A road trip with toddler in tow becomes a little more tricky and may have you looking for all the tips and tricks. They are now mobile, have an opinion about everything, and want to be entertained. While you can easily grab an iPad or tablet and let them go to town, maybe you don’t want them to have 10 hours of screen time. And actually, that might make them have a hard time sleeping when you arrive at your destination.
I am not saying you shouldn’t bring an iPad or tablet at all, in fact, you definitely should have something. But I am going to give you several other suggestions of things to do on a road trip with a toddler. So strap in, because here is your full Survival Guide to Roadtripping with a Toddler.
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Tips for Roadtripping with a Toddler:
Time Your Travel
Typically, toddlers still take a nap at some point during the day. The car is usually a perfect place for them to nap too since the motion and hum of the car puts them right to sleep. With that said, I like to plan our travel time around naps & bedtime if possible. If we can leave just a few hours before nap time, I know that we only have to keep her entertained for a little while before we will get a break.
The same goes for bedtime. If you will be driving into the evening, I suggest stopping for dinner around your regular dinner time. Go somewhere where your child can walk around, get as much energy out as possible, and have a full belly before getting back in the car. As soon as it gets dark, or it is their normal bedtime, go ahead and stop the activities and let them know it is time to go to sleep.
Follow your bedtime routine as much as possible while still in the car driving. If you read a book and sing a song before bed, do that on the go! If you use a sound machine, bring a portable one like this and turn it on. Pacifier & lovey? Definitely don’t forget those at home.
If this doesn’t work, it’s not the end of the world if they stay up a little later. Chances are they will fall asleep once it’s late enough & dark enough. Again, the motion and soothing sound of the car will put them to sleep. Travel can affect sleep quite a bit, so just go with the flow as much as possible.
Where to Stop on a Road Trip
Toddlers have A LOT of energy. Sitting in a car for hours on end can be very challenging for them. At their age developmentally, they crave gross motor activities and exploring new things about the world around them. They are establishing their autonomy (sorry, now my psychology degree is showing through) so having to stay in a car, not doing what they want to be doing is rough.
So when you get the chance, stop somewhere for a break where you know they will get to do these things their little bodies need! Some of my favorite stops to make are at parks, malls, or fast food places with playgrounds such as chick-fil-a. Another really fun place to stop is a pet store like Petco or Pet Smart. It’s like a miniature zoo!
If you can fit in an extra 30-minute break into your travel, do it. They will do so much better in the car if they get a real break outside of the car playing.
Try and fill up gas any time you stop too. This way if they fall asleep, you won’t wake them up by stopping at a gas station later on.
What to Bring on a Road Trip with a Toddler:
I’m gonna start with the most important thing first. SNACKS. I think everyone can agree that roadtrip snacks are fun. and necessary. We always bring some of our typical favorite snacks as well as a couple of special road-trip-only snacks.
Not only does this provide some novelty for the car, but I feel like it’s a good way to start a tradition our kids will remember. They will always associate puppy chow with road trips because we always get it for snacking in the car.
Bringing a container for snacks like this one will be a fun activity in and of itself. It not only keeps things organized and hopefully less messy, but they will enjoy retrieving the snacks out of it.
We also typically will bring a cooler if there is room in our vehicle. Sometimes it is just a really small one or for shorter trips, just a lunch box. This way, we are able to bring fresh fruit, veggies, and dairy for healthy snacks along the way too.
Feeding your toddler a balanced diet while road-tripping will help their body feel more stable in such an abnormal setting. They won’t get as cranky if their hunger is satisfied. Eating unhealthy snacks like chips, candy, and sugary drinks can cause a spike in blood sugar levels followed by a crash, which can lead to mood swings and irritability in toddlers. On the other hand, healthy snacks like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can help regulate blood sugar levels and keep toddlers in a better mood.
Some of Our Favorite Snacks for Road Trip with Toddler are:
-nuts (if this is safe for your child)
-fruits (apples, bananas, & oranges travel easily)
-vegetables (cucumbers, baby carrots, & mini bell peppers travel well)
-we love Harvest Snaps , even our toddler enjoys them!
–Auntie Anne’s “clean” cheeto puffs from Costco
-Auntie Annes’s Cheddar Bunnies
Tablet, Phone, or DVD Player
Okay, so maybe second on the list of importance to keep your sanity while road tripping with a toddler. Bring a tablet, old phone, or portable DVD player with you! I have plenty of other suggestions of things to do with your toddler while traveling BEFORE resorting to screen time, BUT you do want to have this as an option. There’s gonna be tough moments in the car, and this might just be the solution to get you through those times.
I really love the Fire 7 for Kids on Amazon because you are able to control exactly what content your child is viewing. They have such good options for age-appropriate games, educational apps, digital books, and videos/shows. It also COMES WITH a durable case that gives you more ease of mind for drops and spills.
If getting your child a tablet seems out of your price range, or you’re not ready to commit to that yet, a portable DVD player is also a great option. It might seem a little old school, but they are still sold! And DVD’s are still out there. This one is cheap and easy to use. It doesn’t take up much space and will keep your toddler happy for sure. The only down side is that you will only be able to watch DVD’s. No games or other educational activities available.
We have also previously just brought along an old phone with downloaded shows and movies on the streaming apps we have. We also downloaded a few games on the phone so she could play those in the car as an option. If you don’t have an extra phone, iPad, or tablet laying around to do this on, then just load up your phone and be ready to hand it over. Just keep in mind, this can be difficult if you are depending on your phone for directions and your personal entertainment as well.
Toddlers love books and it is a great way for them to keep their brains active while in the car! This is by far one of our daughter’s favorite books. The beautiful artwork of the animals and all the buttons with animal sounds keep her entertained for a good chunk of time.
You will want to do your best to find books that are special enough that your toddler will be interested in them during the drive. Sometimes this does mean going and grabbing a new book right before the trip starts. I will say it again- novelty is a great way to ensure your toddler will stay busy on a road trip. I like to stock up on a few new books and other toys at the dollar store. They have some really great options. Check out my TikTok’s on Dollar Tree road trip finds. They actually have a great children’s book section.
Obviously, you will want to bring lots of different types of toys and activities for your busy toddler. I have an entire post dedicated to the 10 Best Travel Toys for Toddlers where you can get some good ideas of what to bring along!
Have something to keep all the toys in while you are traveling. What we typically do is have a basket on the floor under her feet with larger items such as coloring books, the sketch pad, sticker books, busy books etc. Then in a little backpack we got for her she has the small toys. This way we can give her the backpack and she can pull anything out that she wants to play with.
A classic road trip game is I Spy. There are so many different versions you can play, especially depending on your child’s age and developmental status. You can think of random things to have them find, or you can purchase this fun set of cards!
This is something that will grow with them as they get older, so even if you can’t get full use out of it now while taking a road trip with toddler, you will definitely in the future. And it is not only for road tripping!
Taking a road trip with a toddler can be challenging. But with some careful planning and preparation, it can be an enjoyable and memorable experience for the whole family! I truly believe this and I hope you have the best time traveling with your toddler. You are doing them a service by pushing them out of their comfort zone at home. You’ve got this!