A long car ride with toddlers is no joke. If you don’t plan ahead, you could be in for hours of misery and so could your kids. We make a couple of road trips a year with our kids, the longest of which is to the beach for our family vacation. We are lucky, we are only about 450 miles from the beach, so it’s easily a day trip. But it’s certainly an ALL-DAY TRIP. And you MUST be prepared! I’ve compiled all the tips and tricks you need for how to survive a long car trip with a toddler!
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Here are all the subjects you’ll want to take into consideration when you are planning your road trip with your toddlers and children:
Are Your Kids Good Car Travelers?
First and foremost, you have to consider… are you kids good car riders? If going across town is a misery, then chances are this isn’t the year you want to pack everyone in the car and drive for ten hours to the beach.
We are super, super lucky. Our kids are just really good car riders. Evidently we hit the good baby car rider lottery. They both really like riding in the car and looking out the window. But that will only get you so far on a long trip.
How far are you trav
For us, the beach is about 450 miles from our house. Because Google finds itself funny, it says that from our house to North Myrtle Beach will take us approximately 6 hours and 32 minutes to make the drive. We’re never going to achieve that kind of travel success, despite my lead-footed tendencies. So, we plan for more like 8 to 8.5 hours of travel time. And that’s if there is no traffic at all and everything else goes smoothly.
First, know your route. Is there any construction along the way? Any particular area that gets really congested at certain times a day? Is there a route that’s a smidge longer but keeps you on major highways?
Is the route all interstate? All back roads? A combo of both? For us, this is super important. For the last two hours of the drive to the beach, it is entirely on backroads and highways. That means there aren’t very many places to stop for a bathroom break, gas fill-up or leg stretch.
With our route in mind, we know to make a last big pit stop before we get off the interstate, or likely wait until we get to our destination. There are places to stop along the way, but since there are only a few, it can make for a very crowded pit stop, that ends up taking a ton of time.
Which vehicle do you want to take? Would it be more comfortable to rent a larger car? Obviously, it’s an added and significant expense to rent a car to take on your trip (Probably $300-$600 for the week). However, if you have a small car and are traveling a long way, it might be totally worth the expense to rent a larger car for the trip. When you are on hour ten of your car ride home stuck in traffic, that extra space starts to look really nice.
Also consider the gas needs. Does one of your cars get way better gas mileage? You could easily save $100 (at least!!) in fuel just by picking the more fuel efficient of your cars.
We have a mini-van (the one I swore I’d never have when I was in my 20’s…) and it’s the best travel car that’s ever been. It’s comfy, it’s roomy, the seats move and it is made for moving your family around with ease. It has all the amenities for a small family, so that’s what we drive for
For a long trip, it’s probably best to consider what time of day to you want to travel. When are your kids at their best? Would it be easier to travel in the early morning? Are your kids heavy night sleepers? Could you travel at night and let them sleep in the car? (Word of caution, if they aren’t heavy sleepers and will wake up when you transfer them from the car to the hotel, you now have a toddler that has effectively napped for several hours and will have no interest in going to bed to sleep. You’ve been warned…)
For us, we just get up a little earlier than usual, get the car loaded and ready to go. Usually the kids have woken up during that process, but if not, we get them up, get dry diapers and potty breaks, and then load up in the car. That way they can do their blanket snuggling and waking up in the car.
Once You Are On The Road:
Some people rely on drive thrus and fast food for travel. Some pack everything and just
Usually for the kids, I just pack their usual breakfasts and they can just eat in the car. It lets them wake up and eat in their own time in the car. Plus, it gives them something to do to entertain themselves for a little bit too.
I like to pack a cooler for the car with cold drinks and snacks for sure. That way we don’t have to make any extra stops if we want something cold to drink. And if everyone is playing well in the car and traveling with ease, I’ve got snacks for us in the car so we can just keep driving until we need a break.
We will usually grab some fast food lunch whenever we take a break to stretch our legs.
If all else fails, and the kids are getting super restless… stop and get ice cream. There’s truly not much an ice cream break won’t fix! And even though it’s messy and will take more time, stop and get the ice cream. Always.
In the South, most of the time you are on backroads for at least an hour before you get to the beach. And you can bet there’s a side of the road place you can stop for ice cream that usually has beach souvenirs and fireworks and fun beach stuff. Usually there is BBQ and fresh fruit too. Especially peaches and strawberries. Word of warning, “near the beach” peaches will ruin all other peaches for you. But it’s totally worth it. For whatever reason they are extra delicious. We usually get a basket to take and snack on through the week.
These little places almost always have homemade ice cream, and it’s just the best. I can remember when I was little, we would stop for ice cream on the way to and from the beach (especially if Pop was with us!) and I clearly remember thinking it was the very best treat ever.
Speaking of breaks, make sure to take them when you need them and especially when the kids need them. They are doing to need to stretch their legs and have a diaper change and/or potty trip. And they will need to get some energy out as well!
