Road Tripping with Toddlers: Top 10 Necessary Tips

I have personally never been one for road trips. The whole idea of being in a car for hours on end with three kids seemed like torture to me. However, after months of quarantining with no end in sight and not feeling comfortable enough to brave a plane with children who love to touch and lick everything, I decided to bite the bullet and plan a road trip.

Family hiking

We went all in, we drove from Florida to Maine, with our 5-, 4- and 2-year-old. It took 23 hours and 3 days of driving to get up to Maine. On the way back we decided to cut the days of driving down so we went hard and knocked out 23 hours in 2 days!

As someone who was absolutely petrified to even attempt this and who had a lot of anxiety leading up to the trip, I will say it was transformative and one of the best decisions we ever made. Here are my biggest tips and lessons I learned along the way.

Three toddlers hiking

1. Set Expectations and Build Excitement

We talked about the trip a lot with our kids. We showed them where we were going and told them about all of fun things we were going to do and see along the way. We told them over and over how long the trip was going to take, that we were going to be in the car for days, but that it was going to be worth it. Once we finally set out for our trip, they knew we would not be hopping out of the car within a matter of minutes and they were ready for a lot of car time.

2. Plan

I cannot stress this enough. Before we left, we looked up places we could stop for lunch along the way that had parks or interesting outdoor areas so we could get the kids out of the car but still social distance. We had reservations at pit stop hotels, so we knew exactly how far we had to go each day and didn’t have to worry about looking for a room after a long day of driving when we were exhausted.

3. Be Flexible

With that being said, keep your plan flexible. One of the hotels where we had reservations didn’t end up having a room big enough for all of us. It was late, we were tired and the kids were ready for some respite. We decided to keep driving and find a place where everyone could comfortably rest. Similarly, one of the places where we were going to stop and have some outdoor time with the kids was absolutely packed full of people. We didn’t feel comfortable being around so many people, so we grabbed food, rolled the windows down and ate in the car while we took in the sights. There will be hiccups!

Sleeping toddler in car

4. Snacks/Cooler

As I’m sure every parent knows, snacks are key! We kept a cooler in the car with snacks and drinks. Snacks that do not make a ton of crumbs and aren’t super sticky are ideal. I recommend sliced apples, ham and cheese roll ups, and CLIF Kid Zbars or something similar. There is nothing like a snack to calm a grumpy child. 

5. Tablets and Headphones

The trip would not have been possible without tablets. I know we as parent’s are weary about screen time and try to limit it as much as possible, but a long road trip is not the time to practice limited screen time. We downloaded all of their favorite shows and movies onto their tablets, hours’ worth of entertainment. We also made sure each kid had a pair of headphones, this is necessary. We enjoyed hours of peaceful silence while the kids watched their tablets with their headphones.

6. Window Shades

Inevitably one of the kids will have the sun shining directly on their tablet, making it difficult to see the show/movie, which of course merits a complete melt down. Plan ahead and have your window shades handy and this can be avoided.

7. Turn it into an Adventure

Our oldest got really excited about passing through so many states along the way and he constantly asked us which state we were in. We ended up printing a US map and as we passed through a state he would color it in on the map. He absolutely loved it and it was a great way to visualize the journey.

8. Change of Clothes and Masks Handy

Inescapably there will be an accident, spill, or mess. Having an extra set of clothes for each child in an easily reachable place was clutch. Also, dressing them in comfortable clothing that dried quickly and could stand up to the messes was ideal. Naturally, our Happy Lil’ One pieces were a must.

9. Shoes with Velcro

I don’t know about your kids but when mine tell me they have to go to the bathroom; they mean right now. They do not give much warning. Being able to quickly strap on shoes and hop out of the car made these mini emergencies much easier to handle.

10. Wipes

Whether it’s a runny nose, accident, spill, or just straight up mess do not ever underestimate the power of a wipe. Keep them close at all times!

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