Family · parenting · Travel

Tips for a Successful Road Trip With Toddlers

Happy September everyone!!

I’m incredibly sorry for the near radio silence on here (and Pinterest and Facebook and Instagram…) the last few weeks. I noted last month that August was going to be hectic and busy and crazy, and it was all of that and more! So much so that it kind of spilled over into September a bit!

At the end of August we took our first family road trip, and I can honestly say that it went great! Munchkin did amazingly in the car, our only GPS issues weren’t too bad, and we managed to see all of our friends and family we wanted to see (and explore some new cities!) Before we left, I did do some research on traveling with toddlers, since the last time we traveled with Munchkin he was an infant and we were flying. To be honest, I didn’t find a lot of things that weren’t kind of obvious (bring snacks, make lots of stops, etc.) And once we were actually on the road, not much of it seemed to apply to us!

So I thought I’d share what I did learn first-hand from our own trip on surviving a full day driving with a little one in tow, for any other parents out there thinking about taking a trip with their own families!

Taking a road trip with a toddler can be daunting, but these tips for road trip success will ensure your vacation is fun for everyone!

Leave Early (Like, Painfully Early)

When I was a kid, we took road trips nearly every year. My parents, forever the early birds, would load us in the car hours before the crack of dawn. At the time we were fairly annoyed at having to pile into the car at 4 in the morning, but now that I’m a parent myself, I totally get it. We left our house a little after 3, and after filling up our tank at the gas station near our house, we were officially on the road around 3:30 am. Crazy? Absolutely. But we knew that two scenarios would happen:

Scenario 1: Munchkin is very drowsy and sleeps for the first few hours of the drive,


Scenario 2: Munchkin is awake but tired (and calm) for the first few hours, and sleeps through a good bit of the drive after our first stop.

Scenario 2 was what wound up happening, and it went pretty well! Munchkin fell asleep about half an hour before the sun rose, though he did wake up when we were stuck waiting for a bit right outside the border of California because of road work. Fortunately we had our breakfast, bathroom, and gas stop not long after that, and he wound up sleeping again through a good chunk of our drive through California.

Considering our drive to Oregon was about 9 hours without stops, and our drive home from Seattle was 13, having him able to sleep through about a third of the drive really helped!

Plus, leaving early means you have more leeway for traffic problems, GPS issues, and unexpected stops, so you won’t wind up arriving ridiculously late. And even without any of those, you can arrive early enough to get settled and rest for a bit, and ensure you can more or less get your kids to bed at their regular time.

Bring Their Favorite Snack

I’m sure the sanctimommies will disagree with me here, but bring their favorite snack, even if it’s not organic apple slices and homemade Greek yogurt. You know what really helped keep Munchkin chill through the three hour stretches of drives between gas stations? Having a mega stack can of barbecue flavored Pringles in his reach. We trusted he’d be able to keep from spilling them and would put the lid back on when he was done, and he was really good about it!

Were they healthy? Not really. But over the course of a combined total of 22ish hours in the car, he didn’t even finish half the canister, so I’m not worried about him having gorged himself into a lifetime of obesity. If his favorite snack was apple slices, you bet I’d have had a tupperware of them ready for him. But having something he could easily eat on his own, and that I knew he’d enjoy, meant that when he was bored or snacky we didn’t have an angry, whiny child in the backseat begging for something to eat.

The only things I highly recommend you avoid bringing are melty foods, like chocolate, or obvious choking hazards (don’t bring peanuts for your 2 year old, or hard candies for your preschooler!)

Bring Their Favorite Movies or Shows

I know I’m not alone when I say that traveling is a great time to ease up rules on screen time. When I was a kid we didn’t have TVs in the headrests in front of us, or tablets or phones to watch things on. It wasn’t until that I was 15 and I had an iPod Touch I could fit one movie on and a couple hours of songs. Nowadays we have tablets that can hold hours of entertainment, and apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video that allow you to watch certain things offline.

