21 Helpful Tips For Traveling With A Toddler In A Car Seat
To make traveling with your toddler more enjoyable and stress free, follow these 21 never heard of travel tips and tricks that will help you to survive long road trips with your toddler without using any devices!
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
Are you planning on traveling with your toddler on a long road trip in the next few months? This is your first time taking your little one with you on a long car ride. Nervousness sets in just thinking about it. You might not be sure if your toddler is going to be able to handle the hours of prolonged sitting, being strapped in and restricted for hours upon hours.
Toddlers are at the age when developmentally they need to move around, explore, run, jump and just go wild. Going on a road trip obviously doesn’t allow for much fun for a 2 or 3 year old, let alone any kid for that matter.
But did you know that it is possible to take toddlers on road trips, without devices, and have them entertain themselves the entire way? I have taken my 4 children on many road trips, all while in their toddler years and without having devices as a crutch. I even drove from Pennsylvania to Disney World with a 5 year old, 3 year old and 1 year old in the car. That’s over 17 hours of driving with three little kids, multiple potty breaks and no regrets all while refraining from electronic devices. It’s possible!
So I want to share with you my best ideas for traveling with toddlers, because I know what worked for my kids and what doesn’t work for most kids. I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve that I have accumulated over the past 6 years. They work, and it will make for a much smoother ride.
What you’ll get out of this article is an ultimate list of tips for traveling with toddlers in the car for vacation so that you can arrive to your destination and say to yourself “Hey, that wasn’t so bad. Let’s start planning our next vacation!”
Taking A Road Trip With a 2 or 3 Year Old
Let’s just face it, a 2 and 3 year old will never really enjoy long road trips. They want to be outside playing, running around and being active. A road trip most likely won’t be exciting for your little toddler, but there are ways to keep his attention and stay entertained for long hours strapped in a seat. Make sure you check out tip #11 which is by far the best way to excite your child while driving for hours.
So before getting into the list of 21 ideas, I think the first thing you need to decide as a family before going on a road trip is what time of day are you going to be doing the majority of driving? What I mean by that is, are you going to start your drive in the morning, during lunch time, in the evening or during the night time?
My husband and I like to plan this out pretty far in advance. We start with thinking about our work schedules and when our vacation actually begins. If my husband has to work all day Friday and plans to get home around 7 pm, are we going to start driving that night or are we going to sleep the night to start driving in the morning?
Typically we default to night driving. I have many reasons as to why we usually decide on driving at night, but before I go into that list, I want you to think about what time you “HAVE” to arrive to your destination. Do you have a scheduled event you are trying to attend (like a wedding)? Or maybe you can leisurely arrive whenever you want (like a relaxed beach vacation).
Now, depending on what time you have to arrive, work backwards to see if night driving is a possibility for you. Here are some reasons as to why you may want to consider driving at night with a toddler (or baby or children of any age):
8 Reasons to Drive At Night With Kids:
1. It’s the normal time for kids to be sleeping. You’ll get uninterruped quiet time while you’re driving
2. Less potty breaks
3. No long stops for food and sit down meals
4. Less traffic
5. Less road construction
6. Therefore, less delays
7. Arrive at your destination more quickly since there are less delays and less traffic
8. Arrive in the morning and you have more time to spend at your destination (sort of like an extra day on your trip)
The biggest and only “con” is lack of sleep! That’s a no brainier.
The best way to mitigate this is to rotate with your spouse every 3-4 hours. While one is driving the other is sleeping. Make rest stops very quick and quiet to fill up gas and go to the restroom. But other than that, do everything you can to avoid waking up the kids and stopping.
This will save you hours of constant interaction with the kids while driving. Which means a more relaxing ride!
Just imagine if you have an 8 hour road trip and you spent 6 hours driving in the dark while your child sleeps and you only have to attend to your toddler for 2 of those 8 hours! That’s a game changer right there!
But if you think that’s not a good option for you and your family, and you just really want to be well rested before the big trip, you’ll want some ideas for keeping your toddler entertained while driving.
Obviously screen time, devices, movies, TV shows are always a quick and easy way to entertain your toddler for hours upon hours, but my family doesn’t like to resort to that when we travel. Since our kids were young, we avoided screen time and instead were creative in other ways to keep our kids from becoming bored, whiny and fussy. So, let’s get into my 21 road trip tips with toddlers.
21 Never Heard Of Road Trip Tips with Toddler
1. Pick a time of day when your kids will be taking a nap during the car ride.
You want to maximize as much time that your child will be sleeping, so if your road trip is long enough, schedule the drive time to be during your kid’s normal nap time.
2. Put your kid to bed at a normal hour the night before the road trip.
You want your toddler to wake up feeling well rested, pleasant and excited for traveling the next day.
