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How To Successfully Take A Road Trip With A Toddler

Updated: Oct 31, 2022


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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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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.


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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.



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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 .



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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.


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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.


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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.




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Popping Toys


I admittedly get sucked into playing with pop it's (as my kids call them) too.

Fun game I play with my daughter, I hide my fingers underneath and my daughter tries to guess which bubbles my fingers are under by pushing on the bubbles.



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Fine Motor Toys


I like this Spike the Hedgehog. Can play imagination with just the hedgehog, put the spikes in the holes, put fingers in the holes, play with the spikes, talk about colors, practice counting, make patterns, spikes store inside the toy. So many ways to play with him.



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Drip Toys


Drip toys (or Liquid Motion Bubbler) are fun to look at, fun to tip over and move around. I gave my daughter my drip toy from when I was little and she asked me "where did grammy and pappy get this, it is awesome".



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Bristle Blocks


When my kids were younger I would have them pick a handful of bristle blocks to take along on trips, great to build and rearrange over and over.



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Fidget Toy Variety Pack


There are tons of fidget toy variety packs, you can search around and find one that has toys you think your kiddo would love.



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Fingerboards


These mini skateboards are great not only for the car ride, but also throughout the rest of the trip (in restaurants, in the hotel, etc.).


Note, if you get the same pack we did where you can personalize the skateboards (special colored wheels, stickers, etc), plan to personalize at home since the pieces are small.



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Snap bracelets


How can a snap bracelet provide endless entertainment for your kiddos in the car?


I don't know but it worked for mine!


The texture, snapping it on different arms and legs, on the car seat, opening it and closing it, hearing the noise... its fun and a bit soothing (you may find yourself playing with one like I did!).


So many different texture options which make them extra fidgety.



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Backpack of Toys from Home


Ask your toddler to pack a backpack full of toys to bring along for the trip.


Will there be the most random things in the bag? Yep.


Will it seem like your toddler will never play with these things? Yep.


Will your toddler surprise you and play with them in the car? Yep


Allowing your toddler to pack a bag of road trip toys will:

  1. provide the opportunity to participate in packing - i.e. give him a task to do so you can focus on actual packing

  2. build excitement for the trip

  3. give control over which toys come and which toys stay

  4. limit the amount of road trip toys to just one backpack full

  5. require your kiddo to be strategic about which toys are important enough to take up space in the backpack

  6. provide entertainment in the car and during your time away from home

Helpful Backpack Packing Tip: Include any books you bring along in this bag. Of course, they are great entertainment for the car. But this also requires that they must fit in "the bag" so you don't find half of your suitcase loaded with books (or have to dig through 3 suitcases at a rest stop as you search for the books your kiddos suddenly want to read).


Backpack of Toys Example: Here is an example of how my 2 and 4 year old filled their backpack of travel toys

  • books

  • stacking cups

  • egg music shakers

  • matchbox cars

  • very small stuffed animal toys/figurines

  • a few pieces of play food


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Electronics


There are times to implement screen time limits and there are times to ignore them. This is one of those ignore type situations.


If you are on a road trips with toddlers, you must do what you need to do to survive.


Bring the iPad. Fully charged. With lots of downloaded shows and movies and games.


And, for older kiddos, handheld gaming systems like a Nintendo Switch are great too.


Helpful Tip: Ask your kiddo for requests ahead of time so you aren't having to manage tears when you tell them you don't have Wi-Fi and can't download Cocomelon.


Helpful Tip: Bring a strap so you can strap the iPad onto the seat in front of your kiddo. This way they don't have to hold the iPad. And even better, can't accidently push buttons.


For the poor kids who get car sickness when watching screens in the car (like my son), check out my helpful tips on how to pass time in the car for kids who get carsick.



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PJs/Diapers/Favorite Blankets and Loveys


If you are driving at bedtime, this is for you.


Keep a pair of PJs and your toddler's favorite blanket or lovey easily accessible. I like to throw them on top of the suitcases in the trunk so no digging needed.


Or if you are beginning your drive at bedtime, have your toddler change into PJs and bring his or her loveys to the car from the start.


Bedtime clothes and comfort items will help set the expectation that you are transitioning from daytime travel in the car to nighttime travel in the car. Which, on a day where your toddler is spending the entire day doing the same thing, sitting in the car, the cue to transition to sleep time to can be helpful.


Stop at a rest stop, go potty, get into PJs, bonus points for reading a quick book on the curb if that's part of your normal bedtime routine, tuck your toddler into the car seat with their lovey, say good night.


Road Trip Food


Bring lots of travel snacks. And a sippy cup or reusable water bottle.