If you have a car with a built in DVD player, or tablets, please save your sanity and let your kids watch whatever shows or movies that will let them become zombies for a couple of hours. We have a tablet for Munchkin and use it basically just for times like this, when we know he’s going to be stuck unable to do what he likes. We loaded it up with episodes of True and the Rainbow Kingdom and Molang, and a few movies he likes, and offered it anytime we could tell he was getting antsy. The drive to Oregon he wound up watching his shows for a bit, but the drive back he didn’t even touch it. He was pretty content just staring out the window when he was awake, which was also fine!

I’m definitely not saying you should make them zone out for your whole trip. But traveling can be really hard on a kid, and it’s a lot of things for them to process. Having the opportunity for them to be able to zone out and relax is definitely worth it.

Bring Small New Toys

This is one tip I did get from online, but I can’t seem to find the exact website I saw it on! They recommended grabbing some cheap things from a dollar store and giving them to your kid when you leave. We tweaked that a bit, and ordered some small things on Amazon to give to Munchkin during the drive there and back. The way there, after we stopped for breakfast, we gave him Molang and Piu Piu plushes, which he adored and played with not only on the drive, but during the trip as well! The way back, we gave him a little cheap spyglass I stumbled upon on Amazon, which he also loved! (I actually really recommend it, since they can look out the window with it and it comes with a nice box to keep it in so it doesn’t get lost or broken!)

Taking a road trip with a toddler can be daunting, but these tips for road trip success will ensure your vacation is fun for everyone!

You can obviously modify this however you see fit. For example, if you’re taking a multi-day road trip, you can give them something small each day before hitting the road again to keep their spirits up. Or if you’re surprising them with a special destination, such as Disneyland or Orlando Studios, you could give them a “hint” during the drive (like Mickey ears or a Harry Potter wand!)

Small little surprises can keep your kid excited when they’re very tired of being strapped in the car, because sitting in the car all day is seriously exhausting, even for an adult!

Make a Road Trip Playlist With Their Favorite Songs

While we have a decent number of CDs, I wanted to have a good collection of songs for the areas where radio signal would be choppy, or where we wouldn’t be able to find a decent station. I put a lot of songs on it, making sure to find songs that were great for belting along to, and songs that would get Munchkin excited. While our choices were a bit untraditional (Munchkin’s favorite songs include For Whom the Bell Tolls, Thunderstruck, and Bohemian Rhapsody, to name a few), it made him incredibly happy when his favorite songs came on the radio, since he could sing along and have fun.

Whether your kid digs Wheels on the Bus or George Strait or The Beatles, throwing together some songs in your family’s playlist, or even making one just for them, can help keep them happy and excited in the car. (Bonus points if they’re songs the whole family enjoys, so you can have a loud and fun sing along in the car!)

Find a Fun, Active Thing to Do When You Get There

Obviously if you’re road tripping to an amusement park, you’ll have this kind of covered already. But if you’re visiting family or sight seeing, I recommend finding some time the next morning to take them to a park, or pool, or anything they can run around and really stretch their muscles before you do your planned vacation activities. Since our first day in Oregon we actually had most of the day to kill before visiting friends for a couple of hours (and we were happy to find something to do instead of sitting in the car some more), we found a really great park not far from the hotel we’d spent the night at, and let Munchkin run around and climb and play for hours. It really helped perk him back up after the stress of traveling, and it stretched his legs far more than any meal stop we’d made the day before. It was a nice, stress free play time that a little kid like Munchkin really needed after being in the car all day the day before!

Taking a road trip with a toddler can be daunting, but these tips for road trip success will ensure your vacation is fun for everyone!
(This super fun climbing structure was in Avery Park and Natural Area in Corvallis, OR)


Every family is a bit different of course, so some of these tips may not apply to you. Personally we were really lucky to have a kid who was perfectly content sitting in the car for long stretches, singing along to the radio or even just staring out the window. Always make sure to plan for the unexpected, and bring along lots of snacks, games, toys, and activities to keep your kiddo happy through the drive!

Do you have any tips for long car trips? Or any stories from your own travels? Let me know in the comments! We love traveling when we can, so I’ll appreciate hearing any words of wisdom or travel stories you might have!

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