Lake Tekapo by Faraway Worlds, Road trip with a toddler, a toddler running between stones and a lake behind him with mountains in the back
Kids,  roadtrip,  Travel

19 Tips for Surviving a Road Trip with a Toddler

Last week we gave tips for a road trip with a baby. But after that first your kid enters the toddler phase, which is totally different, how to survive a road trip with a toddler? So I’ve asked fellow travel bloggers for their tips for a road trip with a toddler.

Road Trip with a Toddler

We’ve come up with road trip activities for toddler, road trip toddler toys that are the best and the schedule for a road trip with toddler.

Schedule

1. Stick to their schedule

Fruit time! Paul and Yuri eating fruit at the parking lot.
Fruit time!

Contributed by Adriane from Put on Your Party Pants.

Toddlers are tough.  They are the sweetest people alive one minute, and inconsolable lunatics the next.  The lunacy is often triggered by a change in schedule.

When you travel with your toddler, accept that things will take longer than if he or she was not there.  An older child can roll with things more, and babies sleep half the day away.  Toddlers are a special breed, and that is OK.

Build extra days and stops into your road trip to keep the child in his or her normal routine as much as possible.  If potty training is also in the mix, plan to stop even more.

Try to cover as much ground as possible during nap time, and don’t push the schedule too much.  Taking your time will make it a much more pleasant experience for your entire family.

2. Mileage planning and gifts

Graceland by JJ and the Bug, two kids behind eachother in a stroller in front of a pink cadillac in Graceland museum
Graceland by JJ and the Bug

Contributed by Kristy from JJ and the Bug.

When road tripping with toddlers, plan out your trip with kids in mind. Though it may be tempting to get to the next destination as quickly as possible, we aim to limit driving time to 7 hours per day. We also try to stack the longer days toward the front of the trip, when the experience of being on the road together feels fresh and exciting. 

To keep things interesting for toddlers along the way, we find something exciting to highlight about every destination before we get there. I like to give my boys a surprise story or toy the night before we leave for the next leg. A new toy adds novelty to the upcoming car ride and serves as a preview of what they can expect. We then build up how interesting it will be to see or experience the “real thing” in person. This gives them something to look forward to and always helps them to be more engaged in the destination when we get there. 

And no matter how exciting you think the destination is, it never hurts to book a hotel with a pool or play area!

3. Travel schedules

Playground in Norway Road trip with a toddler, stopping at a playground. Behind the playground is a Nordish fjord
Playground in Norway

Contributed by Karen from Big Adventures for Little Feet.

One of the best tips for parents traveling with toddlers is to plan your days around necessary nap times. We all know as parents that tired kids make for grumpy kids and more importantly tired and stressed-out parents. So as much as we don’t like scheduling our lives around sleep times this can be the golden ticket to keeping travelling families happy and cohesive.

Head out and pack in the sightseeing and more involved activities in the mornings before returning to your accommodation for some rest and rejuvenation. To keep the kids engaged consider adding the kid-centric fun activities such as playgrounds, pool time or simply exploring and playing so the day has balanced a bit of everything for everyone in the family.

Of course, you don’t have to be in your accommodation for toddlers to sleep. If your toddler is a good pram sleeper or good in the car then you can schedule you’re driving or walking to accommodate the necessary naps as well. 

Toys/Stuff

4. Favorite toys

His favorite ball, Yuri climbing a small rock and kicking a ball
His favorite ball

Contributed by Cosette from KarsTravels.

When on a road trip with our son in the toddler age, we always made sure to bring a bunch of his favorite cars, colors, a coloring book and some other small toys he loved playing with at that moment. He could play for a long time with those toys, they were a hold on to our house back home and perfect for at a restaurant, or on a family friendly campground in Europe.

5. Backpack of goodies

Toddler flipping through a book by Home Travel Guide
Toddler flipping through a book by Home Travel Guide

Contributed by Asha from Home Travel Guide.

If you are heading on a road trip with a toddler then we have the perfect tip for you to make this an enjoyable experience for everyone.

