Road Trips with a Toddler – 9 Lessons from the Front Seat

Road Trips with a Toddler – 9 Lessons from the Front Seat

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Until a few months ago, we lived on the opposite side of the country from family and friends.  This means that for every trip to Grandma’s house, we boarded multiple planes and spent almost an entire day on airplanes and in airports.  Now doing this as often as we did with a newborn and into the early toddler years, we were feeling pretty proud of our ability to smoothly travel with a baby or toddler. 

So, when we moved close enough to family to drive and visit on a regular basis, we were thinking it would be a breeze compared to flying across the country.  Well our first 8-hour road trip to Grandma’s was not quite as easy as we expected.  However, I live by the motto, “you win, or you learn”, and we definitely learned a lot on this trip.  Keep reading to find out what we learned when taking a road trip with a toddler, so that you are prepared to hit the open roads.

Road Trips with a Toddler – 9 Lessons from the Front Seat

Toddlers have a really short attention span

Theoretically, I already knew this.  However, at home or the playground where my toddler can run from one activity to the next, I didn’t fully develop an appreciation for how frequently new activities must be furnished.  Airplanes usually have enough good people watching and looking out the window and new noises to keep a little one pretty occupied.  However, my son thought the constant view of fields did not make for a very interesting trip. 

We had taken a variety of activities, but not nearly enough for the entire 8-hour trip.  In the future, we will take many more activities.


Activities that work for other kids may not work for yours

You can easily find recommendations for travel activities online.  However, each kid is unique and what is magic for others likely won’t work for you.  Use all these ideas, to spark ideas of what you think your child will like.   Ideal activities are interesting, non-toxic if eaten, and low mess.  Once you have some ideas of what might work, do a dry run.  Try them out while you are driving across town or take a mini road trip to a nearby city.  See which activities work well in the car and keep your toddler entertained and which ones aren’t worth the effort.  This will help you narrow down your list of activities to pack.

These toddler travel activities can help you start the brainstorming process of what may work for your kid.


Get a travel tray

There are a variety of travel trays available, and you will definitely want to invest in one.  This is the one that we have and really like. When selecting a travel tray, there are a few things to consider:

  • How it attaches, you will want to make sure it will be easy to put on and take off
  • Avoid cupholders that go below the tray base because these can be uncomfortable
  • Waterproof because you will want to clean the tray frequently
  • Compact
A toddler using a travel tray to hold toys and a drink on a road trip.

Know that the travel tray may not always work

The travel tray was really helpful for meals.  It was great to set my son up with his drink and food in a way that he could eat it without making a big mess.  However, when we wanted to sleep, the tray just annoyed him.  It worked well for us, to be able to remove the tray from the front passenger seat.


Plan for a play stop

No matter how many activities you pack, your little one will need to run around at some point to burn off some excess energy.  I suggest planning a stop midway that will allow a break from the car.  There are a number of rest stops with playgrounds now, and many that have big green picnic areas.  Plan where this stop will be.  By doing your research online ahead of time, you can have a good plan that will save a lot of stress while traveling.

A toddler playing on a playground.

Plan your gas and food stops

Similar to the point above, you will want to have a general idea of where you plan to stop for food, gas and restrooms.  Figure out what you want in your idea stop.  Do you want gas and coffee, or a specific fast food restaurant?  You can research these ahead of time to save stress during the trip. 

I love using the iExit app to figure out where to stop.  You can read more about it and my other must-have travel apps here.

Are you starting to see a theme about planning here?  To maximize your efforts, you can grab my Family Travel Planner here.


Take your motion sickness medication

The person in the front passenger seat will be turning around a lot during the trip.  If there is even the slightest chance you will get car sick, take motion sickness medication to prevent it.  The non-drowsy version of Dramamine which contains meclizine, is my favorite.  I can read, work or turn around and help my toddler without getting nauseous. 


Download some baby tunes

Toddlers love music and there is something about Baby Shark and other toddler songs that appeal to that demographic more than any other type of music.  Before your trip, prepare a playlist or CD of favorite toddler tunes. When your little one starts getting cranky, break out his favorite songs.  These work wonders for pulling my son out of a cranky fit while we are driving.


Consider how sleep will happen

Even if it’s naptime and even if you walked your toddler around the neighborhood before getting in the car, there is no guarantee that sleep will occur.  However, to improve your chances, consider how you can make the backseat darker.  Window shades help to some extent.  Does your little one fall asleep best with a full tummy and a cup of milk?  If so, plan a food stop shortly before you want sleep to occur.  Also make sure you get food, gas, drink, bathrooms or anything else everyone else needs before your toddler falls asleep.  The worst thing is for sleep to finally happen and then someone needs to stop for a bathroom.


