How to enjoy a road trip with a toddler

My husband and I recently passed another relationship test, our first road trip together! It was also our first road trip with a toddler (17 months old). She did surprisingly well. I want to share with you what worked to keep her (mostly) happy and occupied on our drive.

Traveling with a toddler is tough. They’re too old to sleep the whole drive but too young for many car games. They also don’t understand why they are trapped in a car seat for hours on end. This can lead to an angry child and an unpleasant ride for everyone. I hope some of my tips for traveling with kids can help you survive your summer road trip.

Road trip with a toddler

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travel during naptime

While they may not sleep the entire trip, they can sleep for part of the trip. My daughter usually takes a 90-minute nap. We made sure to travel during nap time to lessen the amount of time we needed to entertain her. She only slept about an hour the first drive but it still helped.

toddler roadtrip hacks

make stops

If you’re like me, you like to power through to get where you’re going. That means we only stop to use the restroom. Eating is done in the car and stops are quick. With a toddler, or any kids, you are going to have to stop to let them get the wiggles out. That means stopping for meals and stopping for longer periods of time at bathroom breaks. Let them stretch their legs, run around, and just get a little bit of energy out.

Snacks, Snacks, all the snacks

Snacks can be a great diversion tactic. Pack them in small amounts and let them choose what they want. Now, you may think giving a “bonus” treat like a cookie or candy might help keep them happy. But now is not the time to offer sugary treats. Sugar is going to equal more energy that has nowhere to go in the car. So try to keep the sugar to a minimum. Check out some of our favorite snacks below. These are all dry snacks which will lead to less mess to clean up later.

Don’t forget to keep their water bottle nearby. You want to make sure to keep them hydrated on the car ride. My favorite container is a hydroflask which will keep water cool for hours, even if it gets hot in the car.

Favorite Snacks

toddler roadtrip books

new toys/books

New toys or books will likely hold their attention longer than a toy they are used to. Visit the dollar store or a discount store and grab some small toys or books just for the trip. Just make sure they aren’t too messy and can easily be played with while strapped into a car seat. I was able to pick up 3 books and pack of shape cards at the dollar store.

toddler road trip activities

toddler road trip activities

Activities are the 2nd most important behind snacks. Keeping a toddler busy is a key to a successful trip. Ideally, pick new toys or activities so they will grab their attention longer. They also need to be easily done in a car seat. Here are some great ideas to get you started.


Color Wonder booksAt 17 months old my little girl is just getting into coloring. Magicolor pads are great as the markers only work on the paper in the pad. The markers also come with a built-in carrying case on the cover. My daughter had as much fun taking the markers in and out of the case as she did actually scribbling in the book!


Pouch shape sorter

Save up some pouch caps and you can make a fun shape sorter all from items you already have at home. Easy to make for the trip and you won’t mind if it gets beat up or lost.

Pipe cleaner bracelet

This one is a treat and an entertainment tactic. Use some cheerios to make edible jewelry.

Raffle ticket tear/drop

Raffle tickets can be double entertainment. They can tear the tickets apart and then drop them into another container.

“I-Spy” rice bottle

This fun rice bottle idea is great for curious little minds. Fill a bottle with rice and small items for them to look at and search for. For younger toddlers and babies sensory bags are also great options for clean, contained fun.

You can find many other ideas on Pinterest! I’d love if you’d follow my Pinterest account while you’re there! I save lots of great info about being a toddler mom.

toddler roadtrip activities

don’t forget their lovey

If your child has a favorite blanket, lovey, stuffed animal, etc pack that inside the car! It may help to settle them down when they get upset or help them to take a good nap. Just make sure you keep track of it carefully so it doesn’t fall out of the car at a rest stop.

Keep the car comfortable

A hot toddler is an angry toddler. Help keep the sun from their eyes with some stick on window shades. They will help keep them from being blinded by the sun. If you can get them to wear sunglasses that’s an even easier fix. My toddler only thinks her stuffed animals should wear her sunglasses, unfortunately.

If you have an older car where the a/c isn’t so good you may want a Noggle. This will help move the air to the back seat to keep your kids cool.

expect the tantrums

Tantrums are going to happen. Your toddler will not be happy about being strapped into a seat for hours on end. So be mentally prepared for them to happen. Make sure other adults and older children are prepared for the tantrums as well. Getting mad or upset won’t help, your toddler didn’t decide to go on this trip and you can’t explain to them why they are being forced to sit for an abnormally long period of time. Just assure them that it’s okay and that you’ll take a break soon. Let them cry out their frustration and energy a bit and then try to distract them with a snack or new activity. If they aren’t calming down then it’s time for a rest stop.

Have fun and make some great memories! Your toddler won’t remember the trip but you can make some great memories to tell them about later. Take pictures…but not so many that you forget to enjoy the moments!

3 thoughts on “How to enjoy a road trip with a toddler”

  1. We just did a road trip with our 4-year-old and 2-year-old twins. Yes to the snacks. My kids normally aren’t allowed to eat in the car, so the novelty of it kept them pretty entertained! But yes to sticking too some simple basics. I like things that are easy to vacuum up and won’t mold quickly, like Cheerios.

  2. This is awesome!! Such useful information. I have a 2 and 4 year old and road trips are awful. We often stop 6-10 times on a 5 hours drive (which we have to do often!). Thanks for the helpful info 🙂

  3. These are some great, practical tips.
    We road trip with our kids at least once a year – we have had some hairy trips but it is getting easier as they get older.

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