Road Trip With a Baby or Toddler: 44 Tips for a Smooth Journey
There are obvious things that make a road trip with a baby or toddler (or both!) easier - having more adults than kids, having extra vehicle space to organize all your stuff, having perfect weather for energy exerting stops, or avoiding overnight stops before loading up for day 2 of driving.
But, most families aren’t able to check off all of those boxes on ‘the perfect conditions for a road trip with a baby or toddler fantasy checklist’.
That’s okay! Fret not!
After road tripping for more than 12,000 miles over two years with our daughter (who was then 1-2 years old), we’ve compiled some tips for taking a road trip with a toddler or baby that can help make everything run smoother and be more enjoyable, even if you’re not set up in the most ideal way.
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Choosing When to Drive on a Road Trip With a Baby or Toddler
Knowing whether you’re doing day time driving, night time driving, or some combination before packing up to go can be helpful (although, once on the road, your plans may change!) because you’ll have a better idea on the amount of travel toys needed, how much and what types of food to pack, or if you need overnight bags packed separately.
Some families are against night driving for safety reasons, and for some families it works great. This is where you have to know yourselves.
An alternative to night driving is to start early in the morning, transferring sleepy little ones into the car to (hopefully!) fall back asleep.
Or sometimes it works great to drive late into the night, especially if you are sleeping in a camper where you can pull over and all comfortably be asleep within 20 minutes of stopping (over having to settle in at a hotel).
Tips for Packing Luggage for a Family Road Trip
If you will have to stop for the night before arriving at your destination, pack an overnight bag separate from all of your other bulky luggage. What works best for you will depend on your family size and the type of overnight accommodation you’ll have.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
All toiletries together. We recently started using this overnight toiletry bag* for our family and are really liking it.
One small overnight bag per person (pajamas, next days clothes)
Or one larger duffel with everyone’s things included, but separated into large ziplocks, mesh bags, or grocery bags.
For larger families, a bag per type of item (all swimsuits together since you’d likely use a hotel pool at the same time; all jammies together if you plan to konk out about the same time; all bulky hiking shoes together if you’re stopping along the way at a trail; one dirty clothes bag to share, etc).
Must Have Items When Taking a Road Trip With a Baby or Toddler
Basic first aid kit. For off-the-beaten-path camping and extended road trips* we use this one.
A plan for easily getting your baby or toddler back into the car seat after a stop, like a new snack or an exciting travel toy.
Clean up kit- plastic tote with a snapping lid full of clorox wipes, baby wipes, paper towels, toilet paper, a change of clothes per kid (especially bottoms if newly potty trained), bottle of water for clean-up purposes, empty walmart sacks, extra car sick bags, hand sanitizer.
Car Organization for a Family Road Trip
Knowing where most things are in your car and having the most important things within reach will help you keep your sanity!
Remember to clean out your vehicle of all unnecessary things before loading up!
Travel toys within adult’s reach (but out of child’s sight in order to extend focus and play time with whatever they’re currently occupied by)
Food and cooler/cooler bag
Car sick bags within reach. These bags* have been easy for our daughter to use.
Keep a seat open next to the car seat/s for some face-to-face play
Have a designated spot for a potty chair or diaper changing space
Remove your kids’ shoes and winter or summer gear (sun hat, coat, etc) and put them in a designated spot so you won’t have to search out where your toddler tossed them at each stop.
Keep wipes handy for faces and fingers
Tips for Meals and Snacks While on a Road Trip With Kids
We like to pack all of our snacks to avoid pricey and junky gas station food, as well as the food for many of the meals we’ll need for the trip to avoid the allure of multiple fast-food stops.
Make a list of the foods you packed so you remember your options.
For night driving, pack healthy snacks for the adults that can be picked away at for extended periods of time. Think carrot sticks over that entire family sized bag of peanut m&m’s you know you’ll power through at 2am. Plan for success!
For night driving or early morning driving, remove snacks from loud crinkly packaging before packing up. I like these reusable bags*. You don’t want to wake your toddler and start getting demands for food at 1am.
