We’re gearing up for some long road trips this summer, so I thought while traveling was fresh on my mind, I would jot down some of my favorite travel tips for going on road trips with toddlers and big kids.
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We get asked a lot of questions about toddler travel and traveling with four kids, so hopefully this post will be a resource for you or will inspire you to try some of your own creative ideas to make traveling a positive experience for your family!
In this post we’ll be sharing some tips, toy suggestions, activity ideas, and gear suggestions for road trips with toddlers!
Since each kid is different, please chime in with what has worked for you too!
We’ve been road-tripping since our youngest was a baby (he’s now 11)… and we’ve since helped 3 other toddlers learn to enjoy road trips. Several times a year we go on 6-13 hour road trips with our kids (one way). We’ve learned to really enjoy this family time! By following some of the tips below, our kids have also learned to like road-tripping too.
What are some tips for road-tripping with a Toddler (or kids in general)?
1. Start early!
We’ve found that most of our kids are the happiest early in the morning, so we try and start driving on road trips as early in the day as possible. This means that sometimes kids will sleep a little bit at the beginning of the drive (if we leave super early), or will take part of their nap on the drive. Even if they don’t nap, we always get to where we are going early enough to get kids to bed at a semi-decent time if we leave early in the day!
* Some families have kids that are great car sleepers, so they will like leaving late at the night and driving while kids sleep. This is awesome if you have kids that will do this. Please be safe and cautious if you choose to drive late at night and pull over if you start feeling tired.
2. Plan some toddler-friendly stops!
Driving can be really hard, especially for very active younger toddlers and older babies. Look at your route ahead of time and try to include some toddler friendly stops on your drive to break things up a bit. For us, these can include a stop to look at some animals, stopping in a parking lot to check out snow in Tahoe that we don’t usually see, or even a quick walk into a convenience store for an ice cream bar. Toddler friendly stops don’t need to be long. They could even include pulling over to look at a construction site or cool truck.
3. Plan some inexpensive & easy screen-free activities!
Some of our favorite easy activities include simple busy boxes or busy bags or purchasing some simple toys. You only need a few of these, not all of them! I usually pick 3-5 depending on how long we’ll be traveling. More if we’re doing a 10-13 hour drive.
Here are a few ideas of screen free activities we’ve used recently on road trips:
- Playing the DJ (kids take turns being the DJ and choosing the music we listen to)
- Listening to audiobooks or kid-friendly podcasts
- Playing I-Spy (this makes me carsick but my kids love it)
- Drawing with Color Wonder Books and Color Wonder stamps
- Playing with Window clings on the car window
- Waving glowsticks while driving in the dark
- Building with Model Magic
- Putting stickers all over (paper, carseats, yourself!)
- Building with Magformers (we love bringing a few of these to build with when we drive)
- Foldable car mat and little matchbox cars
- Pulling, ripping, and sticking TAPE (we use painters tape so it doesn’t ruin anything)
- Drawing with a Travel Aquadoodle
- Creating with Scratch Art notepads (note: these can be messy, but keep my kids occupied for awhile, so worth it)
- Reusable Sticker Pads (Love these ones from Melissa & Doug)
- Mr. Potato Head (put all the pieces into a plastic container)
- Felt Quiet Books (we love this one)
- Push Straws/Large Pom Poms or cards into a plastic container
- Paint with Water books
- Mini Dry Erase or Chalk boards
- Boogie Boards (Love these LED boards for travel)
- Cookie sheet with magnet blocks
- Post-It Notes
- Wallet filled with old cards or a purse filled with stuff
- Small toys hidden in Plastic eggs (from Dollar Store)
- Bubble wrap to pop
- Mini etch-a-sketch
- Dried pasta and a string or pipe cleaners for lacing
- String Cheerios on pipe cleaners
- Playdough kit with little figures
- Play Stop and Go
- Do some Hidden Pictures
You can find all of our favorite travel toys, additional activities, and gear in our Amazon Store HERE
4. Mix things up with a little screen time.
After hours and hours of seeing the boring desert or cornfields, it is sometimes nice to mix things up and have a screen break. On our trips we always bring an iPad or a DVD player as a back up if we need it. Some younger toddlers will only watch something for 5 minutes, but some of our older kids will play a game or watch a movie for much longer.
We try and have set screen time periods on drives and set activity periods. If kids (or adults) are really tired and the drive is super long, sometimes our rules go out the window and kids get more tablet time than they usually would!
We don’t judge ourselves on trips if we use more screen time than we planned! Traveling for 13 hours in the car (or any amount of time) with kids is exhausting!
Here are some fun and educational apps that we love or Toddler Approved readers have recommended:
- Monkey Preschool Lunchbox
- ABC Mouse
- Toca Boca
- Fruit Ninja
- LEGO Duplo Trains
- LEGO Duplo House
- Toca Monster
- Toca Doctor
- Very Hungry Caterpillar
- Mr. Potato Head
- Daniel Tiger
- Painting with Peppa Pig
- Any game from Originator Inc.
