Tips for Going on Long Road Trips with a Baby or Toddler

After we traversed that 22-hour road trip, we knew we could all handle long drives. Consequently, there have been about a dozen 7-10 hour day drives that the three of us have embarked on between last summer and now. Suffice to say, we have gained some insight on how to make these inevitable family road trips a lot less treacherous—and, dare I say, fun!
Bonus tip: Instead of stopping at rest stops…

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Road Tripping with a Baby or Toddler

Recently we moved out of state with our 23-month-old, and instead of stopping and getting a hotel for a couple nights along the way we decided to save money on our already tight budget…and drive straight through to our destination. This was not the only time that we have taken this trip, the first time being when he was only nine months old, but that definitely did not make the road trip any less daunting as the day approached. However, it went pretty smoothly!

Deciding Road Trips versus Flying

As many of you may know, our son has a life-threatening peanut allergy. It wouldn’t be impossible to fly with him, but our comfort level right now with the diagnosis only being within the past year is still not that existent. Pair that with my already crippling anxiety when I board a plane, and it just works better that we road trip exclusively for the time being. Besides, it is nice being more in control with your own vehicle and schedule. I am sure that one day our comfort levels will change, but for now this is how it is.

lake tahoe ca roadtripping with a toddler
Road trips have taken us to many amazing places, like this picturesque spot in South Lake Tahoe, California

As of this point, our toddler has been on several extended road trips in the car. Starting at about six months old, two hour trips each way became the norm a couple times a month for Disney day trips, and that first really long interstate drive was 22 hours straight at only nine months old! Certainly not always ideal, but after we traversed that 22-hour road trip, we knew we could all handle long drives. Consequently, there have been about a dozen 7-10 hour day drives that the three of us have embarked on between last summer and now. Suffice to say, we have gained some insight on how to make these inevitable family road trips a lot less treacherous—and, dare I say, fun! So without further ado…

Seven Ways to Make Road Trips with a Baby or Toddler More Fun & Bearable

1. Talk about the fun adventure you are about to go on for the days leading up to it—books help. The preparation leading up to the road trip is the most critical part of its success in our opinion. One of the best ways we have found to hype our kid up is to start talking about it a couple of days in advance, saying there is a really fun adventure we are all about to go on together. If there is a book we can find that involves where we are going or what we will be doing, we supplement with that. Without fail, the morning of the trip when we wake him up (even if it is before the sun) and tell him we are going on an adventure, he has the biggest smile in the world on his face.

2. Have a new toy for them to play with. An item is that much more interesting when your child has never seen it before. If you do not want to buy something new, a month or so ahead of time hide one of their current toys. When they get to see it again on the trip, it’s sure to be exciting. We have done that a handful of times, and then usually let our tot pick out some sort of trinket, ball, or stuffed animal for cheap at one of our stopping points.

3. Portable DVD players are your best friend. I am not a huge fan of technology, especially in children’s lives, and especially when vacation and the outdoors are involved. With that being said, there is only so much that you can do while sitting in the same position for a long period of time with limited space to bring stuff. The DVD player is what we pull out when nothing else seems to be working, if only for 30 minutes.

4. Melissa & Doug activity books (or another similar brand) are lifesavers. Fun activity books, books that play songs, wooden puzzles, stickers… All of these are great for keeping the attention of a little one.

5. Create your own sensory play to bring depending on what your child is drawn to. At the time of that first full day road trip, our baby was very much into thrashing through tissue boxes. If we looked away for half a second it would seem, all the tissues would be ripped up and on the floor. So we worked with that! Knowing he found the tissue boxes fascinating, I emptied a couple out into bags for us to still use later and then filled the boxes with safe and not-so-messy materials for him to pull out and put back in on the drive. I cut up brightly colored and patterned pieces of fabric, as well as some construction paper and felt into different large shapes. It was a hit!

6. Bring ALL. The. Food. And drinks. Their favorites. Try to keep the sugar and salt intake as low as possible to help prevent ill tummies and dehydration, but also don’t be afraid to give them a little treat as a reward or allow their normal diet to be altered a bit for the day. This is one of those roll with it scenarios. If they really like those dipped pretzels, juice boxes, chips or fruit snacks, use them in moderation to your advantage. Horizon and other brands even make milk pouches that are ultra-pasteurized so they don’t need refrigerating–which is perfect for the road! Just make sure everyone is drinking plenty of water as well.

7. Plan the trip time around when they will sleep (or at least when it will be dark to persuade them!)  A lot of people chuckle or gasp when we tell them we are leaving at 2 or 3 in the morning for our family road trips. But let me tell you, there is something beautiful about the little guy in the back being asleep for the first hours of the drive. It allows for my husband and me to caffeinate, eat a breakfast on the road in peace, and save our energy for the long day ahead.

Bonus tip: Instead of stopping at rest stops, throw in stops at a local super Walmart or other big store. One that preferably has gas and food right next to it to be extra efficient!

We have learned so far that one of the most important things to remember is to be prepared for anything, and also be as level headed as possible. Remember that if you are pushing through a long trip, at the end of the day it is only one day. There will be obvious times when your baby or toddler simply can’t understand what is going on. While OF COURSE we always want our children to have the best day ever, sometimes they won’t and that’s okay too. I never knew that babies or toddlers were so adaptable, strong, and capable before becoming a mom (more strong-willed too, but that’s another story).

Like every other part of life, it probably won’t go perfectly, but everyone will be okay.

Bottom line: If you are planning a family vacation that involves a long drive and feel overwhelmed, don’t let it stop you! You will get through it, and everyone will be better for it. Follow these tips, expect the unexpected, and try to enjoy as much of it as you can. In our experience, it’s always worth it 😊

Camping Road Trip Couer d'Alene
Baby’s first long road trip (22 hours) to the PNW led to unforgettable, happy moments

Have you been on a road trip with a little one? We’d love to hear your thoughts and tips as well—especially if you have multiple kids! Share in the comments below so everyone can see, and while you’re there please follow us along on Instagram by clicking the icon to see more of our family adventures.

Happy Wandering!


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