We always take a little backpack of goodies that we know will keep our little one happy and occupied. Usually in this backpack are some of our toddlers favorite items including a little teddy that he may find soothing if he gets upset about something, a little toy that he enjoys playing with, a book that he can flip over to discover all the colorful images and a healthy snack if he gets hungry.

Having all these items at hand means that we are prepared and usually it avoids any unnecessary mayhem and we can all focus on having an amazing road trip.

6. Always carry as many cheap toys that can be rotated

Favorite cars to play with, Yuri sitting on the ground playing with small cars in a train
Favorite cars to play with

Contributed by Christian from Avid Voyagers.

It is no secret that kids need to be stimulated constantly and they don’t give things a lot of time of attention. So, one of my priorities when going on a road trip with toddlers is to pack a ton of toys.

The only problem with that plan is that toys almost always get lost or damaged during trips. And all of you parents know how expensive your kid’s favorite toys can be.  

So, my tip for you is to go to the nearest dollar store or whatever you got similar in your country and pick tons of the most fun, yet cheap, small, and portable toys that you can find there. Most of the time you will find knock-offs from the originals that your kids might already have and cost a lot of money.

That way they can play with them, have fun and forget about tantrums while you can relax on the form without worrying about them being lost or ruined.

For my kids, around 10 toys are the sweet spot.

7. Wonder Markers and Kids Travel Desk

Contributed by Melissa from Navigation Junkie.

When road tripping with toddlers, it can be all you can do not to pull your hair out while trying to keep your mini entertained for the duration. Wonder markers are a blessing any time, but they are especially handy when road tripping and you would rather not have colored marker streaks throughout your car seats. Or better yet when you rent a car and risk racking up a hefty bill. Wonder markers are markers that show up only on specific paper designed for their use, so if you can feel free to let your toddler use them during long stretches of time in the car. It will keep them entertained and will eliminate your worry. If they draw on the seats or windows there will be no marks!

Combine your wonder markers with a kid’s travel desk and you will have everything you need to keep your toddler busy for a while. Kids travel desks come in different shapes and sizes, but you will find that most of them have a slot for snacks, a small slot or pocket for small toys or markers, a hard surface for drawing, and a pocket perfect for a tablet or iPad. The combination of the wonder markers and travel desk will make your family road trip a much better experience! 

8. Tablet

Watching something on the tablet, Yuri sits in his carseat, arms and legs strechted
Watching something on the tablet

Contributed by Corritta from It’s a Family Thing.

One thing we cannot live without when taking a road trip with our toddler is his tablet. Having a tablet for your toddler for long road trips is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Tablets are a great way to keep them engaged with learning games, listen to music, audiobooks, or watch their favorite shows or movies.

Toddlers can get anxious during road trips because being confined to a car seat for a long period of time gets boring. Most little ones want to be free and play, so having something to keep them busy and engaged will make taking road trips with your toddler easier.

To keep a balance between screen-time and playtime we limit his tablet time to one movie or three episodes of Paw Patrol (currently his favorite show). When the movie or show is over, he has to play with another toy or do an activity for at least 45 minutes to an hour.

This strategy has gotten us through nine states, one month, and over 4,000 miles with our toddler.

9. Portable DVD player

Yuri holding the portable DVD player, holding it in his hands while sitting in his car seat
Yuri holding the portable DVD player

Contributed by Cosette from KarsTravels.

Yuri loved short movies of Chip & Dale and other Disney shorts, he could watch them over and over again. So we brought along a portable DVD player on our road trips. They were good for a long time of entertainment on a trip.

At first we had it strapped to the head of the chair before him, so that we could easily change it. Later on he held it on his lap. Repeating the same shorts over and over again or changing the language from Dutch to French or Chinese.

Adapting/Adjusting

10. Taking turns

Paul and Yuri playing in the shade while I explored a hike, Yuri and Paul on a blanket under a tree, road trip with a toddler
Paul and Yuri playing in the shade while I explored a hike

Contributed by Cosette from KarsTravels.

Toddlers usually still have one or two naps a day or just want to play and not go on a walk. So when our son had fallen asleep in the car or just needed some play time, Paul and I took turns. One of us stayed with Yuri, the other went on a (short) hike or explored a museum. Then we took turns. We both saw the attraction and our son had some one on one time with his parents.