There are always the fast food restaurants with play areas that will work well. Or, as an alternative, you can find a nice indoor mall and have lunch at the food court and let them stretch their legs getting some walking in through the mall too. Bonus, if it’s summertime, the mall has air conditioning!
Room to Stretch
I had the idea this past year to pack everything in stackable tote containers. By packing in those containers everything was very easily stackable in the back of the car and it left me a LOT of room to be able to let the kids stretch and play a little bit in the back of the car during bathroom breaks.
I was able to spread out a blanket and let little guy play and stretch his legs some. He was VERY happy with that arrangement and so were we! That ended up being my go-to spot for a diaper change too.
Bathroom Break Ideas
My favorite bathroom break spot is to find a Starbucks. Not only do I get coffee, there is always a family bathroom that you can take the kids in. In my experience, it’s always clean and roomy as well.
Take A Potty
Our kids are small and still working on potty training so I carry a training potty with us in the car. That way if they are able to tell me they need to go potty and we can’t immediately find somewhere to stop, we can always pull over and let them sit on our potty and make sure they stay in practice with their potty training.
I also make sure I have
The front passenger seat laid back is usually plenty of room for our diaper change. Also, my fellas are big enough now that they can stand up for a diaper change too. Unless there’s poop. That’s why you need the space to lay them down in the car!
Passing the Car Time
Before any long road trip, I like to make sure my car is nice and clean. That way it’s not stressing me out that there are dust bunnies everywhere in my car. If your car is like mine, you might also want to vacuum out the crumbs, because it’s a cheerio crumb catastrophe in there.
I like to clean out all the vents and make sure that the backseat car vents are actually pointed toward the kids. They tend to knock them out of alignment when they are getting in and out of the car, so I make sure that the kids have some good airflow in the back seat.
Quick Safety Check
Also, take the time to make sure that the car seats are in good working order, that they are strapped in properly and haven’t loosened up, and that the straps aren’t all twisted or too tight.
I leave the seat in between the two car seats empty and open, so that if I need to jump in the backseat with them, I have room to sit and have leg room and can entertain the kids in comfort. Sometimes you will just need to sit in the back and keep everyone happy.
We bring along our favorite blankets, pillows and stuffed animals on our trip. It makes the car comfier and cozier.
Being comfortable in the car will also help the trip go by much more smoothly. I’ll dress my fellas in comfy shorts and t-shirts for the drive. Nobody has to wear shoes until we stop somewere, which thrills the boys to no end! My husband and I dress the same as well. Casual and comfy is the best way to travel for sure.
We have lap trays for the kids for eating and for playing. These trays have come in so handy. It gives them a place to put their food and drinks so that they can eat in the car. And it gives them a place to play where the toys won’t fall off into the floor as well. It’s a great spot for rolling cars or keeping track of your crayons!
I like to pack several of the more compact favorite toys for the road trip. Nothing with small pieces that will be misery to keep up with for sure. But favorite toys we know we love that don’t make a ton of noise that will travel well are just the ticket for a smooth road trip. One of my favorites is this travel size magnetic drawing board.
I also make sure to buy a few new small toys to break out during the car ride as well. It’s always fun to have a little something new to play with. Last year I was able to find a few little play sets involving swimming and the beach and that was a fun treat for the kids.
I also like to pack books for them to look at as well as a few for me to read to them. This definitely will help pass time in the car.
Also, I saw this idea on Made It Monday and plan to try it this year for our trip in a few weeks. Get a few cheap cookie sheets and some magnet toys. Voila! Lap magnet toy for travel fun!
We use the iPad in two different ways. I have a holder that will put the
I try to save this for middle to end of the trip. That way it can usually get us the rest of the way to our destination.
I also have two older iPhones that we use like mini iPads. They both have all kinds of games on them that the kids can play. If the iPad wears out and is no longer working, then I hand out the small iPads/iPhones to let them play whatever games they would like to play. I suggest low volume or headphones if both kids have an iPad. That’s a lot of noise to drive with!
Don’t forget to pack the chargers for these! Our car has chargers built in with USB ports, so we can charge while the iPad play.
ALSO, don’t forget, you probably don’t have Wi-Fi in your car, so you’ll want to download actual episodes of favorite shows onto the iPad so you don’t have to use any streaming data.
If your kids are older, you can play travel games! I loved, loved, loved travel games when I was little. You can get miniature versions of games for the car like these magnetic ones.
Or you can play other games like the license plate game or Road Scavenger Hunts!
Wrap Up: How to Survive A Long Car Trip With A Toddler
In conclusion, taking the time to plan for your family road trip can really make the trip go so much more smoothly. Toys and games will definitely help pass the time for your kids. And the invention of the iPad is miraculous for car rides. Try not to be in a huge rush and take your time while you travel and enjoy a few breaks along the route. With a little luck and a lot of planning, your next car trip with your toddlers and small kids will be a snap!
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