Living Life

How to Have a Successful Road Trip with a Toddler

Walking to the beach at Indiana Dunes State Park

Walking to the beach at Indiana Dunes State Park

Well, after 7 days of driving, my parents, the Peanut and I made it safely to the cottage on the ocean in Nova Scotia. We crossed 9 states and 2 provinces and drove for what seemed like endless hours on our road trip but everyone survived.

Before we left, I had some serious doubts about my sanity. Especially after seeing the looks on some of the other mom’s faces in my local mom’s group when I told them of my road trip plans. Their looks said “Seriously? Who actually chooses to be stuck in a car and a very small trailer with a toddler for that many hours”. Well, my worrying was needless. Either I have a very unusual kid, or kids are better travelers than we might think. I’m not sure if the trip be successful for everyone, but here’s a summary of what we did to make the best of it.

Playing in the sand on the shore of Lake Michigan

Playing in the sand on the shore of Lake Michigan

In the car:

1. Have a variety of in-car entertainment.

We were lucky enough to have access to an in-car DVD player, and yes, I do realize that this is not possible for everyone. I honestly don’t think it’s required. We only used it for MAYBE 8 hours of the 35 (at least) hours of driving we did on our road trip. I also had a backpack of favorite toys stationed with me at all times (make sure they are car appropriate: no small parts to get lost, don’t require space to use, etc.) and a repertoire of songs and games (I spy with my little eye was a favorite) handy. For older kids, audiobooks played through the car’s stereo system or an mp3 player would be a great tool. Tablet and smartphone apps are great in a pinch as well.

2. Change up the seating arrangements. 

 In our case, I was always sitting in the backseat with Peanut. I’m not sure it would have gone as well otherwise. Perhaps traveling with 2 children would work too. Or maybe not. If you have 2 fighting kids in the back, consider trading seats with one (if they’re big enough and it’s safe to do so). If it’s just 2 adults and your little one is fussing in the back, consider switching seats to help keep them busy.

3. Stick to a regular meal schedule.

Try your best to stick to your kids’ regular meal schedule. My daughter and I definitely get Hangry when we haven’t eaten, and it can be total Nightmare City for everyone involved. Stop to eat when it’s time. Definitely don’t wait until kids are really starting to complain they’re hungry. This could either be bringing your own food (in a cooler) or eating out. Try to stick to foods you would normally eat at home, especially if anyone has sensitive digestive systems. Also make sure you keep emergency snacks and drinks on hand in the car if you can’t stop.

4. Stop often.

Stopping often for us was not a problem, since my parent’s vehicle towing the trailer used gas like crazy. Almost every time we stopped, we took Peanut out of her seat to use the potty or just stretch her legs. I think this helped break up the days, plus allowed everyone to get a little more exercise and helped prevent cramping that can come with sitting still for so many hours.

5. Stop at some fun places.

Give your kids something to look forward to at your next stop. If you know there will be a playground, or a beach or something else they will enjoy, make sure they know about it ahead of time. Also make sure they get some time to enjoy it. If you’re just driving, driving, driving with nothing fun to do, chances are everyone will get a little grumpy.

View from Camden Hill

View of the Camden Harbor in Maine


1. Keep some of the familiar around.

Many kids (and adults too!) don’t do well sleeping in a strange place. Of course this usually gets easier the more you do it. One way to help transition your tykes is to bring some of their favorite items from home. We made sure to bring everything Peanut is used to sleeping with, and some of her favorite toys. I also brought some of the homemade foods she is used to eating with us in the trailer with us. Don’t go too crazy with this though. If your kids are overly attached to their white noise machine/star projector/multiple stuffed animals or anything else that’s impractical to take with you, you might want to consider getting them used to sleeping without it before you go.

2. Don’t be a schedule Nazi.

I am definitely all about the routine when we are at home. However, on the road it’s a different story, and if you try to stick to your regular routine, chances are it won’t work and you’ll only stress yourself out more. Recognize that kids will nap when and where they need to. In our case, this happened in the car. Naps were always shorter than usual, and sometimes didn’t happen at all. Bedtime happened later than usual, and yes, sometimes didn’t go that great. But that’s the trade-off involved with travel. As I mentioned before, the more they do it, the more they will get used to it, and the easier it will get.

Checking out the Observation Tower at Camden Hill State Park

Checking out the Observation Tower at Camden Hill State Park

That is what worked for us, this time. Do you have any tricks you use to get through road trips with your family? 

We will be staying in Nova Scotia, one of my most loved places, for the next couple of weeks. I will have regular computer access, so expect a return to your regularly programmed recipes. Who knows, maybe I’ll even try some East Coast favorites.

You Might Also Like

1 Comment

  • Reply
    Smoky Hawaiian Pizza with Bacon, Cheddar and BBQ Sauce
    July 7, 2014 at 7:47 AM

    […] of writing a “How to Successfully Camp with Toddlers” post, but it turns out that my road-tripping with a toddler post pretty much sums it up. We can’t wait to book our next long weekend (and really, […]

  • Leave a Reply