Filling a thermos of coffee can be a time and money saver.
Have a bowl and necessary utensils for each person in order to portion out snacks.
This bib is fantastic* - it keeps the car seat clean, and our daughter still likes using it because she gets to eat her dropped “bonus bites”.
If we stop for a meal, we eat while our daughter plays. After expending some energy and getting nice and hungry, she’s typically happy to climb back in that car seat in order to eat her lunch as we get farther down the road.
Activities using food for toddlers! Examples could be: cheerio necklaces, or trail mix poured into a divided container (like ice cube tray or bead box) to be sorted while getting snacked on. Pass that time!
Don’t pack sugary snacks. The poor kid is stuck in a car seat. Don’t add being all jacked up on sugar to that. They’ll be way whinier and more difficult to be around!
If you’re breastfeeding, consider how and when you’ll be taking care of baby before leaving so you and your spouse or travel partner are on the same page.
If you’ll have access to a kitchen during your road trip or vacation, check out this post about ways to save money and time on meals.
How to Help Your Baby or Toddler Sleep on a Road Trip
Getting your baby or toddler comfortable enough to take a nice long nap is a serious win on a road trip. Here are some tips for making this happen:
Always make sure everyone has empty bladders, full stomachs, and that you have a full tank of gas before settling in for nap.
If leaving early in the morning before the sun is up, turn off your vehicle’s dome light so it doesn’t shine as you transfer your sleepy little one to the car seat.
Depending on the age, weight, and height of your toddler, you may have her forward facing in a convertible car seat but still be able to safely turn her rear facing and slightly reclined for sleep. Check your car seat owner’s manual. Rear facing can be more comfortable and can help the toddler disengage from any activity up front, resulting in more sleep!
Be sure the required blankets or stuffed animals are not packed in luggage!
Loose and comfy clothes!
Block the sun! Magic shades*, baby blanket rolled up in the window (less than an inch outside otherwise it’ll flap like crazy), extra piece of reflectix - block that sun!
We usually try to line up nap to land after a longer stop full of activity.
Running through a version of the regular bedtime routine even while in the vehicle (books, songs, etc) can help trigger your little one to settle down.
Tips for Road Tripping With a Newly Potty Trained Toddler
Traveling with a recently potty trained toddler presents a unique challenge.
Some families are comfortable putting the kid back in diapers or pull-ups and then just working for hopefully only a few days afterwards to get them back on track.
If this isn’t for you, here’s what we’d recommend:
Line the car seat with a potty pad in case an accident does happen. And pack extra.
Have plenty of extra undies and pants, and do not pack them in the suitcase buried in the back.
Limit fluid intake. Yeah, keep them hydrated, but limit it.
Have a potty station in the vehicle. Those newly trained toddlers don’t always give much warning. Quickly pulling over anywhere to use the always available, convenient, and as-clean-as-you-keep-it potty chair is much easier than always finding a gas station to trudge into.
For number 1, you can have a wide mouthed container with a secure lid in your vehicle for times you can’t dump the potty elsewhere.
If your kid has to go number 2 and you can’t get to an actual toilet, line the potty chair with a small trash bag, securing it in place by wrapping it around the removable bowl. Much easier to clean up!
Have Realistic Expectations
Having realistic expectations of yourself, your spouse, your kids, and the amount of time everything takes can make for a more relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere in the vehicle.
Even with all your preparedness for your road trip with a baby or toddler, there may still be some inconsolable crying. Persevere, it’ll be okay!
Plan extra time and stops with the babies and toddlers along. You will not arrive at the time your GPS predicts!
Check in with your spouse to be sure your expectations are similar as far as who’s responsible for what between driving, entertaining kids, etc.
A lot of people say that it’s better to wait for road trips and other experiences until kids are old enough to remember things, but we disagree.
Even though they won’t likely remember anything from their earliest experiences, those experiences are what shape and grow and mold them! Their rapidly expanding little minds take it all in and they can get a lot from any adventure, at any age.
Road trips with a baby or toddler along can be really fun! So go for it!
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