road trip with your toddler

Prepare your car

road trip with toddler

You can’t have a successful road trip without a car, right? Prepare your car and make sure you have it up to date with its maintenance. That means your oil change needs to be up to date, your tires need to have air, and most importantly, make sure you have roadside assistance.

The last thing you want is to be on the side of the road with air hissing out of your tire because you ran over a nail and you realize you have no roadside assistance.

To be prepared is half the victory

Miguel de Cervantes

Have a safe and comfortable car seat

road trip with toddler

Road trips mean you’re going to be spending an extended amount of time in the car and that means your toddler will be in their car seat for the majority of that time. Make sure your car seat is up to regulation and comfortable for your little one.

Car seats can be tricky to install. They have several buckles, straps, levers, buttons, and a manual that is even more confusing to understand. If you want to double-check your installation, you can have a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician make sure your car seat is safe and installed properly.

Have a full first aid kit

road trip with toddler

Make sure your car is equipped with a first aid kit. You never expect to need one until you do. All it takes is your toddler tripping over a rock and scraping their knee on the rough pavement for you to regret not having a bandaid in the car.

How to keep your toddler occupied and happy

We all know an unhappy toddler can make your trip feel 10 times longer! Let’s prevent any major meltdowns by being prepared.

Bring toys and books for entertainment

road trip with toddler

The key to a happy toddler during a road trip is to keep them entertained. The best way to do this is to bring toys and books for them to play with while on the road. These toys can be some of their favorites from home or if you’re feeling generous you can get them some new ones for this special occasion.

Before I went to Disney with my son Lucas, I went to the dollar store and bought 5 dollars worth of toys/ items for entertainment.

My list included:

  • Window clings
  • Coloring book
  • Toy car
  • Pop-up book
  • Stickers

Audiobooks can also be great for a road trip. You can find books with your toddler’s favorite characters reading to them. Seeing my son’s face light up when he heard Lightning McQueen’s voice was priceless!

Screen Time

road trip with toddler

Giving your toddler some screen time is a great way to keep them entertained on a road trip.

Download some of their favorite shows/ movies to your device and you’re set. If you don’t want to worry about a device falling, you could purchase a DVD player that can be placed on a headrest. The headrest option is great because your toddler won’t be able to accidentally press a button that will stop the movie from playing.

If you don’t want to purchase DVD’s you could rent some at your local library.

Toddler safe headphones can also be beneficial for everyone in the car. Your toddler will be happy feeling like he is in a movie theater while you can still sing to your favorite music.

Educational Screen Time

You could also have educational screen time. Download apps like ABC Mouse or PBS that give you educational games for your little ones to enjoy.

Listen to music

Before leaving on your road trip, create a playlist with family favorites, especially your toddler’s go-to songs!

You and your toddler singing Frozen 2 songs at the top of your lungs with the windows down is going to be an amazing memory!

Bring comforts

Toddlers can’t fully grasp the “road trip” concept yet. To them, they’re simply sitting in a car for a long time and out of their routine. Be prepared to help them feel at home by bringing them a comforting item from home. This can be things like blankets, stuffed animals, their favorite toy, etc.

When we went on our road trip to Disney, I packed my son’s favorite plush toy, Lightning McQueen. He sleeps with McQueen every day and as soon as nap time struck on our road trip, I handed him McQueen and he was out like a light.

Play games

Nothing helps the time go by like playing fun games. Games to play with a toddler can be counting numbers, saying colors you see, playing I Spy, pointing to objects you see in the car or on the road, and so much more.

Keep it simple by playing oral games. The car is not a place to bring out Candy Land.

How to keep yourself happy

Your toddler being happy is important, but you being happy is crucial! You are the glue during this road trip and you need to be just as happy in order for everyone to enjoy this experience.

Take short trips to start

If this is your first road trip with your toddler, try to make it a short one. Maybe a cross country road trip is not the best way to start. If adults get tired of sitting in a car, imagine a toddler who is full of energy and is itching to run around.

Try 2-3 hour trips to start off.

Take several breaks

You might be used to driving 3 hours straight to your destination, but when you have a toddler, it’s best to plan on taking breaks from driving. It does take longer to get to your destination when you take breaks, but you and your toddler will be grateful in the end.

Breaks are good for potty time, diaper changes, meals, or simply time for everyone to stretch their legs. This is also a great time to let your toddler burn off some energy. Tired toddlers equal napping toddlers!

If you’re potty training, taking a travel potty will be a lifesaver. If your toddler is showing signs of needing to go potty, you have it right in your car. Also, consider using a pull-up to avoid any accidents.

Drive during nap times

If you can, plan to drive during your toddler’s nap time. By doing so you can drive longer distances and have a bit more peace for a portion of the trip.

Before you begin your trip, make sure you and your toddler have eaten filling meals, used the bathroom, and your car has a full tank of gas. The last thing you want is to wake up your toddler because you couldn’t hold it any longer.

Pack food

Full bellies make everyone happy! If you have a picky eater, you can try to sneak in some veggies into a grab and go muffin.

Make sure to pack some of your go-to snacks for both you and your toddler. Snacks are also a great way to keep your little one entertained.

Packing a small cooler with cold items and a bag with dry items is all you really need. Be careful drinking too much water because that will lead to potty breaks.

Also, try to keep your snacks within arms reach for easy access.

Some great on the go snacks are:

  • Pre-made sandwiches (bread and deli meats)
  • Chips
  • Pre-cut fruit
  • Crackers
  • Protein Bars
  • Jerky
  • Trail Mix
  • Cheese

If you’re healthy eaters, pack healthy snacks. As long as you have everything pre-made you’re set!

Notice I did not have things like candy or ice cream on the list. These are delicious, but the last thing you want is a mess in your car and a toddler on a sugar rush.

Rest

Be careful not to drive while tired, even if your toddler’s sleeping. Your rest is very important in keeping everyone safe. If your trip leads into late hours, consider staying in a hotel and starting early the next day.

Stay calm during a tantrum

As mentioned earlier, tantrums are unpredictable and can happen at any time. This is a time where moms can easily get overwhelmed, I know I have. Have peace of mind that your toddler is safe in their car seat. They might be unhappy, but they cannot get hurt.

If possible, try to give them a snack or sing a song to help calm them down.

Go take that road trip!

It turns out you can take a road trip with a toddler! Woohoo! Our Disney trip was one for the books.

All you need is to have the right expectations and to be prepared. Things may not go according to plan but when they don’t, be a Palm Tree. In order to avoid breaking, Palm Trees sway with the wind. Bend with the challenges thrown at you instead of standing firm. Be a Palm Tree.

If traveling is something you look forward to doing, don’t let having a child hold you back. Bring them along for the ride and you’ll see how quickly they adjust and how much fun you can have!