Roadtrippin’ with a toddler

Does that phrase make anyone else break into a cold sweat? 😉 I kid… ok, half-kid.

Recently, I got this email asking about road trips with a toddler:

Hey Gina,
I was wondering if you would do a blog post about traveling with a toddler. We are planning our first lengthy car ride with our soon-to-be 1 1/2 yr old. I feel like a lot of other parents might like to share and receive ideas and tips for this as well. I have a few tips to get started:
• have no expectations or “set plans”
• stop frequently to let them burn some built up energy
• take several little books and toys and swap them out each time you make a stop to keep them interested
• maybe buy a new toy or book just for the trip and whip it out when they’re getting antsy
• snacks
• play music you know they like at times throughout the trip

These are just a few tips I’ve thought about but I would love to hear others’ advice. 🙂


Roadtrippin w a toddler

Roadtrippin’ with a toddler has proven to be a very interesting and very fun adventure…it just takes some extra planning and flexibility. When we recently left for California, I was hopeful that it would be a good experience, but also prepared for the worst-case scenarios (vomit bucket, anyone?). Last time we did a road trip, Liv ended up being sick with her first-ever virus. There were many phone calls made to the hotel lobby for extra bedding and lots of gratitude from us since they were so wonderful. My heart broke for poor noodle (being sick is the WORST) and after a couple of talks with her pediatrician we could to make it low-key but still fun for her.

Even though we’ve only done a handful of road trips with Liv (so I’m definitely not a toddler traveling expert!), I’ve found a couple of things to help:

1) No expectations. If you’re driving, take your time. This one has been fairly easy for us since that’s how we’ve always approached vacations. We’re just excited to have some time off work and hang out together; it doesn’t really matter what we do or when we get there. Of course, for larger trips, we have a couple of ideas of things we’d like to do or see, but we don’t plan activities out by the day. Doing so has been really helpful with Liv. Since we don’t have a set plan, it’s no prob to head back to the hotel for naptime or taking it easy with lots of exploring and people-watching.

2) Plan for everything. We probably overpack for Liv, but it’s nice to know we have what we need for her. Usually for each day, she’ll have 2 outfits and 1 jammie. We also take her pack n’ play, pack n’ play bedding, some toys, the video monitor, Twilight turtle, strollers (jogging and umbrella), books and baby Tylenol (if her teeth start to bother her).

3) In-car entertainment. Liv hates being in her carseat for more than an hour or so– can’t blame her at all. We take lots of breaks to stretch/snack and are thankful to the iPad for the in-car Elmo and Minnie Mouse entertainment.

4) Snacks, water, milk. We travel with these three things (plus some sippy cups, her portable placemat and baby forks)– everything else, we’ll pick up when we get there (like fresh fruit and sunflower seed butter).

5) Nap when the baby naps. For our last few vacays, we’ve taken afternoon naps along with Liv and it has been GLORIOUS. Usually at home, when Liv is napping, I’m working and the Pilot is at work. It feels like such a luxurious treat, and this way, if she doesn’t sleep well at night or wakes up super early, we still feel rested. We’ve been very fortunate that for the most part, Liv seems to have received the “vacay memo.” Sometimes she sleeps later than we do on vacation!

6) Try to stick to your at-home routine as well as you can. We still follow the same bedtime and nap routines (for the most part) while we’re on vacation. If Liv gets a nap, she’s as happy as can be, so it’s worth it for us to venture back to the hotel so she can get quality sleep. We do the same things on vacation that we do at home: brush teeth, put on fresh jammies, play her Jewel lullaby CD and turn on the Twilight turtle. I’ve found by doing this, she’s less creeped out about sleeping in a new place. If bedtime is later, it’s no big deal, especially if she had a good afternoon nap.

7) If you can, invest in a hotel room with a separate living room. Since Oliv still goes to bed fairly early, it’s nice to be able to have a separate room to watch TV or enjoy some room service snacks/cocktails together. This way, we sneak into bed later without waking her up. Otherwise, we have to turn the lights out and pretend we’re asleep until she crashes 🙂

8) Just enjoy the ride and the memories. Vacations as a family are special times, even the ones with snafus or rough patches. Our last La Jolla virus trip was a little stressful while we were going through it, but I’ll always remember it and can’t wait to show Liv the pictures when she’s older. The look on her face when she saw the seals at La Jolla cove was pure magic.

With mom  1 of 1 2

I’d love to hear your tips for road trips with a baby! What do you use for in-car entertainment? When do you leave (early, after nap, before nap)? Any packing strategies or words of wisdom?




