How To Successfully Take A Road Trip With A Toddler

Updated: Sep 3, 2021


Born Happy, Nashville, TN, Tennessee, United States, Baby Sleep Coach, Baby Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep Coach, Toddler Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep, Preschooler Sleep, Baby Sleep, toddler sleep on vacation, toddler sleep travel, travel with kids tips, road trip with toddler, traveling with kids, family road trips, road trip sleep toddler, travel activity

About to brave a road trip with toddlers?


Remember the days when...

You used to only have to pack for one person when getting ready for vacation?

Vacation meant that you got to stay up late doing something fun and sleep in the next day?

Go out to fancy dinners?

Walks on the beach?

Ha!


And now it means driving instead of flying because of all the stuff you have to lug along.

Falling asleep at 8PM with your kids in a hotel room.

Eating dinner with the old folks at 5PM because your kids are hangry and you need them fed and in bed ASAP!


Sigh. I still LOVE vacation.

Just the like the rest of life as a mom, traveling with kids is full of compromises.

Family road trips are no exception.


As a family that loves to travel, we have taken our fair share of road trips with babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and now school-aged children.


Tour of Italy: 11 hour Italy road trip with two kids (in a huge van, that BTW is very hard to drive down narrow streets, with a stick shift, and rented car seats that the kids complained were very uncomfortable)

Nashville to Atlanta: 4 hour road trip with two toddlers (do this one frequently)

Nashville to Florida Beaches: 7 hour road trip with two toddlers (take this one annually)

Nashville to Tampa, FL: 10 hour road trip with two kids

Nashville to Pennsylvania: 11 hour (sometimes solo) East Coast road trip with two toddlers (another annual trip)

... just to name a few


Truth be told, my husband hates road trips, so we fly whenever possible. But it is not always possible, practical, or even ideal to fly with kids.

Multiple plane tickets can make a family trip expensive.

Going to the beach with kids? Unless you plan to buy beach toys, boogie boards, towels at your destination, might as well plan on car travel.

And sometimes driving is part of the experience, like when we drove through the rolling hills of Tuscany.


No matter the reason, I am excited to answer your questions and share helpful tips for taking a road trip with toddlers.


Summary

 

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Born Happy, Nashville, TN, Tennessee, United States, Baby Sleep Coach, Baby Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep Coach, Toddler Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep, Preschooler Sleep, Baby Sleep, toddler sleep on vacation, toddler sleep travel, travel with kids tips, road trip with toddler, traveling with kids, family road trips, road trip sleep toddler, travel activity


How To Prepare For A Road Trip With A Toddler?


Guys, I'm not a Type A planner. I generally do things as last minute as I can without being called a procrastinator. However, I love planning a trip. Makes me feel like vacation has already begun!


When it comes to family road trips, there are a few things that are worthwhile to plan ahead of time. Whether you love lists and details or you plan only the travel essentials, I promise, these tips will help make your road trip with toddlers not only tolerable, but full of fun and happy memories.



Born Happy, Nashville, TN, Tennessee, United States, Baby Sleep Coach, Baby Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep Coach, Toddler Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep, Preschooler Sleep, Baby Sleep, toddler sleep on vacation, toddler sleep travel, travel with kids tips, road trip with toddler, traveling with kids, family road trips, road trip sleep toddler, travel activity


Step 1 - Plan Your Car Trip (With-A-Toddler Style)


  1. Where are you going?

  2. How long will it take to get there?

  3. How much time do you have to travel? Do you have an extra day to spend on stops along the way? Or do you need to get where you are going as fast as possible?

  4. Are there places along the way that would be fun to visit, even if not the main reason for the trip? Open up Google Maps and see what cities are towns are along your route. Or see if you could take an alternate route with fun stops.


