11 Travel Tips for Hitting the Road with Toddlers and Preschoolers

Yay! Spring Break is upon us! Ok, who am I kidding? I don’t have “Spring Break” anymore, but one can dream of the sun and the sand, right? But, traveling with little ones can be quite the task. Gone are the days of tossing our clothes and some toiletries in a bag and calling it good! Traveling with little ones is fun, and SOOOO worth it, but it takes a little more planning and preparation. If you’re hitting the road, here are some tips to make your drive a little more enjoyable for everyone:

  1. Over-prepare. Just kidding. Well, I’m only half joking. Being well prepared has saved my day a time or two.
  2. Snacks. Have plenty of them! Snacks that they don’t usually eat help. So do snacks that aren’t TOO messy (is that even possible with littles in car seats?!). Some ideas:
    1. Veggie chips, raisins, fruit pouches, various types of cereal, different types of crackers, pretzels, dried fruit, veggie straws…
    2. Fruit that’s not too messy and won’t stain (much), like apples, oranges, and bananas.
    3. Veggies if your kids will eat them. Have you seen the “put the ranch dip in the bottom of the container thing”?
    4. For “emergency use only,” cookies and candy might help. We didn’t end up needing ours. Yay! (Tip: Don’t tell the kids you have them! Leave it a surprise)
    5. Anything your kids like to eat is always good. 🙂  
    6. Don’t forget something for them to drink! I don’t know about your littles, but juice boxes = juice shooting everywhere. So, I opted for their water bottles, “spill-less” cups, and juice boxes as a treat at stops.
  3. Toys and activities GALORE!
    1. Again, I tried to choose stuff that they don’t normally play with and that makes it “new” again.
    2. I also tried to bring stuff that can be used in a variety of ways, won’t make too big of a mess, and isn’t a choking hazard or otherwise unsafe.
    3. Ideas:
      1. Drawing boards (Magnadoodle, or something similar. Crayola makes one that has lights and music with a gel-like surface)
      2. WaterWow by Melissa and Doug, which is coloring with a “water” pen, so relatively low mess potential
      3. Color Wonder by Crayola is another great option for coloring without a huge mess.
      4. Balls (different sizes, textures, light up ones, etc)
      5. Books (to read, to find stuff, the interactive ones with magnets, the ones with tracing…)
      6. Keys (no idea why they’re so fascinating and fun to play with, but I’ll take it)
      7. Anything that’s familiar and calming to your little one(s). For us, that was a Baby Einstein music thingy that they’ve both loved since birth
      8. Dolls, stuffed animals, or something similar
      9. Stickers (reusable ones or not. Gel window clings are also fun. Give them a tray to use them with)
      10. Straws and fast food cup lids. Or, better yet, get colored straws before you leave, cut them into different lengths and let your little one sort them, string them on pipe cleaners or string, put them into a container with holes (like an old Parmesan cheese lid).
      11. Interlocking blocks, Legos, Duplos, or something else to build with. Can also be used to sort
      12. Felt boards
      13. Magnets (a magnetic book or even a small cookie/baking sheet would be a good surface for them to play on)
      14. Large beads and string
      15. Playdough if your child won’t eat it and puts it away nicely… You could extend the fun with playdough by using playdough mats.

4. Talk, talk, talk!

  1. Find letters on billboards, signs, and license plates if your little one sits high enough to see them
  2. Talk about and count the different types of vehicles you see. You could do the same with colors.
  3. Talking about shapes is another idea. Road signs are good for this.
  4. Ask your little one to tell you what they’re reading (or what they see in the books).
  5. Talk about what you see and how it compares to what you see when you’re at home. Sweet Pea remembers what Joshua trees are because we saw them on part of our road trip. Many adults don’t know that those even exist! 🙂 So, you never know what they’ll learn and remember. Don’t under-estimate talking about your surroundings and what’s going on around you! 

5. Set up the toys, activities, snacks, and whatever else you might need while on the road so that you can easily access them and get them to the kids. Or, have things set up so that your kids can access them if they’re old enough (and won’t blow through them too quickly). We hung stuff for Sweet Pea off of the seat in front of her, and it really worked well.

6. Music! Have your music ready, for you and the kiddos. Or, sing songs. Kids love it. Even if it might be a bit torturous to us adults.

7. Make sure your GPS is ready to navigate too. Pre-planning bathroom and play breaks is a great idea. Bubbles are good for quick ways to get out energy just about anywhere. Oh, and gas too. That’s important. If you’re in a hurry to get to your destination or just want to avoid getting the kids in and out of their car seats a gazillion times, combine gas stops with movement breaks. Even going for a short walk and looking at the flowers or whatever’s in the planter boxes around where you stop can help. It’s different, so it’s mildly entertaining…

8. Make sure you have movies, games, or TV shows downloaded on an old phone, iPad, or other device so that you can use them if all else fails and you need to occupy the little ones until your next break or until you get to your destination.

9. Keep a change of clothes for everyone easily accessible. It’s better than unpacking your luggage to get to it if needed. Medicine too if you need it or think you might.

10. It might be a good idea to put potty trained little ones into pull-ups or something similar because it might not be feasible to stop every time they need to use the restroom and changing pull-ups is easier than cleaning out a car seat accident. Especially on the road. A travel potty is also a good idea, especially since gas station restrooms aren’t always the cleanest, and because you might not have time to find one before your little one needs to use the bathroom.

11. Remember to allow extra time for stops and other “delays.” We stopped every 2-3 hours and it seemed to break up the drive nicely. You can also drive while your kids sleep (leave after dinner and around bed time, wake up early, get the kids in the car while they’re still drowsy, and hit the road, plan your drives around nap time). Throw some blankets in the car to make dozing off a little more cozy for them. 

Snacks and activities hanging from the passenger seat so that they’re easily accessible. Organization is key! 🙂

Have fun!! Remember that it’s the little, ordinary things your children will remember the most when they’re older. Make it fun! Make it memorable. How do you make road trips with little ones easier and more enjoyable?


Interested in more tips? Check out this Guest Post I did on For the Love of Blank.