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  1. Carrie on July 15, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Definitely try to stick to naps/routines, it makes a BIG difference. We have DVD players for the kids in the car and take lots of movies. I have a bag at the bottom of their feet that has fun stuff in it and I swap things out before trips. We are heading out for a trip this week, our bag has: Window/Book Clings (they can go in the book OR on car windows), DVDs (TONS), New coloring books and crayon bags for the two big kiddos (the little will eat them), Crayola wonder books to color for all 3 kiddos, stickers, drawing pads. Also the soft trays you can buy are AMAZING for food and coloring!

  2. Coco on July 15, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    Great post, Gina! Pinning now for future reference! (We don’t have any kids yet)

  3. Madeline @ Food Fitness and Family on July 15, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    I 100% agree in trying to find a hotel with a separate living room. We found one this last trip in Atlanta for an extra $10 and it is money well spent. Em won’t sleep if we are in the same room as her and it results in terrible nights for all of us. She also won’t co-sleep so we don’t have that option.

  4. Kaycee St. Pierre on July 15, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    We always make sure to stick to her schedule, if she doesn’t get her naps noooobody is happy lol. although sometimes it just doesn’t work no matter what you do. We went to the zoo a couple months ago, which is only one hour away, and she cried hysterically the entire way there, and the entire way back. it was very discouraging from traveling with a baby.yikes.

  5. Amber @ Mommy's Me Time on July 15, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    I love these tips! I have a 21 month old son and 4 month old twin girls and we too definitely try to keep as close to our normal routine and bedtime as possible when we’re on the road…whatever it takes to keep the peace! My kids thrive on a schedule and do so well when they know what to expect! We try to leave at the start of afternoon naptime, turn on movies, and always try to make a point to be at a destination we can stop at for the night by bedtime. I totally agree about trying to get a separate living space in the hotel room! We also scout out for McDonald’s (don’t cringe) Playplaces along the route because it’s a confined area to let our toddler burn off some energy while we feed the babies!

    • Fitnessista on July 16, 2013 at 12:34 am

      i hear ya on that one. we made a rest stop at peter piper pizza, and it was the best idea ever! liv ran around while we played games with her, then she ate a piece of pizza and got a prize with her tickets. it really helped her burn off some energy

  6. Sara @ LovingOnTheRun on July 15, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    You are a brave soul 🙂 I don’t have any kids yet but I will keep these in mind one day when I get to that stage! Enjoy to rest of your vacation!

  7. Erin @ Girl Gone Veggie on July 15, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    What a great mentality! I hope you are having a wonderful vacation!

  8. Emily on July 16, 2013 at 9:55 am

    So cute! Glad you are enjoying some vacation time together. I feel the same way about riding in the car, so I can’t blame Liv 😉 My poor hubby always says that he likes to travel through the night so that I can sleep since I’m worse than a baby haha

  9. Jen on July 16, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    I LOVE these tips! This is exactly how I travel with my 2 1/2 year old! I try to stick to a schedule too and always give him a nap because he is so cheerful afterwards, and it makes it possible for all of us to have fun together. I have friends that don’t follow a schedule, vacation or no vacation, and her kids are brats. Totally out of control lunatics and she makes fun of me for having him my son naps on vacation, but I am not the one with the crazy kids who are having meltdowns. So THANK YOU for preaching in defense of nap time and a separate living space! I applaud you!

  10. Christina @ The Beautiful Balance on July 16, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Her little sweater in the last photo is too cute for words, she is such a doll baby!

  11. Sara P on July 31, 2013 at 8:31 am

    We just got back from a 32 hr roadtrip roundtrip this past Sunday so this post is perfect! Our little guy is 2 and has been doing long distances (12 hr +) in the car since he was 3 months old. That has been a HUGE help! He has picked up on the fact that we will all be ‘stuck’ in the car, all day, no matter what. Conditioning 😉 That being said we play a lot of simple games of thumb wars, finger people/puppets, books, “I spy”, sing songs, stretching, and have tickle fights. If he gets ansy or needs help cuddling to sleep I move to the backseat to chill out with him. In 16 hours, we only had to turn on a youtube video favorite ONCE!! However, we did stop on average every 1 1/2 to 2 hrs, sometimes more often (he’s potty training).

    The one thing I was NOT prepared for happened…the inevitable diaper blowout in the carseat 🙁 There was really no way to avoid this one or make it any easier. Just a word of the wise…travel with Febreeze or the like! It was the only thing that made being in the car bearable!

    Thanks for sharing your secrets Gina and happy to hear little Livi sparred the sickness this time around!!

  12. Rachel on July 6, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    I love all of these tips! I have an 11 month old girl and we made quite a few road trips this past Spring wedding season. Some were good, others were rough. A few of the things that helped me stay on top of it all was to unpack all of our suitcases and stow them out of the way. It helped not having to dig for stuff each day and less clutter was less stressful. Setting up stations! A changing station, a bottle cleaning station, and a feeding station in the hotel rooms helped me out so much. We tried to make it as close to being at home as possible.
    Thanks for sharing! Definitely pinning this!

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