A few examples for inspiration from our family road trips:

  • Nashville to Atlanta - 4 hour road trip - we sometimes stop half way in Chattanooga, play at the train museum, run along the riverfront park, hit up the playground, get some ice cream, and get back on the road

  • Nashville to FL Beaches - 7 hour road trip - when our kids were toddlers and preschoolers we used to leave just after lunch, in time for naps, drive 3 hours while the kids were mostly sleeping, then stop in Birmingham and hang until after dinner, we have found our favorite parks, pizza joints, and breweries, we sometimes even score a festival with fun activities, this is often a much anticipated part of the trip and has become a fun tradition that both parents and kids look forward to

  • Nashville to Pennsylvania - 11 hour trip - We have done this drive many ways.

  • On the way there, we typically drive for 3 hours, stop in Knoxville, TN, walk around downtown, get dinner. We have hit up a trampoline park in the past when passing by mid day.

  • On the way back, we usually stop 3 hours into our trip at Harrisonburg, VA (go Dukes!), walk around the JMU campus (college campuses are a fun place to run around, any college town you pass could be a good stopping point), play soccer on the quad, walk around the arboretum, go to a big playground close by, visit with friends who live there.

  • We have also left at bedtime, drove 3 hours while the kids sleep, stayed with friends overnight, and got back on the road in the morning after the kids had breakfast and play time with their friends, to drive the rest of the way home. Doing it this way feels like we are cutting 3 hours off the trip.

  • We have also stayed overnight at a hotel in Roanoke, half way through the drive, which the kids love, gives them a chance to swim in the hotel pool, eat breakfast at the hotel which they think is the best thing ever, and gives mommy and daddy a chance to sleep instead of needing to drive through the night.


Born Happy, Nashville, TN, Tennessee, United States, Baby Sleep Coach, Baby Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep Coach, Toddler Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep, Preschooler Sleep, Baby Sleep, toddler sleep on vacation, toddler sleep travel, travel with kids tips, road trip with toddler, traveling with kids, family road trips, road trip sleep toddler, travel activity

Step 2 - Timing Your Drive (Around Toddler Sleep)


This is my favorite topic. I love all things baby/toddler/preschooler sleep. But especially practical ways to make sleep happen in all types of situations including vacations.


(If you are having sleep challenges with your kiddo on the regular, email me, I'd love to chat!)


I try to plan road trips with toddlers around sleep as much as possible. It makes trips with toddlers much more enjoyable for both you and your kiddo.


How you time your drive depends on how long of a drive you have.


See How to Plan a Road Trip Around a Toddler’s Sleep Schedule for my favorite road trip hacks.


Born Happy, Nashville, TN, Tennessee, United States, Baby Sleep Coach, Baby Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep Coach, Toddler Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep, Preschooler Sleep, Baby Sleep, toddler sleep on vacation, toddler sleep travel, travel with kids tips, road trip with toddler, traveling with kids, family road trips, road trip sleep toddler, travel activity

Step 3 - Plan Your Family Road Trip Stops


How you time your drive will determine if you should plan for short, medium, or long stops. And how many.


If you haven't already planned your road trip around your toddler’s sleep schedule, go ahead and do this first.


No matter how often you stop or for how long, road trips with toddlers require you to make use of every pit stop you make.


Making a short stop at the gas station? Get out, lead your toddler in some fun quick games (think Simon Says, have a dance party, do laps around a close by green area).


Making a medium stop? Find a local park or go to a local trampoline park.


Needing a longer stop? Check out local activities that may be going on that day, hit up the local zoo, or wander around town.


My favorite part? Planned and unplanned stops can often create pretty magical memories. And I think it's pretty cool to treat your car trip as part of your family vacation and have fun along the way!


See Road Trip Activities for Kids for guidance on how to plan your stops and lots of tips for traveling .



Born Happy, Nashville, TN, Tennessee, United States, Baby Sleep Coach, Baby Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep Coach, Toddler Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep, Preschooler Sleep, Baby Sleep, toddler sleep on vacation, toddler sleep travel, travel with kids tips, road trip with toddler, traveling with kids, family road trips, road trip sleep toddler, travel activity

Step 4 - Packing For A Road Trip With A Toddler


Packing isn't my favorite thing, but what can ya do.