Check out What Are The Best Car Snacks For Kids for suggestions.



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What Are The Best Car Snacks For Kids?


Nothing worse than a hangry toddler on a road trip. Am I right?


Bring lots of travel snacks.


And a sippy cup or reusable water bottle.


Travel Snack Suggestions:

  • Easy To Eat - Choose snacks that are easy to eat independently. Something you can pass back without needing to get in the back seat to assist with.

  • Won't Make A Big Mess - Do yourself a favor, don't bring anything you will later regret. My husband is notorious for buying the kids milkshakes at fast food restaurants during our potty breaks. Guess how many times he regrets this, almost every single time. Avoid things that spill or put them in spill proof containers. Or even better, accept that things will spill, but bring foods that can be easily vacuumed and not require an immediate clean up (like a milkshake spilling all over our seats).

  • Healthy Snacks Ideas

    • Fresh fruit - bananas, cut up seasonal fruit

    • Fresh veggies - precut veggies that your kids like (cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and carrots are fan favorites in our house)

    • Cheese sticks

    • Peanut butter jelly sandwich (go light on the jelly so there's no dripping)

    • Bars - i.e. Skout Organic

    • Chickpeas (dried or fresh/rinsed/put in a container ahead of time)

    • Edamame - cook and have the kids pop out of the shells ahead of time, gives them something to do while you are packing

    • Freeze dried fruit

    • Raisins

    • Homemade muffins - if you make a big batch and freeze like I do, grab a few out of the freezer, they will defrost as you drive, we make ours with lots of healthy ingredients so a great nutrient dense snack

  • Not Healthy But Not Unhealthy Snack Ideas

    • Goldfish, Pirates booty, etc

    • Nutella snack pack (ok, added sugar in this one, but also fat which will keep the kids full)

    • Trail mix - I like the ones with no chocolate, but if you get the chocolate one, its a good treat that has nuts and dried fruit

  • Gas Station Food (if you need a fast mini meal)

    • Yogurt

    • Cheese/cracker packs

    • Fresh fruit

    • Lunchables

    • Cheese sticks

    • Hummus/Guacamole snack packs

    • Premade sandwiches

    • Yogurt-smoothie drinks


Helpful Tip: Keep a pack of wipes in the front seat for messy hands and accidental spills



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How To Plan A Road Trip Around A Toddler’s Sleep Schedule?


Timing is EVERYTHING! Seriously, this is the most important piece of advice I can give you for surviving a road trip with a toddler in-tow.


And sleep is my favorite topic, so I get pretty excited about this right here.


The thought of spending hours trapped in a car with a toddler (or in my case, two toddlers) calling my name like a broken record ("mommy, Mommy, MOMMY!"), whining ("I dropped my crackkeerrss"), and crying ("She took my toyyy!") makes me want to ditch our whole vacation, stay at home for the week, leave the kids in daycare, and sit on my back porch sipping coffee in my PJs.


Now, imagine driving down a country road in blissful silence. You turn on your favorite podcast and actually listen to it without interruption. Then... wait for it... you have an adult conversation with your spouse about the podcast. You laugh together and begin to reminisce! You smile and think to yourself... this week away is going to be just what we've needed.


I want blissful silence! And adult conversations! And laughing! But how?


The difference is timing. When it comes to road trips with toddlers, timing truly is everything.


The trick, plan to drive as much of your trip as possible during your child's sleeping hours.


Your schedule will vary depending on the length of your trip.


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Plan Your Road Trip: less than 6 hour trip

  • Put PJs on

  • Leave in the evening around 6PM. Depending on what time your toddler normally goes to sleep, he or she may be awake for the beginning part of the trip, but should sleep for the majority of it.

  • Drive until you reach your destination! Driving at night and staying awake a few hours past your bedtime will be totally worth it when your toddler wakes up at your final destination the next morning. If you get sleepy, switch drivers or pull over to stretch. Safety first!

Plan Your Road Trip: more than 6 hour trip

  • Leave around nap time

  • Drive for about 3 hours. Many toddlers sleep pretty well in the car, so your kiddo will likely get a decent nap. Hopefully for much of this time.

  • Stop for a planned break (see Road Trip Activities For Kids).

  • Get back in the car to finish your drive between 6-7PM. Keep PJs easily accessible so the kids can get changed before getting in the car for the night.

  • If your drive is more than a one day trip, pick a destination to end at on night one. You will spend the next morning at this destination so, if possible, find a spot that has some fun things to do the next morning (I recommend breakfast on the go, no extra siting, play at the hotel pool or local park, or check out Road Trip Activities for Kids for more ideas).

  • On day 2, repeat the above steps (leave around nap time, etc.).