11. Get in the back

Playing in the back of the car by WorldAdventurists, a girl with a tiara in a car seat with a minnie doll
Playing in the back of the car by WorldAdventurists

Contributed by Debbie from WorldAdventurists.

If you are traveling with another adult, it can be helpful to have a co-pilot ride in the back seat with the toddler if fussiness starts to rise. Having an adult back there to help entertain can be a lifesaver on a long drive. Plus, you can also switch off driving, keeping everyone more fresh.

Play with your child with their favorite toys, read stories, sing songs, and play games. It is an excellent bonding time, and also a great way to comfort your child and keep them calm and relaxed. Sometimes the solution to fussiness is simple and your toddler simply just wants a hand to hold.

12. Keeping them stimulated

Contributed by Rai from A Rai of Light.

Keeping a toddler busy and entertained on a long car ride can be tough work. However, despite this, a road trip is a wonderful opportunity to create memories that will last a long time. One sure way of making the ride better for everyone is to keep the kids stimulated through a bunch of fun car games and interesting conversation starters.

This can take the form of fascinating trivia, engaging road trip questions, the license plate game, or even a scavenger hunt to see if the kids can spot an inventory of items. It is recommended to prepare a list of questions pertaining to your kids’ interests before the car ride. There aren’t too many distractions while in the car, so this makes it a great time for family bonding. Ask questions, get talking about the destination and what you plan on doing once you get there. This is almost guaranteed to fill up the dull moments while getting to know your toddler(s) a little bit better.

13. Shorter distances

Lake Tekapo by Faraway Worlds, Road trip with a toddler, a toddler running between stones and a lake behind him with mountains in the back
Lake Tekapo by Faraway Worlds

Contributed by Roxanne from Faraway Worlds.

Living in New Zealand (which has sporadic public transport), road trips are an inevitable part of local travel. Our toddler is a veteran of many road trips including around the North Island of New Zealand and a scenic drive from Christchurch to Queenstown. To make road trips manageable with a little one, we try to keep our travel distances short – around three hours travel time a day.

Originally, three hours fit his nap well. After driving for around half an hour (or sometimes less), he’d fall asleep. Then, after a couple of hours, he’d generally wake up and we’d give him a snack to keep him going until we reached our destination. As he got older, this became problematic as he’d often sleep for too long and be up until 9pm at night. Since he’s dropped his nap it’s worse, as he’ll often fall asleep on a long drive and then be up until late – when we’re both exhausted from a travel day.

So, now we break up the three hours with short stops at pretty or child-friendly places. These could be a garden café for lunch, a small playground in a town we’re passing through (almost everywhere has playgrounds) or a scenic viewpoint for a photo stop (our little one adores pretty places).  Of course, this means that we travel slower, but it keeps him awake, his schedule (and 7pm bedtime) consistent, and allows us to see many interesting places we would otherwise have missed. 

Food/Snacks

14. Picnic lunches

Picnic lunch, Cosette and Yuri sitting on a blanket with food on it
Picnic lunch

Contributed by Cosette from KarsTravels.

When our son was a toddler, we always made sure to have everything with us for a (simple) picnic when on a road trip. This way you skip the fries that usually come with a lunch at a restaurant, which you’ll probably also have at dinner time. You can also stop whenever you want and don’t have to plan to be at a restaurant at a specific time. After lunch you can run around a bit with your toddler and then simply drive further.

Tips worked well for us on our road trips through California, Mid-Southwest USA and France. A little less on our Scandinavia road trip, since we had so much rain, but we just had a picnic in our car.

Picnic lunch, Paul and Yuri sitting on opposite sides of a picnic bench
Picnic lunch

15. Bring your own foods/snacks

Road trip foods and snacks by Bon Voyage With Kids, a plastic bag with smaller bags with food in them
Road trip foods and snacks by Bon Voyage With Kids

Contributed by Keri from Bon Voyage With Kids.

Our family’s best tip for taking road trips with toddlers is to bring your road trip foods and snacks.  Not only is it healthier to bring your own road trip meals and snacks, but it also saves you money and time on the road.  It also ensures that toddlers will have foods that they can and will eat, which can be hard to do if you rely on restaurants and convenience stores along the way (speaking from experience!) 