A few helpful tips...

  • If you are planning an overnight stop, pack an over night bag. An overnight bag saves you from unpacking the entire car at midnight for a quick stop at a hotel just to repack it the next morning. Be sure to include toiletries and clothes for the next day!

  • Lay a pair of your toddler's PJs and favorite lovey/blanket on top of suit cases. Makes it super easy to transition to bedtime in the car. Here is how I like to do it... If we are leaving after dinner, I have the kids change into their PJs at home and take their stuffed animals and blankets to the car with them. Before getting on the road I tuck them in with their blankets, make sure they are comfy, and say goodnight. If we are driving, stopping for dinner, and getting back on the road for bedtime, kids change into PJs just before getting back on the road. To make this easy, I put PJs, pull ups, blankets and loveys on top of the suitcases in the trunk. No digging. Can easily grab them when ready.

  • Don't forget shoes! We have, on more than one occasion, discovered that our child who got into the car bare foot didn't bring any shoes. Or that the only shoes we had were packed in a suitcase 3 layers deep in the trunk. Throw some sandals or crocks that are easy to slip on at a rest stop in the back seat.

  • For suggestions what to bring to entertain the kids, check out What to Bring On A Road Trip With Kids.

  • For suggestions on food and drink in the car, check out What Are the Best Car Snacks For Kids.


And if you like lists, here is my ultimate packing list for taking a road trip with a toddler.

Born Happy, Nashville, TN, Tennessee, United States, Baby Sleep Coach, Baby Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep Coach, Toddler Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep, Preschooler Sleep, Baby Sleep, toddler sleep on vacation, toddler sleep travel, travel with kids tips, road trip with toddler, traveling with kids, family road trips, road trip sleep toddler, travel activity, packing list road trip with toddler


What To Bring On A Road Trip With Kids?


I do everything in my power to road trip while my kids are sleeping. Travel during toddler sleep means less road trip games to coordinate and less travel toys to pack.


Check out How To Plan Your Travel Around Your Child's Sleep Schedule for my favorite road trip hacks on how to realistically make this happen.


Unfortunately, life, logistics, and the length of the trip can get in the way of that idyllic plan, and some road trips with kids just must be done during waking hours.


In order to maintain a hint of sanity during a road trip with your toddler, prepare ahead of time.


Here are my favorite road trip travel toys and essentials to keep toddlers entertained during a family road trip.


And if you missed it, save this packing list. It's gold.


And other practical must have's.


Born Happy, Nashville, TN, Tennessee, United States, Baby Sleep Coach, Baby Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep Coach, Toddler Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep, Preschooler Sleep, Baby Sleep, toddler sleep on vacation, toddler sleep travel, travel with kids tips, road trip with toddler, traveling with kids, family road trips, road trip sleep toddler, travel activity

Surprise With a New Toy


Surprise your toddler with a new toy for the trip!


Give the new toy to your toddler either right before you get in the car or during the drive, depending on when you need him or her to be most entertained.


The new toy should be hand-held and easy to play with in the car.


Not only will this new travel toy be super exciting during the drive, but will entertain your toddler while away from home.


You'd be surprised at how simple of a toy this needs to be to keep your kids attention.

Here are some favorites.


Fidget Toys


Fidget toys are all the rage and many of them make great road trip toddler toys.


Small, inexpensive, and keep kids entertained.


I like road trip toys that don't take a lot of space. Toddler attention spans are often pretty short. There is power in numbers with road trip toddler toys. Get bored, move onto the next toy, get bored, move onto the next toy. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Small toys for the win.




Born Happy, Nashville, TN, Tennessee, United States, Baby Sleep Coach, Baby Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep Coach, Toddler Sleep Consultant, Toddler Sleep, Preschooler Sleep, Baby Sleep, toddler sleep on vacation, toddler sleep travel, travel with kids tips, road trip with toddler, traveling with kids, family road trips, road trip sleep toddler, travel activity , fidget toy