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10 Tips For A Road Trip With Toddlers (Plus Free Packing Checklist)

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Taking a road trip with toddlers can be a taxing experience… but there are ways to manage it, make it much easier… AND even have some fun along the way. When thinking of how to manage a road trip with my son, I have found it helpful to go through a tick list in my head of his needs. When I wrote these down it was funny to note how similar they are to my own! They are just little human beings with the same needs, but lacking the ability to understand how long the journey might be… and that you won’t be stuck in the car forever…!

For instance, you need to be prepared for: hunger; thirst; imminent nappy changes; boredom; tiredness; overstimulation; the need to let off steam… with boredom perhaps being at the very top of the list in a car! SO I am going to address these and list some ways you can tackle these needs whilst on your car journey with your toddler. The adventure awaits!

In no particular order…

This article was written by Tash Peto, who is not currently added as an author on this website! Tash first wrote the article Road Trip With A Newborn, and this is the follow up piece.

Road Trip With Toddlers Infographic

Prepare Healthy and Nutritious Snacks

Fun and nutritious snack ideas for both keeping hanger at bay and keeping the little one entertained are a necessity! Here are some tasty, fun and healthy snacks to take along for the road trip with toddlers.

+ Cheese! Babybels are fun – or if your little bean is anything like mine – cathedral city mature cheddar mini cheeses are the way to go!

+ Crackers, crackers, crackers… Rice cakes… Nairns oatcakes… Bread sticks… Try to go for those that are lower in salt for their little kidneys…

+ Dry cereal! It may sound boring to you, but they LOVE dry cereal as a crispy treat. Cornflakes, bran flakes and special flakes are all relatively low in sugar and just something different for them to eat. Plus, they are normally fortified with some vitamins and minerals such as iron, so they will get a few extra nutrients from these.

+ Dried fruit – everyone has different opinions on these – so feel free to ignore this one… Personally, I think that the iron content in raisins and apricots outweighs the sugar content you may be trying to avoid. Try to choose dried fruit with no added sugar. Baked strawberries are also a good option or baked apple crisps.

+ Fresh fruit and veggies

+ Everyone has different opinions about snacks that come in a packet… I personally like to limit these, but I do believe they have their place! I make sure they are organic; ‘Ella’s kitchen’ or ‘Organix’ are good go-tos.  I like their soft oaty bars, rice cakes, melty puffs, and fruit puree pouches. On a journey (and once you are at your destination if you are away for a bit) it is so handy to have a few things you can just chuck in the bag. Though you may not want to just rely on ready-made food for your small person, having some of these, some of the time, can really alleviate the pressure when you are on your journey.

Read on for more of my best tips for a road trip with toddlers. Alternatively, find some other great ideas in this article on the Best Road Trip Food.

Plan Your Trip Around Their Sleep Pattern

Timing is everything. Coinciding part of the journey with nap time will make all the difference. Although sleeping in the car may mean either a shorter or longer nap than usual, it will relieve some of the stress that may come from the journey, giving you a break and making it seem shorter and more bearable for your little one.

Check out these tips on staying in a hotel with a toddler.

Enjoy Some Family Songs Together

Songs are a great way for you to both share an activity together when you are out on the move. Plus, they will find it equally soothing, and so if they are tired or overstimulated then this will meet that need for comfort or winding down. Some song ideas are:

“Dingle Dangle Scarecrow”; “Wind The Bobbin Up”; “Hickory Dickory Dock”; “If You’re Happy and You Know It”; “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”.

Having a CD with kids’ songs is also helpful, but they will love it even more if you sing along!

Take Regular Stops

Helpful for everyone on board!

Remember, that they may not be able to tell you that their nappy needs changing, they may just simply get cranky. But if you need to go, then they probably do too!

Stopping is also a good chance to stretch your legs (and theirs) and get some exercise – they need to let off steam and exercise just as much as you do.

AND it’s a good opportunity for a cuddle with you! They crave that connection.

How often you stop will depend on the length of the journey and on your particular child, and probably many other circumstances. On, for example, a three hour journey, we would be looking to stop one to two times with our 23 month old (if not timed with a nap), and to stop once if we managed to time it with a nap – but he is especially energetic.

Consider A Show To Keep Them Busy

At this point, your little one may have a show or two that they like to watch, which could prove helpful on a journey. Whilst I am not keen on the idea of regular screen time for my son, I do think they can have their uses in small doses!

Something New…

By this, I don’t mean necessarily buying them a brand new toy (although, I am sure if you can this would work pretty well too!)… children quite often like playing with non- toys anyway. Rather, I am suggesting letting them play with something that is new and novel to them. A game I like to play with my son is ‘What’s in the bag?’ I take a cloth bag (drawstring may help with the mystery, but just don’t leave them unsupervised to avoid hazards!) and I walk around the house filling it with objects I think my little boy may find interesting; different textures and shapes; things that open and close, have zips or poppers; things that change shape or move; things that smell or make a sound. For example a wooden ornament, a watch that isn’t too precious, a hair tie, a lavender bag, a stress ball. Of course, if you can supervise them in the back of the car you can be a little more relaxed with what you choose to put in the bag.

It can be helpful to try and get into their mindset – what might they find interesting? What will get their brain ticking? A peg they can squeeze? A pencil case that zips open and shut? Our imagination is our best friend on car journeys with little people… Get creative!

Stickers Can Be Fascinating

Stickers are so fascinating to my 23-month-old. The raised ones are the easiest to handle, and sticker books that you can stick and unstick them too are helpful… as when I first introduced stickers to him, my little boy got upset that he couldn’t unstick the stickers from the paper we had been using!

Soft Toys Bring Comfort

Something that brings comfort on a boring and sometimes uncomfortable journey will be gratefully accepted. Whether a teddy or a comforter, a blanket or a much loved toy – something familiar for an unfamiliar environment.

Somebody Else…

Why not use the car journey as an opportunity for a catch-up with somebody your little one knows and loves to chat to? This will help the time pass for you as well as occupy your little one. Our son loves facetime, and I don’t think he is the only toddler!

Little Sips Help

Offer little sips of water regularly to keep your little one hydrated. I would suggest that taking a few different ‘fun’ flasks to offer them throughout the journey. Our little boy loves drinking out of anything we are drinking. Perhaps take some of your bottles and/or flasks that he doesn’t normally use that he can practice within the car (with valves so that the water doesn’t end up everywhere!!)

If you are the sort of person who likes to have a checklist of things to take… these are what I would recommend.

Road Trip With Toddlers Packing Checklist

Road Trip With Toddlers Packing List

Here are 10 items to take with you on a road trip with a toddler! If you are looking for more extensive help, check our article on planning a family road trip.

  • Healthy and interesting snacks
  • Plenty of water + flasks to drink from
  • Stickers
  • Comforting toy
  • Your tablet or phone to play a kids show
  • Bag of interesting items you have selected for them to explore
  • CD with kids songs
  • Baby wipes to hand for many different reasons!!
  • Pictures of friends and family
  • Favourite books

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Image of Iain The Founder Of The Road Trip Expert

Iain Salter

Founder & Editor of The Road Trip Expert

Iain founded The Road Trip Expert in 2019 and continues to manage the website to this day. The inspiration to start the blog came during an extensive road trip around Europe with two friends that spanned several months and involved over 25,000km of driving. He first developed a passion for backpacking in 2014 and has had the pleasure of exploring over 60 countries.