6 Tips for Road Trips with Infants and Toddlers (or Both!)

As a follow-up to our post on flying with infants and toddlers, here are 6 of our favorite road trip tips for babies and toddlers. My daughter has never liked riding in the car for any amount of time and by that, I mean she screams like she’s being tortured for hours, so big trips take a lot of planning and a lot of patience. We still have to limit our road trips with her, but we’re hopeful she’ll outgrow this soon. The only thing worse than navigating Dallas traffic, is navigating Dallas traffic with a howling child six inches behind you, so hopefully these tips help you as much as they have helped us and our friends.

1.     Time Your Trip Around Sleep

If you can, drive at night or split a day trip into shifts that cover nap times. If we are driving during the day, we try to leave right at our daughter’s nap time. If it’s a longer trip and we want to go at night, we feed her dinner, do her bedtime routine and put her in the car right when she’s ready to go to sleep. That seems to work pretty well for our 4-hour drive to Houston or 5-hour drive to San Antonio. We’ve still had trips where she won’t sleep at all and screams like a crazy person, but we’ve gotten lucky a few times where she slept the entire trip.

2.     Plan to Stop Often

Give your little ones plenty of time out of their car seats. Use rest areas or fuel breaks to let them walk around, get some cuddles in or play for a little bit. If you are going to stop for fast food, maybe choose a restaurant with a playground so toddlers can get some energy out. Even adults should get out of the car and stretch their legs every few hours on a road trip.  

3.     Bring Plenty of Snacks

My parents always packed a cooler of sandwich fixings and snacks for our road trips, so I try to do the same thing. It can be fun to pack snacks the kids don’t usually get to eat, just make sure they are car seat friendly or save them for a rest stop. Be sure to pack their favorite refillable cup or water bottle too. One friend recommended making snacks a little more fun, by letting her little ones wear fruit loop necklaces they could eat.  

4.     Plan Your Packing

Pack your bags in a way that is organized and convenient. If you’re on a long road trip where you will be stopping overnight somewhere, pack a go-bag that has just what you need for that night in it for each person. Put it in the car with you or right on top in the trunk, so it’s easy to find. When you pack your suitcases, put everything you’ll need first on top or towards the front. I pack our outfits in order by the days of the trip. If you are going to have access to a washing machine to do laundry, pack as light as you can for everyone. To keep things organized, you can roll entire outfits together to save space or even pack baby and toddler outfits in Ziploc bags with labels for the day you want them to be worn.  I am becoming more and more reliant on lists and plans, so I even pack my list that I used to pair outfits with days/events in case I forget what I had wanted us to wear for something specific. I like to recycle grocery bags as well for dirty laundry, diapers, and wet clothes so I throw a few into each suitcase and the diaper bag. Don’t forget to keep the diaper bag, snacks and toys within reach of your seat in the car.

5.     Surprise Them with New Toys

Pick up a few new toys and wrap them individually in wrapping paper to build up the surprise. They don’t have to be anything fancy, I’ve gotten some a Dollar Tree run before. Just like flying, this is a great time to let them play with things they normally aren’t allowed to have like Post-Its, Scotch Tape, or a calculator. They can also color with Color Wonder books or play with a Magna Doodle. If all else fails, we won’t judge you for breaking out the iPad and headphones and letting them watch mind-numbing shows to their little heart’s content. Our little one’s current obsession with cats means during moments of desperation on recent road trips, we’ve resorted to just doing Google image searches for cats on our phones and letting her squeal.  

6.     Don’t Forget to Have Fun

Even if your little ones are young and won’t remember the trip, do the little things that make good memories and fun photo opportunities. Stop at landmarks, attractions and state line signs. Plan to do some touristy things along the way to your destination and enjoy this time with your family.

Be sure to check our post from earlier this week with tips for flying with babies and toddlers. And if all else fails, know that postpartum doulas can go on vacation with you too.