roadtripping with toddlers and infants: tips + tricks

Hi! I’ve had a lot of people reach out asking me for road trip with kids tips, so wanted to share a few things that have worked for us! I’m not an expert, and I think even the most well-traveled, laid-back parents and kids have rough travel days. We absolutely do! That being said, we have done MANY long road trips with Lucy starting at an early age, and recently did a 8 hour road trip with both girls to/from Ohio. We’ve learned a lot from many trips, and try to tweak our adventures accordingly.

Before I  dive into specifics on road tripping with kids, I wanted to re-share some general attitude-related tips! These are the same tips I  share again and again when it comes to flying with kids, but they also apply for road trips.

  • Stay calm — I really do believe children feed off of our attitudes and emotions. Of course, “babies will be babies”,  but both babies and toddlers can recognize when their parent is in distress. Often, when I’m stressed/anxious, I notice my kids sense it and are fussier or more likely to have temper tantrums. Take a few deep breath, remember that the travel day is temporary (I tell myself only X hours or X days or whatever) and do your best to remain as calm as possible. For me, this often means not getting anxious if a baby is crying or not sleeping, not beating myself up for packing the wrong things, not letting a bad 5 minutes (or 5 hour drive) ruin my entire day.
  • Have (very) low expectations — this was something a friend gently reminded me after a few frustrating flights with Lucy. Absolutely same thing applied for long drives. It’s best to go into the road trip with low expectations — assume that your child will be fussy, cranky, annoyed, etc. I’m usually a glass half full kind of gal, but in the case, it really helps when I have realistic and LOW expectations for the day. The road trip day isn’t going to be the most joyful day of your life as a parent. Some days are pure survival mode and when you come to terms with the fact that babies will be babies/toddlers will be toddlers/the day isn’t going to be rainbows and butterflies, you will feel a lot more content with however the travel day turns out. The road trip might not be cheerful and happy and SO MUCH FUN and that’s okay!
  • Be flexible — travel days are not the days to be rigid about schedules and routines. I’ve learned to be flexible with naps – they may not happen at the exact same time as they usually do, but hopefully, they DO happen. And, sometimes they won’t and it will STILL BE OKAY! Our screen times “rules” are out the window on travel days and you best believe the iPad will be used a majority of the time. You will also stop more than you think you will (especially if you’re breastfeeding and/or have a recently potty trained toddler) and that’s another thing to be flexible with. Some things are OUT OF YOUR CONTROL and it’s best to just go with the flow.

Okay now that I’ve gotten that important mental/emotional prep out of the way, here’s some more practical, detailed tips for road tripping with toddlers and infants! Hope you find this helpful, and of course, feel free to comment or DM me @luckyandi if I  can answer any questions!

PACKING

Typically for road trips, I  don’t have to be *as* strategic as flights, because we can pack more bags. For this road trip, I packed both girls into one large suitcase and used travel organizer cubes to separate their items and keep everything organized. I use these for ALL trips because it really helps maximize space! I used a large duffel bag for myself. Our big suitcases go in the trunk of the car, and I  like having different bags or baskets for different things in the main area of the car – a snack bag, a bag for small toys, a bag for books, etc. It makes finding things during the road trip way easier!

GETTING THE CAR PREPPED

We have these window shades on both of the back windows, so the sun doesn’t get in the girls’ eyes! Depending on your car, you might want to put sun shades on the side windows of your trunk too, as we’ve noticed sometimes that window can get sun in the girls’ eyes too. Above Winnie’s carseat, we have a car mirror so that she can see herself (which is v entertaining for her at four months ago) and more importantly, so we can see her from the front seat. One thing we recently got for this last road trip was an iPad case that clips and hangs over the drivers seat. The case makes it easy for Lucy to hold the iPad, but more importantly for road trips, it’s just hung up and ready for her to watch (and not touch!) when we’re on the road. Make sure iPad is charged! Make sure to have an infant carseat cover for your baby too — that’s super important for naps! We keep a big blanket or Gathre mat in the trunk for on-the-go picnics and pitstops outside, too! Having a small designated trash bag is nice for tossing things during the trip and you can dump it during your stops.

CARSEATS

We have the NUNA PIPA LITE for our infant carseat and used until Lucy was about 14 months old. Now Winnie is using the same carseat and it’s still in perfect condition! Lucy is now in a the Maxi-Cosi Magellan convertible carseat and we recently turned her from backwards facing to forward facing. Children should NOT be turned until *at least* two years old, and you should talk to your doctor before flipping the car seat around. We turned Lucy’s carseat about two months ago (so 2 years, 3 months) and it’s been a great transition for her so far. After Lucy outgrew the infant carseat, we bought a travel carseat for flights and when we were out of town (without our car). We always bring our Cosco Scenera carseat, as it’s super lightweight so easy for transporting around.

POTTY TRAINING

We started potty training Lucy a few months ago, and this was the first road trip we’ve done since she started using the potty! We brought her little potty (this is the one we have). Every time we stopped, we set up the potty next to the car somewhere and prompted Lucy to go. Even if she didn’t have to go, we would just talk about how now is the time to go! During her typical “nap time” hours of the road trip, we put her in a diaper, since that is what we do at home during naps, too. Pack a few extra pairs of undies and at least one extra outfit in diaper bag in case there’s an accident, and a big ziploc bag for soiled clothes!