3. Don’t let your kid sleep in too long in the morning before you go on the road trip.
If your kid normally sleeps to 9 am or later in the morning, maybe wake him up at 8 am so that you know he’ll get tired while driving in the car.
4. Talk to your toddler for at least 2 weeks about the trip before going.
Explain to your toddler what is going to happen. An example of how you might do this would be:
“Hey, Sammy, did you know that we are planning on doing something really exciting in 2 weeks? We are planning on taking you on this amazing ROAD TRIP to New York City. There is a really big statue there. And we are going to go to the zoo! Sammy, we are going to see lots of new, exciting things while we drive to get there. It’s a long car ride, longer than it takes to get to the grocery store, but we are going to have a lot of fun while we are sitting in the car. We can play games, listen to fun, new music and there might even be some new things I have for you along the way. Does that sound exciting to you?”
This will excite your child and help him to understand the process of what is going on. The long car ride will be more understandable rather than confusing to your child.
Continue to talk to you toddler throughout the week and tell him what kinds of things he is going to do while on vacation. He’ll have more fun on the road trip knowing what’s ahead.
5. About 2-4 weeks before the trip, create a new kids song that will be the theme song for your trip.
Having a special song that your child can relate to and be familiar with while driving will help your child to get excited about driving. This one special song is specifically for this vacation and this vacation only!!
We have a song called “The Beach Song” which is a spin-off from the song on YouTube “Let’s Go To The Beach“
“Beach, beach, we love the beach, lobster, lobster”
“Beach, beach we love the beach, sea shell, sea shell”
“Beach, beach, we love the beach, starfish, starfish”
We sing the song and each take turns calling out a new thing that we are going to see at the beach. It’s a fun way to get the whole family involved in the musical game.
You can look up on YouTube any fun, new kids’ songs with the keywords of the destination you are going, or a topic that is related to your trip.
6. Vacation Themed Book: Buy a new book that is the theme of your road trip.
If you are going to NYC, buy a new children’s book about New York City, like Good Night New York City. I love the Good Night books for traveling because each page describes and highlights each city in a way that is fun and creative for a toddler. The Good Night Books have an entire series for different cities and other themed topics related to travel (like good night ocean, good campsite, good night mountains).
7. Fine Motor Books and Sensory Books:
Since we are on the topic of books, I also highly recommend buying new books for your child that make a lot of noises, have flaps, and different fine motor things to do. This will make the book more entertaining and will draw your child’s attention in more and for longer periods of time.
8. Reintroduce an old book as if it was new again.
If you don’t want to buy new books, take your child’s favorite books away for 2-4 weeks before the trip and pack them so your child doesn’t see them.
Then when it’s time to take them out again for the road trip, your child will get excited like he’s getting a brand new book. A good example of this is a dry erase workbook. If your child absolute loves reading and working through this book, take it away for a long period of time, wipe it clean and bring it back for the car ride!
9. Reintroduce old toys that are favorites and have been “missing” for a while.
Do the same thing with your toddler’s favorite toys as you did with the books.
If your toddler has a favorite stuffed animal, a favorite light up toy, or a favorite gadget, take it away for 2-4 weeks and then reintroduce it while on the trip. Your child will light up when you surprise him with his favorite toy that he hasn’t seen for a while. Just remember don’t give him all the toys all at once!
10. Introduce 1 toy at time while driving.
Try to let your child play with one toy at a time for at least 15-25 minutes each.
If you rotate through all the toys in a matter of 5 minutes, you’ll run out of toys way before an hour even passes by.
Try to draw out the length of time your child has to play with each toy. If your child starts to get fussy with one toy, let him be for 10-15 minutes at a time. As long as you know your child is safe, wait and see if your child can entertain himself.
After some time has passed by, then I will move on to the next toy or try another tip on the list.
Related: Best Gift Ideas For Little Girls
11. Wrap toys that are brand new
Go to the dollar store a couple weeks before traveling and pick up some really cheap dollar toys that your child can have that is not a chocking hazard while driving in the car (since you might not be able to see your toddler if he is still rear facing). Individually wrap each toy in wrapping paper. While driving in the car, set a timer for every hour. With each passing hour, your toddler gets to unwrap a gift and play with this new toy for the first time. Pure joy!
12. busy bags, activity table, magnetic blocks, stacking cups, stuffed beanie animals, little animal figurines
That pretty much sums up every fun thing imaginable for a toddler. This is the ticket to a fun car ride.
Pack a bin full of toys, easy to grab items, non-messy choices. My favorites are:
- Magnetic tile building blocks
- Stacking cups
- Bag full of TY Beanie Animals
- Animal figurines, wild safari animals, sea creatures, farm animals, assorted animal pack
- Busy Bags
There are so many creative ways to make a busy bag but some of my favorite busy bag ideas for toddlers are from Nicolette on her blog Powerful Mothering.
