Welcome to road trip survival with a toddler 101! Not kids, but toddlers! I found so much info online about traveling with young kids, but nothing prepared me for what it’s like to drive 6 days with a two year old across 3500km!
As you’ve likely seen in my last post, we recently moved over 3500km across the country into our new home. You can check out how we bought sight-unseen here and find out what to avoid when making such a huge decision!
Now I’m a researcher at heart, but also frugal! When I heard the quote for shipping our vehicle, in combination to flying out cats, and a 2 year old, with 2 adult flight tickets, we immediately said NOPE, and opted to drive. Our gas and hotel costs would amount to less than 1/4 of what it would cost to fly.
It has to be said: going on a road trip as adults is a completely different experience. You can stop or push yourself as much as you want, you can nap, eat out, and sleep when you fancy. But traveling with a TODDLER, is a whole other set of problems.
So listen up!
First, and foremost, make sure you have a vehicle equipped for a road trip! Before you even begin planning or researching, you have to make sure your car can actually do the job. We were fortunate to decide to lease a new car the year prior, so the car was basically still a baby. If you’re driving in the winter, this tip is even more imperative. We drove during the summer and so this list will focus on summer/warm month road trips – but I’ll have all-season tips throughout.
You can get my comprehensive checklist here where you can print it out and make sure you have all your items.
Otherwise, if you just want to read through, keep going!
Prepare your car first:
- No major problems present – you’ve changed your oil, your engine light isn’t on, and nothing is out of order.
- Your tires are properly inflated. Including your spare.
- Have CAA coverage for emergencies.
- Do NOT travel with a gas container in your vehicle. It is prohibited and very dangerous.
- Make sure you have a car jack, working AC (for summer, and heating for winter)
- First Aid Kit (bandages, scissors, alcohol swabs, etc).
- Seatbelt cutter (I cannot recommend this enough – after hearing how my friend was stuck in her car during an accident and couldn’t get her seatbelt off, this has become a mandatory item in our car)
- Extra water
- Tissues/Paper towel
- Trash bin + bags
- Bug spray
- Neck pillow for the passengers who are adults
Obviously there’s items like clothes for the adults, toiletries, etc. But this is a toddler specific post, so now this is where the fun begins…the TODDLER list!
I have researched the living daylights out of traveling and bought an obscene amount of items to try and make things as easy as possible, but in reality I ended up overwhelming myself with how much I needed to juggle. So here’s my suggested breakdown of what to bring, that is a little more optimized. A road trip is meant to be enjoyed as a journey!
Keep in mind, the trip will NOT be easy and that’s okay! Try to make the most of it, and if you’re traveling with a partner, try to take turns driving and sitting with the child/children for your own sanity.
- A cooler that can keep milk cold. This is the one we got and LOVED it. Also held fruit, water, etc. Yes, it’s expensive, but IMO for 6 days worth it – plus we will use it for future camping, beach days, etc.
- Toddler water bottle (choose a non spill option like this one)
- Toddler blanket (even in the summer this helped, especially if the AC is strong)
- Multiple compartment snack container bonus points if it fits into carseat bottle holder
- Tablet holder. Doubles as a phone and tablet holder
- Tablet charger (choose an extra long one that can be plugged into the car)
- Shade on window (our car has this built in, but it was a lifesaver)
- Wet Wipes – at least 1 pack for every 2 days on the road.
- Toddler headphones (trust me, you’ll thank me for this one)
- Soft hair ties
- Hairbrush and detangling spray
- Tray – literally a regular cooking tray
- Car organizer for toys, pencils etc.
- This is for the passenger – if you are sitting in the back with the kids like I did. Easy access to everything.
- Snacks, snacks, snacks, and more snacks – preferably nothing sticky or crumbly.
- Clothing – choose COMFY, weather appropriate clothing. The stretchier the better!
- Spare shoes (make sure at least one is an easy slip on one)
That’s the Basics
So, the list above covers a portion of what is needed, but definitely not everything. I also highly suggest seeing the Ultimate Road Trip Checklist, just so nothing is missed.
Make sure you have items like spare socks on hand, because sometimes your little one may fight having a blanket, but it’s cold enough for them to warrant having socks on.
Similarly, soft hair ties are a must – because their little head is rubbing against the headrest of their car seat and will inevitably tangle their hair. Can’t tell you how many tears were had because mom didn’t bring detangling spray and a gentler brush.
So I bought this combo tray and organizer. And let me tell you – it’s a WASTE of money. Not only was it flimsy, giant to assemble, not comfortable for my daughter to use with her Graco Forever, but the small dollar store tray that I bought for her magnets worked out SO much better and could fit in the pocket behind the seat easily.
Now, as with all kids – the topic of toys comes up, and I knew that with 6 days on the road, we really needed to pull all the stops. If your drive is shorter, then you likely won’t need to go overboard like I did, and not to mention not all toys are made equal.
My favorite items for a long road trip were the following, not only because of the time spent on task, but mess-free!
- Water coloring books – honestly these were her absolute favorite! Best part, she used them every day over and over again
- Mess-free markers and books
- iPad games – and don’t make my mistake – make sure you buy a few full versions (it’s only 3-5$ per game and WORTH it).
- Download movies – don’t forget even if you have unlimited data, there are areas that have zero signal out there. We had a 5 hour stretch with NOTHING and thank goodness I downloaded Gabby’s Dollhouse and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse ahead of time.
- Stickers – choose the puffy kind as they are way easier to remove. Alternatively get a sticker activity book like this one.
- Binder/or a folder that can fit all the papers, stickers, coloring books etc.
- Books – specifically the I-Spy variety. Regular stories just won’t click, and it’s best to give kids actionable things to do vs. utilizing listening skills.
These are the things I do NOT recommend:
- Actual markers – this made a stinking mess and even the “washable” ones were horrible to get off her seat and car.
- Stickers without a book or paper – they automatically get placed on everything else.
- Games that were not purchased/with ads. This was the WORST to manage as every 3 minutes my daughter asked for the full version and I just ended up deleting the game altogether with tears in the meantime.
- Anything with glue or crafting. Don’t even bother.
- Small one-time use toys from the dollar store.
- Olivia got so bored of the little nicknacks and they immediately got tossed on the floor. If you do get one or two of them that’s fine, but don’t get random toys unless your child understands pretend play yet.
- Storybooks (like my above point), just don’t expect your kids to have the patience.
- The dumb fold-out tray mentioned above.
- Any super-crumbly snacks or super sticky snacks.
My suggested snacks for the road are:
- Cheese strings (hence the cooler)
- Veggie chips
- Carrot sticks (not baby carrots, but actual cut up carrots to prevent choking)
- Sliced grapes
- Rice Puffs in almost any variety
- Mum Mums were our top fave! (just beware of constipation)
- Prune juice/pouches mixed into their milk for above reason
Other than that, nothing can truly prepare you for everything, but as much as possible try and make the most of it! Take breaks often, they need to stretch their little legs at least evert 3-4 hours.
Again, highly recommend having the full breakdown list like this one, that covers absolutely everything you may need.
I hope this helps you navigate through a roadtrip with less hassle and more ease, but I know how hard it is for parents to deal with littlies on long trips, so don’t fret, do your best (that’s enough!), and most importantly, good luck!