baby talk

The Ultimate Guide to Road Trips with a Toddler: Tips and Tricks from Start to Finish

Dad and daughter with Chicco Fit4 Car Seat

Maybe you've heard the old saying, "it's not the destination; it's the journey?" This couldn't be further from the truth when hitting the highway with little ones! When getting ready to embark on long road trips with toddlers, you're always in for an adventure, but it doesn't have to be a wild ride. With proper planning (and a lot of deep breaths), your trip can be a fun and rewarding experience for both you and your child.

Before you gas up the car and head for the highway, check out our top tips for road trips with toddlers, and be better prepared for anything that comes your way!

Your vehicle is your sanctuary during a road trip, so it's essential to ensure that it's up to date on routine maintenance. Knowing your vehicle is ready for anything the journey throws at you will give you valuable peace of mind as you head into the unknown with your precious cargo. Check to see if your car is due for an oil change before you go, and consider having the brakes and tires inspected by a professional. Make sure your lights and signals are working correctly, and if it's been a while, replace your windshield wipers. You don't want to discover they're past their prime when it starts raining on the interstate, and your toddler wakes up cranky from a nap!

Take some time to organize your car before you hit the road. A place for everything and everything in its place, right? This is especially important when you have a toddler with you. You'll want to ensure all of their toys are within reach and that there are no loose items in the car that might move unexpectedly during a sudden stop.

If you have a toddler, then we're sure you know that car seats are a must. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), child safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers. Check out our car seat comparison to see which car seat is the best fit for your child based on their height and weight.

Whichever car seat type you use, check that it's correctly installed, and be sure you know how to buckle your child in correctly. Want to know if your child is as safe as they can possibly be on the road? Have your child’s car seat inspected by a child passenger safety technician to be sure it’s correctly installed.

Bring along a first-aid kit in your car so you're ready for the inevitable bumps, bites, bruises, splinters, and stings that tend to afflict little humans when you least expect it. A well-stocked first-aid kit should include items like bandages, gauze, antibiotic ointment, and any medications your child might be taking.

Packing a wide variety of snacks for your trip is the perfect way to keep your toddler topped off until the next meal. If you have another adult with you to actively supervise your little one, snacks can provide a diversion to occupy their attention during those long hours on the road. If it’s just the two of you traveling together, it’s best to reserve snack time for rest stops. Bringing a cooler along gives you more flexibility, allowing you to add refrigerated items to the mix.

Fruits (pre-sliced), bite-sized cheese cubes, and whole-grain cereals are great healthy options. Generally, we advise against giving your toddler sugary snacks on the road but consider bringing a special ace-in-the-hole snack (like fruit snacks) you wouldn't regularly give your child. They might be a lifesaver if you find yourself facing road construction or some other unforeseen delay. And remember, it's always better to have too much than not enough when it comes to keeping your little one happy and fed on the road trip!

When planning a route for a long road trip with toddlers, map out some potential stops ahead of time. Look for parks, playgrounds, or interesting roadside attractions where your toddler can get some energy out.

If you have older children along for the ride, look for attractions everyone will enjoy, like museums, state parks, or historical landmarks.

When planning longer car trips, many parents resist the temptation to drive at night (while the kids are asleep). As appealing as it may sound, according to the NSC, it's much riskier to be on the road at night than during daylight hours. If driving at night is unavoidable, take extra precautions to ensure you're well rested and alert and avoid driving late into the evening. Remember, your sleep is just as essential as your toddler’s for a smooth road trip.

If your toddler still naps, plan the legs of your journey during their usual nap time. This will give you some extra quiet time behind the wheel and hopefully a content kiddo when you reach your destination.

Things to occupy the attention of your child are essential for long car rides with a toddler. If you're going far, bring a few old favorites and consider unveiling a few brand-new items along the way to keep the "I'm bored" complaints to a minimum.

If you're traveling with multiple young children, be sure each child has their own special toys and books, so they don't argue over who gets to play with what.

If the idea of your toddler watching movies in the car isn't your cup of tea, or if you prefer to save that option for a secret weapon in the event of a meltdown, kid's music and audiobooks can help the miles fly by. Have them pre-selected and ready to go when you need them so you can focus on the road

Audiobooks are the perfect way to captivate your toddler's imagination while they relax and enjoy the scenery, and, of course, music is always a welcome addition to any road trip. With toddler attention spans, a variety of genres and tempos will be helpful to keep the mood light and upbeat as you travel along.

Be prepared to oblige if someone in the back seat wants to hear a story or song again and again. Repetition is familiar and comforting for toddlers, especially in new situations, not to mention it helps them learn.

If all else fails and you're ready to resort to screen time, be sure you have your digital tablet preloaded with age-appropriate apps, games, and movies or shows. When choosing road trip movies or shows for toddlers, opt for familiar favorites, you never know when a toddler will find something scary or disturbing, and you don't want to worry about comforting them while you're at the wheel.

A successful road trip with a toddler doesn't have to be perfect. If it's well planned, with safety in mind, it will be a success. Having another adult in the car will help you greatly in all aspects of the trip. They can help monitor your little one while they snack and play so that you can focus on driving without distractions and getting everyone to the destination safely. So, load up the car, strap in your little one, and enjoy the journey ahead. For more tips and tricks for traveling with your kids, check out our blog.