Tips for a Smoother Road Trip With A Toddler

Now that spring is here, we are beginning to venture out for short getaways to visit family and friends. These road trips mean we are packing and unpacking our toddler and two golden retrievers in our car almost every weekend. The older my daughter gets, driving places is very different than when she was younger. Not only is it different, I feel that it is a little more complicated. Read on for some of my top tips for a smoother road trip with a toddler.

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Packing List


If you are anything like me, you hate the dreaded feeling that you forgot something. So before you hit the road, check your packing list. Most cell phones have a “note” feature built right in. I definitely take advantage of checking off my pre-populated packing list in my phone notes.

My packing list for my daughter is broken up into categories including Mealtime, Bedtime, Outdoor, Playtime, etc. I do need to confess, I tend to over pack. But, as I tell my husband, I like to be prepared. Plus, rolling your clothes adds extra space in your suitcase. The key is to assess the type of trip, length of the vacation, weather, and necessities that can’t be replaced at a moment’s notice. 

Travel Timing

Sleeping Toddler Backseat

A tantrum in the car, a missed nap, a lack of snacks, or a potty incident can turn a pleasant trip into a travel nightmare. I’m a firm believer that timing is everything and I think that really applies when you get into a vehicle with a child– no matter the distance or timeframe. What has worked for my family is leaving the house after a meal. After lunch has been our go-to because that is usually right at nap time. Our two-year-old is a car-baby, so driving usually puts her to sleep. If we have to leave during a meal, my husband or I will sit in the backseat with her, to help with a mess-free mealtime on the go.

A little word of advice, try to avoid traveling at night if at all possible. In our experience, our daughter won’t stay asleep when moved to her bed from the car. Sometimes this can’t be avoided, but typically it’s a last resort. Every parent has probably thought it would be easier, but that is not always the case on a road trip with a toddler. 

Backseat Activities 

Now, we haven’t taken the plunge to buy our toddler a tablet or any other gadget just yet, but we know it is inevitable in the near future. In the meantime to keep our two-year-old occupied in the backseat we make sure to pack snacks, drinks, books, and her favorite toys. Most of them eventually land on the floor, but they are entertaining for at least a little while. If absolutely necessary, we turn on Disney+ or the YouTube Kids app on our phones. Here are some purchases we are considering for future road trips with a toddler:

Travel routines evolve each year as our daughter gets older, so I hope these tips for taking a road trip with a toddler are helpful for a smooth ride as you head out with your littles.  

Do you have a little one coming along for the ride? Check out these must-have items for traveling with baby.

Brandie Yates
Brandie grew up in the small town of Ithaca, MI. She moved to the Lansing area to attend Michigan State University. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism with a focus in Broadcast, Public Relations Specialization and Dance Specialization. She currently works as the Marketing Manager for the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA). Brandie lives in Mason with her husband, two daughters, and two golden retrievers. Her hobbies include spending time with her family & friends, traveling, cooking, dancing, and going to the theater.


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