And in order to really enjoy the toys without a mess, you’ll definitely need an activity table to help your child keep everything on his lap!
13. Pack lots of snacks and food that you think your child will enjoy and can safely eat in the car.
Minimize any food that can be a choke hazard. Cut the food in advance at home before driving so that it’s easy to eat finger foods. Pick foods that dissolve easily in the moth like yogurt bites and veggie straws.
Pack a water bottle that is spill proof that your toddler can drink while in the car. Have a cup holder attached to your child’s car seat that your child can reach independently without your help.
Also, I don’t fill my kids water bottle all the way to the top, because I like to minimize the amount of water they consume which helps minimize restroom breaks!
14. Put a pull-up on your toddler while driving so that you don’t have to stop quickly for immediate requests.
If your toddler is potty trained, continue to stop for your regular potty breaks (every 2-3 hours according to your child’s needs); but if your toddler is not potty trained and is still wearing a pull-up or diaper, then you should be able to drive for longer stretches of 4-5 hours.
15. Be prepared for messes and minimize the amount of time to clean them up.
Pack a travel potty chair in the car with toilet paper, wipes and disposable plastic bags. Pack extra plastic bags and a change of clothes for accidents such as pee accidents or throw-up accidents.
16. Pack a cooler of food with your toddler’s favorite refrigerator items
Just in case the rest stops don’t have the healthy food choices you are looking for, you can always resort to the food you know your child loves that is packed in your cooler.
This is a good way to minimize the amount of time spent at a rest stop. Feeding your child in the car keeps him content for long periods of time while driving.
17. Have your child’s favorite playlist and songs ready so that your child can enjoy listening to the music that he loves.
Sing along with your child and switch it up frequently throughout the ride playing a variety of music your kid loves. I love taking along a personalized music CD that has a variety of songs with my child’s name in each song. It’s a fun way to entertain your toddler and keep his attention because the song is being sung directly to him! Each of my kids have one, and they all love it.
18. Play “I-Spy” games and other guessing games while traveling in the car.
I love to get my kid interacting with me in a fun, playful way in the car. They need some human interaction, and this is a fun way to do it. There are so many “I-spy” games and other scavenger hunt printable games for road trips that your toddler will enjoy doing. Or you can just ask your kid to find something that’s a certain color. Some of my favorite scavenger hunts for road trips can be found on the blog Party Through the USA where this one can be printed.
19. Coloring activities with new crayons, new markers, something that is special and unique only to this road trip.
Find something new online or at the store, something new that your kids have never done before. There are so many new, mess-free crayola products out there that are great for toddlers.
I love these invisible ink markers and coloring books for toddlers specifically for car rides, because I know I won’t have to worry about any stains on their clothes!
20. In-Car Kids’ Exercises
I love to exercise in the car. Have you ever tried it? You can incorporate a fun exercise activity in the car ride that you and your toddler can do together (if your spouse is driving, of course).
Have your child mimic your moves that you are doing like: bicep curls, shoulder presses, knee kicks, ankle pumps, etc. Your kids will have a blast. Find some fun music to go along with it and you got yourself a workout!
21. Change between sensory activities
This is by far my absolute favorite tip and most important tip to stimulate your child throughout the entirety of your travels.
Switch and alternate between sensory activities and continue to rotate between each one throughout the car ride. Each rotation will engage one of the five senses as the primary focus.
1. listening: music
2. visual: reading/books, I-spy game
3. touch/fine motor: coloring, busy bags, blocks, etc.
4. verbal/talking: I-spy game, guessing game, singing
5. taste: meal/snack time
This way your child’s attention continues to be constantly changing and never bored.
New Stimulus = Curiosity and Fun
Time To Travel
Now that you have 21 helpful travel tips with toddlers, it’s time to have a fun vacation. Comment below and let me know where you’re headed and how many hours you expect to be driving. Are you taking other kids with you? Do you have a baby who’s going to be tagging along with your toddler? If so, you’ll really like reading 19 Cry Free Tips For Traveling With Baby In A Car.
Dr. Jena Bradley, DPT
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
About Dr. Jena Bradley
Jena is a mom of 4 darling little girls, a physical therapist and founder of Live Core Strong, a blog focusing on motivating moms to live a life that incorporates fitness and fun throughout their motherhood journey. She aims to be the friend you always wanted to have who could guide you through the “fog” when faced with an “I don’t know what to do” mommy moment. At the most inconvenient time of her life, she embarked on a journey of sharing her story and expertise to inspire the next generation of healthy moms. You can learn more about Jena by visitng her ABOUT page.