Toddler Road Trip Tips

Traveling with a baby or toddler can be very intimidating and certainly isn’t easy but a little planning and preparation can go a long way. Kevin and I have never shied away from a road trip and adding a baby to the mix definitely created a layer of complexity but it still hasn’t stopped us. Especially now during the pandemic, car travel is the safest method for our family to get around with Palmer in tow. 

We recently drove to Virginia from Chicago [about 10.5 hours if you drive straight through with no stops] to celebrate Thanksgiving with Kevin’s parents.  I was a little worried because we’ve significantly cut down our travel in recent months and Palmer is more mobile and alert than ever but she did great! So good that we decided to do the return trip all in one day instead of breaking it into two like we did on the way there. Here’s what worked for us!


  1. Give yourself extra time.  Undoubtedly, taking a toddler on a road trip will add a few hours to your ETA.  Plan your trip accordingly and break it into multiple days if necessary.  This will allow you time to stop and stretch or eat along the way without the pressure of a specific arrival time. For every 5 hour stretch, I’d add about 1.5 hours of non-driving time. [For example, a 10 hour trip may realistically take closer to 13 hours.]
  2.  Consider aligning the trip start with nap schedules.  This may not always be possible for a number of reasons but if your drive is on the shorter side or you plan on breaking your trip into a few days, it may give you a longer stretch where they sleep in the car.  [For example, Palmer only naps once a day in the afternoon so we left Chicago around 11 which gave us about one hour before her nap, a quick stop for lunch after getting out of the city, then a long nap in the afternoon while we drove.]
  3. No toys, books or screens.  This seems counterintuitive and I admit may not work for all kids depending on what they’re used to but we don’t use screens with Palmer so the classic go-to iPad on the headrest isn’t an option for us. Generally, Palmer is fine in the car for short local trips or errands without anything to distract her. I find that when I introduce toys or books while in her carseat, she gets bored easily or drops them over the side accidentally causing frustration or tears.
  4. Snacks & Water. This is honestly the best method for distracting Palmer if she’s starting to get restless in the car. Using little snack containers, we’ll give her snacks such as, squeeze pouches, Cheerios, raisins, Bamba Puffs (from Trader Joe’s), Goldfish or cut up fruit to placate her. Just be sure to keep a close eye on them while they’re eating to ensure they don’t choke on anything.
  5. Sit with them in the back. When all else fails, I’ll climb in the back and sit with her. We chat, sing songs, play peek-a-boo, wave at the trucks passing by and just hang. Obviously, this isn’t ideal or even practical in all scenarios but it helped get us to a stopping point where we could let her out to run around and stretch her legs for a bit.

I know this won’t work for everyone but hopefully this helps make road tripping with toddlers more manageable! If you’re interested in reading my packing guide for toddlers, you can check it out here.

xo

Kara

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