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Helpful Tips For Road Trip: before you get in the car


No matter what time you leave, the hours before getting into the car should be spent running, jumping, riding bikes, swinging, or whatever other activities your kids want to do that will wear their little butts out.


Since you will likely be trying to pack the car during this time, you and your spouse may want to divide and conqueror. One spouse can be tasked with tiring out the kids while the other can be tasked with packing.


Which parent gets to do which task... I'll leave that up to you!



Helpful Tip For Road Trip: driving at nighttime with sleeping toddler


If your kids are anything like mine, they will fall asleep in the car, but wake up with the car stops. Or even worse with the bright lights of the gas station.


If your kids don't wake so easily, yay.


But if they, here are some things that work for us.

  • Fill up on gas (and adult drinks and snacks) before bedtime (one less reason to need to stop)

  • Go potty (adults included) before bedtime (again, one less reason to need to stop)

  • If you do need to stop for food/drink/potty, park far away from the bright lights if possible (gas station lights are soooo bright!)

  • If you do need to stop for food/drink/potty, have one parent keep driving while the other goes inside


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Helpful Tip: how to handle sleeping kids when you arrive late


Ok, so there is one challenge that occurs when you arrive at your final destination in the middle of the night, after your kids are already asleep.


Let me set the scene for you. The kids are asleep. You arrive at your hotel. You unload the bags and the kids, check in, go to your room, by this time the kids are awake, a few hours into sleep so feeling reenergized and excited to be at the final destination, wanting to explore the room, jump on beds, ask questions, you are exhausted and ready to crash, and you begin to lose your patience.


Some obvious, but helpful tips to help prevent a middle of the night party. Because believe, me, I have been there.

  • One parent stays in the car, driving around if your kids are sensitive to waking when the car stops, or parked far away from lights if you are stopped.

  • The other parent checks in, take the bags up to the room, brushes teeth, goes to the bathroom, prepares the room, sets up the pack n play, turns off the lights.

  • Then bring the kids in. If they are still asleep when you take them out of the car, put a blanket over their head to keep out the lights, carry them straight to the room and tuck them right into bed.


Helpful Tips For Family Travel: planes, trains, public transportation


Timing is everything no matter which form of transportation you take. However, the above advice on when to travel (during nap/bed time) can actually backfire during plane or train rides!


Eek! I actually avoid travel on public transportation during regular nap times. Nap times often get skipped when on planes and trains. And, can often end in fussy, overtired toddlers.



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Road Trip Activities For Kids


Ooo, I love this topic too. It actually is an extension to my favorite road trip with toddlers topic, which is timing travel around your toddlers nap and sleep schedule. A key part of getting the timing right is making time for planned stops.


When I think of road trip activities for kids, I actually think activities both in and out of the car.


Whether you have a long road trip that you are trying to break up or you must drive while your toddler is awake, be sure to plan a rest stop (or two) to allow both you and kids a chance to shake your sillies out.


Although everyone will be excited to get to the final destination, these rest stops can end up being a fun and memorable part of your trip. Treat them as part of your vacation!



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Short Stops


Although you do need to push through some discomfort and whining during your drive (if you ever want to get to your destination), there will be times when you are no longer able to entertain or distract your kids in the car. Be flexible! Even a 10 minute stop can rejuvenate everyone and buy you a few more solid hours of driving.


Suggestions:

  • Fast food restaurant with a playground - Good chance to go potty, grab a quick bite to eat, and give the kids the opportunity to run around. Even if the restaurant doesn't have a playground, let one parent out of the car, find a strip of grass nearby, and let the kids shake their sillies out while the other parent goes through the drive through.

  • Playground - If your kids are going stir crazy, find a playground and let them have at it

  • Rest Area (on the interstate) - Rest stops usually have a grassy area which are perfect for running around. Play a fun game or two to ensure everyone makes the most of the break.

  • Gas station - Re-fuel the car, relieve your bladder, and stretch your legs. Sometimes this is all your kids need.

  • Games to Play - Tag, Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, have a dance party, make an obstacle course with things from nature, count how many times your kids can run laps, songs with movement (google this for ideas), bring a ball to kick around/pass,


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

Medium Stops


If you are in need of a solid hour or two out of the car, look ahead to the next big town and do a search on your phone for kid-friendly attractions in that area.


If you have taken a road trip with kids before, you may even anticipate the need for a stop like this based on how long they typically last on a car trip.


Suggestions:

  • Trampoline Park

  • Bounce House/Play Center

  • Bowling Alley

  • Playground

  • Walk around town - Take a walk around the town, get some ice cream, talk to the locals, get fresh air


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

Long Stops


If you plan on stopping for a long break (for example, in-between naptime and bedtime) do some research ahead of time and plan an afternoon in a city or town along your route.


