Does thinking about vacations and holidays have you a little stressed because you have young children? Here are some simple things you can do to help you have a successful road trip with toddlers!
For some background I have 3 kids. They are now 10, almost 8, and 5.
Neither my family nor my in-laws live near us so our kids have been taking road trips ever since they were born.
These are the trips we take on about a yearly basis. This is the actual driving time one way, stops not included.
- 2 1/2 hours (one way) to my husband’s parents
- 7 1/2 hours to my parents
- 10 1/2 hours to a sister
- 3 1/2 hours to another sister
We have also gone on a few vacations, some fairy lengthy.
- 9 1/2 hours (one way) to Colorado with a newborn, just turned 3, and 5 year old
- 4 1/2 hours (one way) with a 2 year old and newborn; 3 and 1 year old; 1, 4 & 6 year old
- 19 hour drive (one way) to Orlando, FL with a 2, 5, and 7 year old
- 15 hour drive (one way) to West Virginia with a 2, 5, and 7 year old
All of that to say, we have put a lot of miles on our van and are no strangers to taking road trips with toddlers and kids.
(However, when it comes to airplanes, I have no advice – we haven’t done that yet.)
We do not have DVD players, ipads, or any other movie/streaming devices that we use in the car. If you want to utilize them, that’s up to you but do know you can have fun, successful road trip with toddlers without electronics!
This means that this list does not including movies as one of my tips. If you choose to use them, I’d suggest spacing out when they are allowed. A show in the morning and one in the afternoon or whatever you decide rather than giving them to your child all day long.
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Tips for a Road Trip With Toddlers
Naps and Bedtime
Work with naps and bedtime. Plan to be driving for nap time and make your stops when they should be awake.
For long trips, after you stop for dinner put your kids in pajamas and a night diaper for the remainder of the drive. This will help them know night time is coming and hopefully they will fall asleep for you. When you arrive at a hotel or your destination, carry them in and put them straight into bed. No need to wake them for potty or pjs.
Some other ideas to consider:
- Wake your kids up super early and carry them into the car still in pajamas (or have them go to bed already in their clothes for the next day). If you are lucky, they will go back to sleep and you can get a couple of hours of driving in before they are awake.
- For some families it works to leave the house at bedtime and have the parents rotate driving shifts through the night. Again, the hope is that your kids will sleep all night for you. This is one option we have not done.
Don’t Stop When They Are Asleep
This one is huge for me and I try to avoid it if at all possible!
Wait on food and try to avoid a bathroom break for the grownups if the kids are asleep. As quiet as you try to be, I can almost guarantee your kids will wake up when you stop. And trust me, that is no fun.
To help make the previous tip possible, coordinate your stops. Use the bathroom when eating your lunch. Fill up with gas even if you still have a half a tank left. You don’t want to have to make a separate stop just for gasoline – especially if your kids have fallen asleep or are traveling well. Don’t ruin the momentum.
Bring a bag of snacks along with you. Have them portioned out into toddler sized amounts and every hour or two pass the kids a little treat. It can be a few crackers, some berries, a sucker, or whatever your toddler favorite snacks are. The food helps break up the trip for them and gives the kids a little distraction.
You might find some new snack ideas on this list!
That’s right, you can find other forms of entertainment for your kids besides screens! We always pack a few car appropriate toys and activities. On a road trip with toddlers these are obviously pretty simple but still useful. Find things around your house or check garage sales and the dollar store to find things you won’t mind being ruined.
Do just what you do with the snacks and rotate through the available options every hour or two.
- Small toys. A new car, toy animal, doll etc.
- Stickers. Kids love stickers. Yes, their skin, car seat, and window might be covered with stickers but they will think it’s awesome.
- Magnets. Bring a metal pan and magnets for the kids to play with.
- Books. Board books tend to be sturdy and you might be surprised how much kids enjoy looking at the pictures when they are confined to a car seat.
- Pen and paper. For toddlers that are a bit older, they love to doodle. Keep a few coloring items and a blank notebook or a coloring book in a bag.
- Music. Yes, I know they are just toddlers but music can still be fun and soothing. Introduce them to some of your favorites and you can also bring along some classical music and kids cds. Yancy, Slugs & Bugs, Seeds Family Worship, and Hide ’em in Your Heart are fun Christian ones.
- Audio Books. You can find children’s audio books and ones for adults that are appropriate for children. Don’t be too skeptical, well written kid’s books are great even for adults. My husband has been surprised several times by a book he thought would be stupid. Bring shorter picture book length options and even consider chapter books like Tale of Despaurex or Charlotte’s Web for little kids. Obviously 1 year old toddlers probably won’t pick up what’s going on, but for the 2 and 3 year olds you will be surprised what they comprehend. Check your library or library app for for audiobooks you can checkout for free!
One last thing that people have multiple perspectives on is whether you should spilt the drive up into multiple days. You may need to try both ways to see what works best for your family.
If our trip is under 12 hours of driving (one way) we drive it all in one day. Our vacations that were 19 and 15 hours away, we split into 2 days. (This summer we will be going on our longest trip yet and our first day will include a 16.5 hour drive so that the following day we will only have 7 hours left.)
Some people like breaking trips that are just 8 hours into two days. We much preferred knocking it out in one (long) day knowing that the following day we’d be able to enjoy our destination instead of being in the car again. Give both methods a try if you need to!
These suggestions have helped us on our many road trips with toddlers! Yes, we still had our fair share of tears and fighting but overall I never minded traveling with kids. It was (mostly) enjoyable and fun.
Don’t be scared to travel with your kids, short distances or long. You will make a lot of fun memories!