Do you have any others?
We also like to download some favorite shows from Netflix and Amazon for kids to watch. Our toddler is currently obsessed with Paw Patrol, Octonauts, and Super Wings. She also loves any Disney movie, so we usually have several saved on our iPad.
5. Mentally prepare for challenges!
Kids can get sick, someone can get hurt, or sometimes siblings just fight! Think ahead and prep for it. We like to have a vomit bucket (with a lid) or some sort of other container in the car if kids get sick. We keep a trash bag inside of it and we also keep wipes, hand sanitizer, and extra clothes nearby! One of my friends keeps special vomit bags in her car. They are on my list for our next road trip!
Make sure you also have a first aid kit with band-aids, tylenol/motrin (childrens), cough drops, etc. You can find our DIY first aid kit tutorial here. Whenever I forget this I am always annoyed because it always comes in handy!
You always want to have a few big towels on hand in your car when you travel too! They are perfect for a spontaneous lunch picnic or beach trip, can be a changing pad if a baby has a diaper explosion, or can even be used as a blanket if kids get cold. We sometimes throw one over the toddler if we’re eating something messy or we might put anything wet on top of it to let it dry.
Lastly, keep a special bag full of little treats or special surprises just in case there are any huge issues or traffic delays. Those make everyone grumpy and it is nice to have a surprise.
Remember: As the adults, you ultimately get to choose your attitude on any family trip. Try your best to keep a good attitude, whatever happens. My husband got stuck on a road trip with our three oldest kids and a drive that was supposed to be 11 hours long turned into a 16 hour trip in standstill traffic. I thought they would hate it… but he had such a fun and positive attitude so the kids did too! It was one of their favorite trips!
6. Give each kid their own travel bag!
In the car I hate having to dig through my one bag and then reach back or pass things around to kids. Instead, each kid has their own backpack with their gear. I keep the toddler’s backpack near me to help her access it.
In each backpack we usually have…
- a few favorite toys (ideally ones that are fun for pretend play like action figures, Hatchimals, or other small characters)
- a favorite stuffed animal
- a few books to read
- coloring books/crayons or a pencil/notebook to draw with
- a few snacks (I keep the rest and can replenish as the trip goes)
7. Bring your favorite toys and gear!
Here are a few of our favorite toys and gear for Traveling with Toddlers:
One of the best things about road-tripping is that you can bring your favorite gear along and you’re not limited to bags. We like to be comfortable on vacation and help kids transition well to stay in a new place, so I probably overpack. Below you can find a few favorite items that we often bring with us when we travel. We don’t always bring all of them!
Click on the name of the item to go to the Amazon link.
Guava Lotus Crib – I love how this crib can be easily packed up and carried on your back when traveling.
Peapod Tent – This is great when kids are transitioning out of their crib and you are traveling. Keeps them contained a bit.
Double BOB stroller – This doesn’t need much of an introduction. This stroller has saved my life numerous times and is great to bring on a vacation and lug kids around. Perfect if you want to do a morning jog or go on a family adventure and some little people revolt and are “too tired.”
Wagon – This is especially great for beach trips!
Micro-Mini Scooters – This is a fun toy to have along if there are any paved trails on your trip! It is such a great way to get energy out!
Puddle Jumper – Always important to have along for toddlers at the beach/pool.
Packing cubes – I love using these when packing up! They help us store so many more things in our bags!
Travel potty – Perfect for littles that need to use the potty on the go! Much better than public restrooms.
Ergo baby carrier – We love this for hiking and traveling adventures when we don’t want to use a backpack carrier.
Piggyback rider – a mix between a carrier and giving your kid a piggyback.
Kid headphones – These are our current favorite headphones.
Carseat or Booster seat (Bubble bum for older kids)
Toys our kids love to play with when traveling:
We don’t bring all of these, but we’ll usually bring 2-3 with us each time we travel. You can find all of these linked in our favorite toys Amazon shop.
Magformers – we like to grab a handful of these magnetic shapes to bring with us. The kids create the craziest things!
Alphabots – these are like a cross between transformers and the alphabet… my kids LOVE them!
Matchbox cars (plus thick painters tape to make roads)
Hatchimals – My toddler (and her big siblings) have been playing with these for months, so of course they always come along with us!
Paw Patrol toys – Anything Paw Patrol is always a hit with our toddler!
Thomas Trains – These are fun to use along with a painters tape track on the floor of your hotel room or just driving around on your carseat.
LEGO/Duplo bricks and a few minifigures (small bag) – These are fun to play with in a hotel room when kids need something to do while mom & dad are getting ready or when you have downtime.
Alright, so now that you know some of our tips for road tripping with toddlers… what are yours?
I especially need some good snack ideas for our next road trip! Have any?
Check out these other helpful toddler road trip resources…
Days with Grey shares some awesome Road Trips Ideas, Tips & Tricks!
We also have 10 Trips for Traveling with Kids!