FOOD  (SNACKS + STOPS)

We packed tons of snacks for ourselves and Lucy! We always bring her water bottle and pack easy snacks like granola bars, pretzels, string cheese, crackers, pouches, dried fruit, and easy-to-eat fruit like bananas and clementines. One idea I saw online was to put different snacks in a little tackle tray so kids can pick and choose different snacks from the container. I  need to try that next time we have a big drive! For our ‘big’ stop (lunch) we looked at Google Maps about an hour before our ideal lunch time (11:30/12ish) and tried to map out a good stop. Panera allows you to order ahead, so that’s what we did! Just ordered ahead and paid from my phone, and then went inside quickly to pick it up, and did a little outdoor picnic in the grass for lunch. You can also order ahead from Chipotle, which is another great road trip stop as you can 1) get something healthy-ish and 2) they have outdoor seating.

MAKING STOPS

You will stop more than you want or plan to, ESPECIALLY with infants! Especially with infants who are breastfeeding. When we did the Palm Springs to SF drive a few years ago, the 7.5 hour drive took closer to 10 hours. We tried to time the stops as much as possible with coffee or lunch breaks, but sometimes we just stopped because the baby needed to eat. When I recently drove from Nashville to Ohio with my mom, we were stopping every 1.5-2 hours, but had to do one extra last-minute stop about 45 minutes from our destination because Winnie needed to eat. Plan the best you can, but also keep expectations low – you might need to stop more than you want to and IT IS OKAY! With COVID (more on that below), we mostly stopped at rest areas. This was nice because they were for the most part pretty empty and some of them had some outdoor space for Lucy to run around and get her wiggles out! We would play hide and go seek at rest areas or ask Lucy to go run and touch five trees, etc. Even outside of COVID, we typically don’t make BIG stops and instead try to make them short, quick, and outside (as we are usually traveling with Jack, anyway!).

COVID PRECAUTIONS

  • The car was stocked up with lots of hand sanitizer, which we used at all stops and often throughout the drive, just to be extra cautious.
  • Try to stop at rest stops instead of at busy drive-thrus. For the most part, rest stops had less people and even when there were people around, it was much easier to keep our distance since there’s more space to roam.
  • Order ahead if possible for lunch + coffee! We didn’t do any drive-thrus this time and just maximized our big stop as lunch + coffee pickup. 🙂
  • No kids inside – the girls didn’t go inside anywhere.
  • When we stopped and needed to go to restroom, we took turns so one person went in to go to bathroom (masked, obviously) and one person stayed in car/outside with kids. If the stop was busy (we only had one rest stop that was strangely busy), we would wait a bit until the crowd slimmed out before going inside to bathroom. Lots of hand washing after using bathroom and more hand sanitizer when back in car.
  • Lots of Vitamin C / elderberry to boost our immune systems before and after a long drive!

DIAPER BAG

Always pack extra diapers and wipes! We have extra clothes for both girls in the diaper bag as well as some large ziploc bags for accidents/dirty clothes. We also keep medicine, snacks, pacifiers, small toys, an extra swaddle, etc. readily available in the diaper bag, too. I have the Freshly Picked Classic City Pack (in black) as my smaller diaper bag and the Freshly Picked Large Diaper Bag (in Fig color) as my main diaper bag, and usually bring the bigger one on road trips.

TRAVELING WITH SMALL BABIES

It’s a little trickier to entertain smaller babies in the carseat, but I will prop up a big, colorful book between the carseat and the seat so Winnie can look at the different pages. We also have these cute chewbeads (a teething car seat toy) that hang from top of carseat that she seems to like playing with! I’ll also switch out different teething toys for her to hold, and of course, we always have lots of pacifiers on hand! We tried as best as we could to follow Winnie’s loose schedule — nurse, play/awake time, and then cover her carseat to prompt her to nap when she was looking or acting tired. We often use our phone as the sound machine, but we’ve used a portable sound machine in the past. Having white noise for nap time is crucial!

ENTERTAINING TODDLERS

Here’s a few things I pack on road trips – many different Reusable Sticker Books, several WaterWow / mess-free coloring/painting pads, and of course, the iPad. I load the iPad up with Mickey Mouse or her favorite movies (Frozen, 101 Dalmatians) but when she was younger she liked Little Baby Bum a lot. Lucy has used these Kids headphones for almost a year and they are great — and so cute! We always have books in our car, so try to “surprise” Lucy with different books to read during the drive. During ‘normal non-COVID times’ I would go to Target and stock up on little toys/games/activities in the dollar section to use for surprises throughout the trip, but more recently I try to bring small toys or books she hasn’t played with in awhile. Another idea I want to try (found via @mommasociety) is to get a cheap cookie sheet and bring that in the car to act as a “car seat table.” That way she could DO MORE in the car, like color with markers + crayons, or do her puzzles. Here’s a few of her favorite travel-sized puzzles — we have four !

SHOP ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS

Window Shades

Carseat Cover

iPad Case

Kids Headphones

Kids Potty

Portable Sound Machine

Kids Water Bottle

Carseat Teething Toy

Entertainment: Reusable Sticker Books, WaterWow / mess-free coloring/painting pads,

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