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5 Expert Strategies to Survive a Road Trip With a Toddler

Some people rave about how fun it is to travel as family and how much they love it.

Good for them.

Personally, my husband and I do our best to avoid long road trips with our kids, especially when we have a toddler.

A long road trip with a toddler is a special kind of challenging. At that age, they’re so wiggly that it’s really hard for them to sit still in a car seat for long periods of time. It doesn’t take long for the whining to commence, which makes the time spent in the car a million times more miserable for everyone.

Sometimes, though, a road trip with a toddler becomes necessary for one reason or another. So here’s how to survive and make the best of it!

Be prepared

Hopefully you know the basics of what you should bring on a road trip with a toddler. Clothing, food, water, a car seat, etc. If you need a more comprehensive checklist, Jen at Travel With a Plan has a great one that you can find here.

A couple things that I think are vital for any road trip with a toddler:

  • A potty chair. I always have one of these in the back of my van. It’s saved us more times than I can count! Sometimes a bathroom is nowhere to be found and somebody really has to go. Just pull the potty seat out and you’re golden. Heck, I’ve even used it a few times in a pinch.
  • A car sick kit. Even if you don’t think your toddler gets car sick, it’s a good idea to have one of these ready to go in your car. We didn’t know our daughter got car sick until we took her on a 12 hour road trip and she threw up for hours. Better safe than sorry!

Time your road trip well

It’s important to carefully plan what time you’ll leave on your road trip. In my experience, leaving first thing in the morning when your toddler is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed is NOT the smartest choice.

My favorite time to leave is after lunch, just as they’re starting to get tired and ready for a nap. That way, hopefully they sleep for a couple of hours while you make good progress down the road. When they wake up, it’s time for a pit stop. Then they can play with toys and entertain themselves until it’s time to stop for dinner. After dinner, you can change them into pajamas and turn on a movie. Hopefully they fall asleep for the night, and then you’ll get to enjoy some peace until you reach your destination!

Stop as often as you need to

There is no hard and fast rule for how often you should stop on a road trip with a toddler. If they are awake, you should just basically stop as often as you feel is necessary.

You’ll definitely want to forget about any ideas of “making good time.” Just try to ignore how long the trip is taking you and go with the flow. It’ll be much more pleasant for everyone involved.

It’s best to view the journey itself as part of the fun!

Choose your stops wisely

When you do stop, try to be strategic about where you stop when you have a toddler with you. Stopping at a rest area with a little bit of grass is a way better option for kids who need to run around and burn some energy off! You’ll also be able to avoid the begging for candy that inevitably happens when you walk through the gas station to get to the bathroom.

Also, be prepared for stops to take a very long time. By the time everyone has gone to the bathroom, you’ve let the toddler exercise a bit and changed their outfit because they spilled they fruit pouch everywhere, you’ll look up and realize that 40 minutes has gone by!

However, if your toddler is sleeping, don’t stop whatever you do!! Hold your bladder, ignore your hunger and do what it takes to just. keep. going. The more they sleep, the easier it is to survive a road trip with a toddler.

Plan a fun stop

One thing that can really help a road trip feel like less of an eternity is planning to stop somewhere fun along the way.

Maybe there’s an interesting museum that you might enjoy together as a family, or an awesome park that you looked up in a city that you’re passing through.

If you drive 3 hours to go visit some dinosaurs, spend an hour or two there, and then drive another 3 hours to your destination, that makes a 6 hour road trip much more tolerable.

Check out Pit Stops for Kids for an awesome resource on the best places to stop on a long road trip!

Have a lot of toddler road trip activities planned

Keeping a toddler occupied on a long car ride is no small feat. Toddlers are made to run around, play and explore. Being strapped into a car seat for hours on end is pretty much the opposite of that.

However, you aren’t without options when it comes to car entertainment for your toddler. Here are a few ideas:

  • Matchbox cars. These are a great road trip activity because 1) they don’t make noise and 2) they don’t take up much space. Our kids will spend 20 minutes just driving them across their lap and around the car seat!
  • Calculator. Little kids love to push buttons. Any sort of cheap device with a lot of buttons will do. A remote, an old landline phone, etc. But I think calculators are particularly good because the buttons provide more tactile feedback and are more fun to play with.
  • Magnetic drawing pad. Coloring seems like it would be a great activity for the car, but so many things can go wrong. They drop their crayons and need you to pick them up, they color on surfaces other than paper because you can’t see what they’re doing, and you will undoubtedly wind up finding crayons that have melted into the fabric of your cloth seats weeks down the road.

    Magnetic drawing pads are a great alternative because the pen is attached, and they can’t drop it unless they drop the entire toy with it. It also only works on the magnetic surface, so there’s no chance of making a mess!
  • Lollipops. I’m not usually one to be in favor of a lot of candy, but I think lollipops are a fantastic way to give yourself some peace and quiet on a long road trip. It takes kids forever to lick their way through this candy on a stick, and they’ll be so content while they do it. I like these because they last forever. (Remember to always keep an eye on your child while they are eating in case of choking.)
  • Magic snake cube. This is another great toy that doesn’t take up much space! Your toddler will love bending and twisting it into all sorts of fun shapes. (**Note that these could also be a choking hazard)
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