There are the 9 lessons I learned on our most recent road trip.  Before your next trip, you will also want to check out these tips for traveling with a baby or toddler.

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Road Trips with a Toddler – 9 Lessons from the Front Seat

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Travel Planning with Kids

Travel Planning with Kids

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

I love to travel, but I absolutely hate planning the details of my trip.  I mean, I’m great at saying let’s go to ____________ (insert well known tourist destination), and make sure we see/do ____________ (insert landmark/activity destination is known for).  When it comes to actually planning out the details that will make that trip happen, I’m an awful procrastinator.

I fall into the habit of getting overwhelmed at the thought of planning and everything that goes into making a trip happen.  Luckily, my husband is great at planning out the details of a trip, but he doesn’t like to be left completely on his own to do it.  Therefore, I had to find some way that I could get myself to plan a trip without dragging my feet so much we never went on the trip.

If I thought planning for my husband and me was hard, a baby/toddler adds a whole new level of difficult to the planning.  Despite my initial planning dread, we have had a bunch of great trips as a family, and my 1.5-year old son is more well-traveled than some adults.  Read on for my tips to make travel planning with kids easier and have those family trips you imagine.

Travel Planning with Kids

Plan to Plan

If you want to take a family trip 3 months from now, you will want to start planning soon, so that you can book flights and lodging early enough to get the best rates.  While you are still excited about the trip, sit down and spend 10 minutes making a list of everything you need to do to get that trip planned.  This could include be start off as follows:

  • Book hotel
  • Book flights
  • Book rental car
  • Book baby rental items
  • Book excursions

Once you have a list of everything you need to do, grab your planner, and start scheduling yourself planning blocks.  These are blocks of time where you schedule yourself time to check one item off your planning list.  30-minute blocks are likely sufficient for most tasks.  Once you have a time block for each activity on your list, commit to yourself that you will treat it as a mandatory activity like everything else on your calendar.

Pro Tip: Make sure things that requiring booking something are early in your planning period.  You will want to make sure to book early enough before things fill up or rates increase.


Organize Your Thoughts

To make you planning time blocks as productive as possible, have an idea of what you need to consider and how you want to organize that information to make the best decisions.  I really like using worksheets that allow me to write in specific info for hotels, or flights, etc.  If the thought of creating worksheets is overwhelming, you can grab my travel planner here.


Keep an Idea List

For lists that you need to always have handy, I love using the cell phone app Wunderlist.  I pretty much always have my cell phone handy, so this method ensures my list is always nearby as well.  You will want to have this list to write down anything that jumps into your mind.  Maybe this is a great idea you hear for entertaining your toddler while traveling, or a must-do attraction someone tells you about, or a great restaurant to try on your trip, or something you can’t forget to pack.  Whatever it is, you will want to remember it when you are actually in a position to do something with that information.  The list allows you to make note of it, and when you are busy planning, skim your list to remind yourself about all the ideas you’ve had about the trip.


Enlist Your Family’s Help

If you are taking a family trip, get everyone involved in the planning process.  Your baby may not be able to help, but everyone from toddler age up can take at least a small part.  Planning tasks could range from having your elementary-aged child check the whether for the trip before everyone starts packing, or having your toddler pick out which travel activities he wants to take along.  If you have older kids coming along, you could have the teenagers practice budgeting parts of the trip such as activities or meals. 

Consider what each person is capable of and what would be of interest or a good learning experience and delegate tasks.  The more you include the family, the less you feel like a travel planner, and the more they are invested in the trip.


Go to the Internet

If you find yourself stuck on a particular task, do a quick online search for the destination and whatever it is you are looking for.  Trying to decide which hotel is the best choice in a certain area, Google it!  There are so many travel bloggers around the world that specialize in writing guides to traveling different places.  Be aware that some of these may be sponsored, but many times they do still outline the pros/cons of the location or activity.


Other Great Travel Resources

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Travel Planning with Kids

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

How To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

How To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

How To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

If you are traveling with a baby that’s younger than 6 months, chances are good that he’ll sleep for a good portion of the flight.  However, if you have an older baby or toddler, a plane is way too exciting to allow for sleep in many cases.  Instead of sleeping they get frustrated that they can’t crawl/walk around the plane or kick the seat.  Therefore, it’s important to have a bag of tricks to keep your tiny human happy while trapped in a flying tin can.

Things that make for good travel activities have a few characteristics in common. 

