Five Tips for Road Trips with Babies and Toddlers

We are just getting ready for road trip number two of three in three months.  All of them are 8+ hours ONE WAY.  With three kids four and under.  Yes, we just may be crazy!  Because, let’s be honest.  We still occasionally stop for emergency potty breaks 10 minutes after getting back in the car.  And we still have epic baby meltdowns sometimes.  And the road construction that turns a nine hour drive into a 12 hour drive will make us all go nuts. But I’ve learned a few things these last few years that have made trips much more enjoyable for everyone in our family.

Tip #1: Don’t stop if the kids are sleeping or happy…no matter what time it is.  

Tip #2: Feed kids meals in the car while you’re driving, if possible.  Stop to play for 20-30 minutes AFTER they are finished eating (that’s when adults & babies eat, diaper changes & potty breaks happen, etc.).  If you do decide to stop and eat as a family, it’s so handy to bring in a Restaurant Survival Kit that you keep packed in your car.

Tip #3: If a kid is newly potty trained (within the last year or two), have them wear pull ups during the drive.  Because kids always need to have an emergency potty break when it’s impossible to pull over. Trust me.  It’s also helpful to keep an emergency bag in the car with a change of clothes, diapers, wipes, Clorox wipes, paper towels, and plastic bags for any road trip accidents or sickness.

snack catcherTip #4: Pack snacks that are not messy, crumbly, or sticky (no goldfish, granola bars, etc.).  Foods like animal crackers, pretzels, teddy grahams, cheese sticks, grape halves, etc. work great.  Bring snack cups like this Munchkin Snack Catcher for snacks.  Fill sippy cups to the top with ice first, before adding water.  This limits how much kids can drink at one time.  For babies eating solid foods, bring puffs/Cheerios, and food pouches for meals and snacks.

Tip #5: Bring out the toys/activities in phases.  There is no real rule for how long each phase lasts…its just when kids are done with all the activities and getting antsy.  Babies newborn to six months usually only need one or two toys.  They are great travelers because they sleep so much.  Here are the toys I usually pack and when the kids can play with them when we travel:

Babies 0-6 months

  • Let them nap, bring a few favorite toys, and that’s pretty much it.  Other than needing to stop and eat, they are pretty easy to entertain! 🙂

Phase 1:

  • Pacifier (on clip, because they will throw it where you can’t reach it).  Start the trip like a regular drive in the car.  Hopefully they will end up taking a nap.  🙂

Phase 2: 

  • Teething toys
  • Plastic books
  • Small mylar balloon

Phase 3:

  • New toy
  • Unusual objects (kitchen utensils) given to them one at a time.  Only give a new object or toy when the baby is done with the previous one.  This light up spinner wand is amazing for getting a fussy baby’s attention and keeping them entertained!

spinner wand

And the best entertainment?  A big brother or sister (if they have one)!

*This is the most difficult age for long road trips, in my experience.  They are too little to be entertained by media, AND all they want to do is practice crawling and walking.  So being confined in a carseat is the worst.  If they are learning to walk, bring a walker toy so they can practice and get some exercise during rest stops and bathroom breaks.

Toddlers 2+ Years Activity Ideas

*Note: I usually only give one item out at a time.  I let the kids pick what they want to do, depending on what phase they are in…until they’ve done everything on the list.  Then we move on to the next phase.  Generally, each phase lasts us about 1-2 hours.

Phase 1:

  • Music (iPods with headphones are NICE)
  • Books (stories they know well, unless you want to have to read it to them).  Or, bring a Leap Frog Tag reader to read them stories.
  • New toy
  • Magnetic drawing board.  We have this one, and while it’s small and simple, it’s a great size for in the car.  My kids both love drawing on theirs every time we get in the car.

lacing beads

Phase 2:

  • Coloring books
  • Melissa & Doug Water WOW paint with water books.  These are AMAZING reusable painting books that are fun and make no mess.
  • Stickers & sticker books.
  • Magnets & cookie sheet (search for activities on Pinterest, or just let kids play with magnets on the cookie sheet).  My kids love these Melissa & Doug animal and vehicle magnets in addition to the typical alphabet ones.
  • Lacing beads

leap padPhase 3:

  • Leap Pad (games/videos…most of them are educational).  My kids don’t get to play with their Leap Pads unless we are on a road trip, or have a long wait at a doctor’s office.  So this is a BIG treat for them!  We have these Leap Pads, but you can also find some newer versions too.

Phase 4:

  • iPad (movies).  We have this awesome case that attaches to the headrest of the car.  This works great for both forward and rear facing car seats.  We download videos in advance to our Plex app, so it’s ready to go with our kid’s favorite movies.  They only get to watch these movies on road trips, so it’s really special.

Well, that’s what we do on our road trips!  I’ll be packing up in the next day or two, so leave a comment if you have any activities your babies and toddlers enjoy during long drives in the car.  I’m always interested in new ideas!

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