5 Tips for Road Trips with Toddlers

For most of us, the holidays involve some sort of travel, whether it’s just a few towns away or it’s a multi-day excursion.   While some people dread time in the car with the kids, especially around the holidays, we actually look forward to road trips. 

In fact, road trips are one of our favorite ways to reconnect with each other, sing along with our favorite songs, and see new sights as a family.  Sure, it means a lot of packing {and unpacking} with Tetris-like skill, and it requires more than just a road map, but the quality time spent together and the little surprises along the way are well worth it.

I bet you think I’m crazy for loving a good road trip and looking for any excuse to take one with the family {see our week with the KIA Optima “Road Trip Mobile” for further proof}.  No, not crazy, just organized.  In the past, I liked to do road trips like I do my craft projects – with no forward thinking or planning ahead and just see what happens as I go.  But, with two young kids with schedules to keep and dozens of necessities to pack, you really can never plan enough.

1)    First thing for us is finding a good travel time and I feel this is as important to the success of your trip as the ultimate destination.  For us, this means doing short {2-4 hour} road trips an hour or two past naptime, when they are more likely to fall asleep than if we leave at their normal time and they get a second wind in the car.  For long trips {4+ hours}, we leave at night a few hours before bedtime so they spend time reading books and eventually nod off.  

Kids sleeping in car
2)    Pack small “surprises” that you can give to the kiddos if they get restless in the car or at stops when they are likely to melt down.  Whether they are dollar store finds or repurposed items, what you want to look for are toys that allow them to have a little quiet time without a ton of pieces.  Small dolls work for my daughter {age 4} and it gives us an opportunity to look for small “accessories” along the way and take pictures of the dolls in every destination.  For my son {age 2}, I like to bring out toys he hasn’t ever seen before and give them to him in a zippered bag as he’s big into everything having a place and that gives him a place to store them on the vacation.

3)    Bring a little bit of cash.  You never know when you’ll end up *almost* running out of gas on a mountain pass in a different state and have to wake up a local gas station attendant and pay cash in order to get home.  Yes, that’s a true story and why we started, ahem, planning our trips a bit better.  But, cash is also great when you run across a new farmer’s market or roadside stop as most smaller stores and attractions won’t take plastic.   

4)    Know where the next meal is coming from, and when.  Like the gas station story above, many small towns don’t have big town hours.  Be safe and pack a collapsible cooler in the trunk filled with snacks and sandwiches for the journey.  The bonus is that when it’s empty, you don’t have a big empty cooler in precious cargo space.  Great road foods are nuts and seeds, fresh fruit, beef jerky, granola bars and other filling treats.  One trick I learned early is to make these treats something they don’t get very often at home and something with resealable packaging for small snackers. 

5)    Limit screen time for younger kids.  It is very tempting to let the kids “plug in” and watch a show, play video games, or play with iPads or tablets, but for kids as young as ours, I find that they arrive amped when they have been watching shows or playing with electronics.  Although every kid is different and electronics might have an opposite effect on some kids, keep in mind that it’s hard to have a good conversation with a kid who is busy getting to the next level on their game.

While this list is just a start, it will hopefully help you get in the right frame of mind for a good road trip – paying attention to schedules, making food readily available, and making sure you’re able to make it off that mountain pass before dawn.  I’m sure you all have awesome ideas you would add to this so I invite you to add to my list with other tips you swear by.

This was our sweet "Road Trip Mobile" a few months back.  Oh, how I miss it…

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Content and/or other value provided by our partner, Kia Motors however all opinions, tips and ideas are 100% ours.

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