In fact, for our kids when they were toddlers, we planned a bunch of mini-meals, rather than three main meals, and lots of snacks.  I also would pack a bento-style lunch box full of easy, car-friendly toddler foods and snacks, like pinwheel sandwiches, muffins, applesauce squeezers, cheese sticks, yogurt, and single-serving snacks and energy bars for kids.  I also recommend bringing a sippy cup with water for toddlers.  This way, even the pickiest toddlers will be fed and happy while on the road.  

16. Snack cup

Snack Cup
Snack Cup

Contributed by Daphna from A tiny trip.

One of the most important things to bring with you when you are taking any road trip is snacks!

Sometimes it can be a challenge to find healthy food on the road, so I always suggest taking some snacks from home to get you started. If you are traveling with older kids, then this is no problem. However, if you have a toddler on the road it is harder to keep the car clean!

Therefore, I always suggest you bring a snack cup. These are cups that have handles for the toddler to hold. The cap has flaps that open easily, so your toddler can stick their hand in the cup to access the snack. However if they knock the cup over, the snack will remain inside, and your car hopefully cleaner!

17. Pack healthy snacks

Watermelon for on the road trip with a toddler, Watermelon being cut with a watermelon knife in the hotel bathroom
Watermelon for on the road

Contributed by Stephanie from Navigating Adventure.

Nothing makes a toddler upset faster than an empty stomach. Packing many snacks for your road trip is one of the most important ways to keep them happy and occupied.

Ensure you have a variety of snacks so they have plenty of options to choose from and don’t get bored quickly. Avoid sugary treats which will fill them with energy they can’t burn off from their car seat.

Good options are cut pieces of fruit, vegetables such as carrot, cucumber and bell pepper, and cheese. Other relatively healthy options for treats include pretzels, popcorn, low sugar muffins and slices that you can make yourself before your trip. 

Make sure your toddler is confident eating any of the options you provide and cut into small pieces to precent risk of choking. 

Reusable and resealable zip lock bags are a great space saving way to store snacks – allowing you to keep them nearby for passing over to your toddler when needed. They are also easy to grip and can be tucked next to your child to avoid spills. There are other great alternatives on the market that prevent spilling, but you will need to purchase enough so you can pre-pack the snacks every morning before you start your drive. 

Bathroom

18. The best bathrooms

Bathroom stop at Walmart by Denver For Families, a red car parked, in the back a building with Walmart on it
Bathroom stop at Walmart by Denver For Families

Contributed by Molly from Denver For Families.

As a mom of three little kids who frequently road trips without a partner, it’s hard to find a comfortable bathroom while traveling. Gas station bathrooms are usually a no because of all the yucky things toddlers can’t keep their hands off! And without a partner to take turns with, it’s not easy to squeeze all of us into a stall at a restaurant or rest stop.

Instead, I have found that the best places to stop for a bathroom break with toddlers are big box retail stores. Stores like Target and Walmart always have family restrooms that are large and clean.

This makes it easy for all of the kids to come in and have a place to be while taking turns using the restroom. You will also find changing tables if you are traveling with a baby! This simple trick has given me so much peace of mind to be able to keep an eye on everyone and make sure they are safe while we are using the facilities!

Plus, if you realize you have run out of something like diapers or don’t have enough snacks, it’s easy to restock.

Lastly, if you are going to be traveling in remote areas, I suggest a travel potty like the Oxo Tot 2-in-1 Go Potty! It’s small and easy to use on the side of the road or in the back of the car when you can’t find a suitable bathroom!

19. Frequent stops

Contributed by Cosette from KarsTravels.

When traveling with a newly potty trained toddler, be aware of frequent stops. Say every 20 minutes. That’s what happened to us when driving to Paris, our son was potty trained, but still had a small blatter, so we had stop almost every 20 minutes for a bathroom break. That made the trip last longer than the planned 6 hours. So keep this in mind when planning a road trip with a potty trained toddler.

That’s a wrap on the best tips for a Road Trip with a Toddler

So go on that road trip with your toddler, explore the world, even if it’s just your own backyard. Like we did with these campsites in the Netherlands.   

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