You may want pick a few things to do so you can choose your activities the day-of based on everyone's mood and the weather.


No matter how long your drive is, if there is a fun city or town along your route, you may choose to break up your drive and have an adventurous afternoon.


Suggestions:

  • Breweries - Breweries are a winning pick for both adults and children. Many breweries have games (life sized jenga, ping-pong, playing cards) which can provide at least an hours worth of fun for the kids, allowing you enough time to enjoy a drink. Bonus points if the brewery has an outdoor space!

  • Local Events - Check the local town's website for events that may be going on that day. You may get lucky enough to be there during a fair, live-music event, or sports game!

  • Parks - Perfect for running around, playgrounds, or playing a game (throw a baseball/glove or soccer ball in the car if you have space)

  • Children's Museums/Zoo - Is there a local train museum, petting zoo, aquarium, children's science center? Check out the local attractions for something fun and different to do.

  • Trampoline Park/Bounce House/Bowling Alley - Anything to allow your kiddos the opportunity to move around and release some energy after spending all day in the car

  • Restaurants - Since you are already stopped, take a break from the fast food you normally eat while on the road and check out a local restaurant. Try to pick a place that will be fun for the kids, as you can be sure they won't want to sit too long during their time out of the car. I love restaurants with outdoor seating (when the weather is right) and a space for kids to run around while in sight of parents who need a moment of peace and quiet.


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

In-The-Car Toddler Road Trip Activities


Yes, yes, great. You are going to try to drive while your toddler is sleeping. You have stops planned. You have travel snacks and drinks. But how do you actually keep your toddler entertained on your road trip while they are awake? Without losing your mind?


The key: options!


While you may be content listening to a podcast for an entire 11 hour drive, your toddler is likely going to want to do one thing, and then something else, and then something else. All within a half hour.


Expect this. Manage your own expectations.


Speaking of expectations.


Expect your toddler to be tired of sitting in the car. To whine. To cry. To ask when you will be there on repeat.


If you are being honest with yourself, you probably feel the same.


It is ok for your toddler to not love the road trip. It is ok for your toddler to let you know. Your job is to acknowledge. Be empathetic. Let your toddler know you feel the same way. And then distract and redirect.


In-The-Car Toddler Road Trip Activities


My favorite ways to entertain a toddler strapped into a car seat on a long car trip include:

  • Screen Time - Bring a full charged iPad, prepared with downloaded movies, shows, games, the whole bit. It will be a life saver. Cut off screen time 1 hour before bedtime to ensure your toddler has the right cues to fall asleep. Otherwise, let the screen time commence! We want happy and entertained toddlers. If screens does it for your kid, take the win!

  • Kid Podcasts - A great option for all kids, but especially those who get car sickness when looking at screens in the car (like my son!). Our favorites are "Stories Podcast" and "Brains On". But if you search for "kids podcasts", you will find lots of options.

  • Audiobooks - A great option for super long drives. There are many audiobooks available on Audible (short stories and longer chapter books) that toddlers and preschoolers are familiar with and would enjoy. Search "Disney" on audible as a good starting point. You will find books like "365 Bedtime Stories", "Children's Favorites", and basically any Disney movie in audiobook format.

  • Books - Have your kids pick a few books to include in their "backpack of toys". Have your kid look at the pictures, "read" the book to you (by looking at the pictures), or you can read it to your child from the front seat.

  • Backpack of Toys - Lots of small toys to rotate through. Click here if you missed my recommendations on what to pack. If your toddler wants to be entertained, make up games for him/her to play (i.e. pretend spike the hedgehog is going to the beach, build a sandcastle with your bristle blocks) or ask questions that will prompt your toddler to use his/her imagination (i.e. what is your pop it unicorn's name? Where does it live? Is it friends with your sparkly snap bracelet? What adventures do they go on?)

  • Sing and Dance - Be prepared for lots of singing, dancing, and kids songs on repeat. Check out Best Road Trip Music and Songs for Kids for lots of fun ideas to have fun, pass time, and move your body, all while strapped into your seat belt.

  • Family Band - Ok, this one is fun. Throw a few small music makers into your kid's backpack of toys, distribute them between all adults (non drivers) and kids) when you are in need of some distraction and movement, and put on a show. Check out Best Road Trip Music and Songs for Kids for details. I really love this one.



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

Best Road Trip Music/Songs For Kids Or Families


Music, one of my favorite ways to set the mood, distract, and occupy your toddler's attention during your family car trip. Plus, I love some good tunes.