  1. Quiet
  2. Low mess
  3. Easily contained
  4. Lightweight/easy to pack

Here are 10 activity ideas that are great for travel entertainment to get you started.

Sticker Activity Books

How To Entertain a Toddler on a PlaneHow To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

These are great because of all the variety and ways they can be used for various ages.  For older babies, you can get small stickers and stick them on their nails.  Figuring out how to get them off can provide a nice span of quiet entertainment.  For toddlers, sticker books are good fine motor skill practice as they peel the stickers up and stick them in the desired location.  Many sticker books have scenes where once the stickers are on, you can have your older toddler explain the story they created with the stickers.  You can also create your own sticker activities by using a sheet of stickers and having your toddler sort them into groups based on certain characteristics.  You can also find sticker books that have reusable stickers to create endless fun.


Traditional Activity Books

How To Entertain a Toddler on a PlaneHow To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

These are great for older toddlers.  They can provide a variety of educational activities.  Mazes, handwriting, counting, and letter identification are just a few of the activities you can find.  These books are often lightweight and provide educational entertainment.

I love this activity book because it wipes clean for reuse on every trip.


Magic Coloring Books

How To Entertain a Toddler on a PlaneHow To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

One of the requirements of airplane activities for kids is that they be low mess.  Markers are great fun for toddlers; however, they often manage to color on everything except the page.  These magic coloring books come with specific markers that only work on the pages.  Therefore, your toddler can enjoy coloring with markers while you relax knowing they won’t redecorate the tray table.


Colored Beeswax

How To Entertain a Toddler on a PlaneHow To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

This is a little-known activity idea.  Colored beeswax is great once your child is ready for Play-Doh.  Unlike Play-Doh, the beeswax doesn’t smell, or crumble and make a mess.  If your child likes to play with Play-Doh at home, pulling out the beeswax on a flight, can be a novel change that is sure to excite your little one.


Pre-Downloaded Movies/Cartoons

How To Entertain a Toddler on a PlaneHow To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

I know, I know, you are thinking that you don’t want to encourage screen time. However, when entertaining a toddler while flying, the rules need to go out the window.  This is the perfect time to allow screens that are limited at home.  Having an Amazon Fire Kids Edition is a great way to have readily available, kid-friendly entertainment.  All kids enjoy this, but those that have limited screen time at home, are often extremely entertained by this normally “forbidden” item.


Favorite Books

How To Entertain a Toddler on a PlaneHow To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

These can be a little more challenging as they often add bulk and weight to already overflowing carry-ons.  However, one or two favorites can be a good edition.  If you are flying overnight and hoping for sleep, books commonly used during a bedtime routine can help set your little one up for successfully sleeping.

A classic story like, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, is always great or some kids prefer books with flaps or different textures to feel.


Magnetic Blocks

How To Entertain a Toddler on a PlaneHow To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

Many toddlers love to play with blocks.  However, these can be tricky on a plane as they fall and get lost easily.  Magnetic blocks make it easy for your toddler to build creative structures and towers, but they are going to tumble everywhere as easily as traditional blocks.


Favorite, Small Toys

How To Entertain a Toddler on a PlaneHow To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

If your child has a favorite toy that isn’t too hard to pack, bring it along. This includes stuffed animals and blankets used as comfort items.  However, be forewarned that many times toys that are loved at home just aren’t that exciting on a plane.  See the next idea for a solution to this problem.

This skwish toy is quiet and flattens down to easily fit in a carry-on bag.


Small Presents

How To Entertain a Toddler on a PlaneHow To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

Wrap up a few new, small toys and let your child open them at intervals throughout the trip.  Because of the excitement of flying, items that are readily available to play with at home may not hold the same appeal.  However, what kid doesn’t like unwrapping a new toy.  Collect a few small toys and wrap them up before leaving.  Then at different intervals throughout your trip or when your struggling to provide entertainment, let your toddler open the small present. The toy inside may provide 3 or 30 minutes of entertainment, but either way it can serve as a distraction to prevent an oncoming tantrum.

Pro Tip: Get something that comes in a set with a variety of items, like these tiny toy trucks, so you have a bunch of little toys to unwrap.


Coloring Books and Crayons

How To Entertain a Toddler on a PlaneHow To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

Coloring books are a staple of toddler entertainment.  However, traditional crayons are likely to roll right off the tray table and all over the plane.  Invest in some triangle or square-shaped crayons specifically for flying.  These are often larger and much easier to keep track of as they aren’t rolling everywhere.


For more trips on flying with kids, check out these posts:

What are your best airplane entertainment ideas for toddlers?  Let me know in the comments.

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How To Entertain a Toddler on a Plane

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase.