Tips for Road Trips: Car travel with a toddler

Going on a road trip with a toddler sounds daunting, no matter the distance. We recently took a short trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota, about 5 hours from our home. We routinely drive for 1.5 hour trips to visit our parents, and sometimes drive 2-4 hours to visit other family members. So D spends a fair amount of time in the car. So how do we keep him entertained? Here are our toddler car recommendations:

    • Snacks: A variety of snacks can make or break our time in the car. Small finger foods, and some special snacks (fruit snacks for D) can keep D entertained for quite a while. We pack different things, since we know how fickle our toddler’s little snack-loving heart can be, so those Annie’s Organic Bunnies may work one day, but not the next.

Some snacks always seem to help make a road trip go smoother.

    • Containers: D is in the toddler stage where containers are endlessly entertaining. So give him a new bucket/bag/box/tupperware container, and he will happily pack and unpack the container. We put some crayons, or plastic eggs, or poker chips in the containers to give him something to move from place to place. So a fun activity at home quickly becomes portable.
    • Lovey: Bring the lovey. D has a blanket he loves, and it makes road trips with us. Only for longer road trips (more than 2 hours), but if we are hoping to have D sleep in the car, he needs the lovey.
    • Novel toys: I have song my praises of the Target dollar aisle before, and I will sing them again. The dollar toys and gadgets are almost always a hit for entertainment for D while we travel. In the car, or where ever we are staying while we travel, the dollar toys are cheap, and small. They don’t take up a lot of space, and are new fun things to enjoy. They often have the travel coloring packs too if your child is old enough to be interested in coloring. Someday I imagine we will get to the point where crayons are for more than waving around or throwing. Anyway, you can also find toys at the thrift store, or use this as an opportunity to rotate in old toys that haven’t been enjoyed in a while.

Examples of some of the toys we throw in the diaper bag when we travel. Glow stick bracelets, glow in the dark dinosaurs, and a pony eraser. All small, cheap, and entertaining.

    • Comfy clothes: Comfort is king. As much as I love to have D show up somewhere looking adorable, I know he will be happier in the car if he is in some pants and a sweatshirt that are comfortable. And we ditch the shoes and opt for slippers in the car, and put the shoes on when we stop for a break. It sounds like a lame suggestion, but as adults we know how much comfort can change a situation (thank you snuggie for making football more tolerable).
    • Planned breaks: We plan to stop after about 2-3 hours in the car. Kids are different, so some of you may be laughing at the 2-3 hours and may need to stop more, but that works for us. We usually plan to stop somewhere with a play place, or if the weather is nice, we go to a local park with a play set. Often city webpages will have information about local parks and which ones have play sets. Letting D run around for 15-20 minutes can make a huge difference in our drive, and as much as we fear that D won’t get back into the car after a break, he has always been pretty willing after running around for a little bit (knock on wood).

Enjoying a park mid-travel in Montana.

    • People Entertainment: Now this suggestion is a little harder to do, but it has helped on longer car trips when someone sits in the back by D. When D was little, Z sat with him for a few months in the back seat, but we gave that up. Now, we have been fortunate on a few occasions to have either my mom or Z’s mom join us for a trip, and their entertainment value is priceless for keeping D happy in the car.
    • Good tunes: Everyone’s favorite topic when driving kids around: the music. We really enjoy Snacktime! from the Bare Naked Ladies as our favorite kid-friendly car music. It’s kids songs, but the songs are entertaining and won’t drive you too crazy. We also tend to enjoy some of the Sondra Boyton cds/books, including Dog Train CD: And 16 Other Improbable Songs and Sandra Boynton’s Frog Trouble. We have also listened to nature effects at night when driving to ease D to sleep.

Parked in the car, waiting for Z to come back from taking more beautiful pictures in Yellowstone National Park.

Those are the tricks we use to keep ourselves sane as we road trip with our toddler. Oh, and what about technology? No tech items are on our list because D isn’t using technology yet. He doesn’t get screen time, so no tablet for him. Maybe someday. These tips don’t always work perfectly, and usually we are trying some insane combinations of the above things and crossing all of fingers that it works. So far, we have made it through every trip, sanity intact. Mostly. Well, as sane as you can be as sleep-deprived parents of a toddler.

What other travel tips do you have for those taking road trips with a toddler?


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