Planning a road trip with babies, toddlers or young kids? I feel your sense of dread! Travelling with toddlers can be a nightmare!
Yes, it will probably be an epic saga you’ll be telling horror stories about for years to come……BUT pack the road trip essentials in this article and hopefully you’ll end up with a few less of those stories.
Our number one must have item for a road trip with babies or toddlers is a reliable backpack style nappy bag. Read my ultimate guide here and find out why I think they should be top of your essentials list!
Don’t forget to prepare for when you arrive at your destination too! Most standard hotel rooms only have one big bed so packing a toddler travel bed can make everything a whole lot more comfortable!
- 1 A COMFORTABLE CAR SEAT
- 2 SAVE SPACE WITH A COMPACT STROLLER
- 3 TAKE A POTTY TO SAVE HASSLE
- 4 CAR SEAT HEAD SUPPORT
- 5 GAMES AND ACTIVITIES
- 6 PACK A PLAY PEN FOR STOP OFFS
- 7 PLAN SURPRISES ALONG THE WAY
- 8 PACK SUITABLE SNACKS
- 9 SMOOTHIE POPS!!
- 10 A BAG OF ODDS AND ENDS?
- 11 DOWNLOAD NETFLIX MOVIES
- 12 AUDIOBOOKS
- 13 MOTION SICKNESS BANDS
- 14 PAPER TOWELS AND TRASH BAGS!
A COMFORTABLE CAR SEAT
We’ve done over 10,000 miles of family road trips in just over a year, and we learned one valuable lesson the hard way: it’s extremely important to make sure that your children’s car seats are comfortable if you plan to undertake such long drives! We discovered that on long drives our daughter’s harnessed booster seat left a painful sore spot on her back. That problem could have been avoided with a more padded car seat.
While young children often don’t complain, we now know to look for key comfort features (extra padding, reclining back, cup holders, arm rests and more) to keep everyone happy on the road. Check out these extremely comfortable, road trip-worthy car seats and booster seats for kids who are in preschool and primary school. We promise they’ll thank you next time they have a six hour day in the car!
SAVE SPACE WITH A COMPACT STROLLER
Packing the car is always one of the biggest problems when going on a road trip with kids. We always end up cramming every nook and cranny with essential items; under the seats, behind the seats, on the seats. Everywhere.
Of course, the boot is choc a bloc full of stuff so that you have to carefully close the door whilst simultaneously trying to hold your things in with the other hand. We’ve all been there!
The thing that we have found really helpful is to swap out our normal stroller for a nice compact stroller. This has made the game of Tetris style car packing so much easier as a normal stroller takes up about half of our car boot.
These days you can get great quality, luxury strollers that do everything you need them to really well, they just come in a nice neat package that can easily slot into a corner of your car boot (or even behind the driver’s seat). It really makes a difference when packing the car and has definitely become one of our road trip essentials.
Chris – More Life in Your Days
Pssst – If you have two little monsters don’t forget to check out my ultimate guide on finding the best double pram here!
TAKE A POTTY TO SAVE HASSLE
A travel potty, like the one pictured, is essential to take on a long road trip with kids. Depending on where you are driving, bathrooms may not be readily available. If you have a toddler who is just potty trained, you are probably familiar with what I call the “toddler-bladder-syndrome” – when you are near a bathroom, their bladder is somehow always nice and empty; but when you are in middle of nowhere, their bladders suddenly fill up and they need to go RIGHT NOW.
Save yourself frantic searches for the closest bathroom and keep a potty in the car. This way, no matter where you are, you can simply break out the potty and have them go and avoid messy cleanups and dirty car seats. Bring some disposable bags to line your potty so that you can simply tie them up afterward and dispose of the waste when you reach your destination. For boys, you can also keep a few empty water bottles in the car for emergency
Betty – Mom Brite
CAR SEAT HEAD SUPPORT
We like to maximize naps on the go on long road trips with kids. Not only is it super important to keep your kids well rested while traveling, but napping on the go allows the adults to relax a little on the road.
Both our kids have always slept well in their car seats but I have always felt terrible when they get the dreaded ‘head slump’ in their seats. Not only does ‘head slump’ look like the most uncomfortable thing ever, I worry about their safety with their heads slumped over.
When we found out about the NoNob Car Seat Head support I was so excited to try it! This little headband completely eliminates awkward head positions and my kids LOVED it. They felt more comfortable sleeping with it on and would pull it over their heads when it was time for a nap.
For more great tips check out Kate’s article on portable car seats
GAMES AND ACTIVITIES
Road trips with younger children can be a nightmare if you aren’t prepared because it’s hard to explain the concept of time to them. It can feel like forever, so go armed with loads of fun activities to save your sanity and theirs!
We love playing road trip games and they help our kids forget they are stuck in the car for a while. Some games we prepare before we leave and others require no pre-planning at all!
For a classic no prop game, Eye Spy is a great option however it can be tricky for younger children. Instead try a scavenger hunt or spotting game. You can put together a quick list of items you are likely to see on your travels before you go, or jot a list down while in the car. We include things like house with red roof, farm animals, lake, green car and other simple to spot things. Or keep it super simple and go with a car colour tally – keep a running list of how many of each colour car you pass.
An age appropriate activity pack will also help keep them occupied for parts of the trip too, such as colouring in, books and magnetic travel games.
Holly – Four around the world
PACK A PLAY PEN FOR STOP OFFS
One thing we always carry with us when driving long distance with our 18 month old daughter is a pop-up or travel playpen. We initially packed it as somewhere safe for her to play when we were setting up camp, but it quickly became one of our regular travel essentials.
When stopping for a snack, or to stretch our legs, we always try and choose somewhere that is safe and has some grass or a short nature trail for our girl to run around on. However, occasionally we have to pull over in a highway stop where there may be no shade. In Western Australia in the summer, you do not want to be sitting out in the sun!
Aside from the heat, the flies can drive a person around the bend. This is when the play pen proves its worth. We can pop it up and let the little one play around to her hearts content. With the shade roof attached and a fly net thrown over the top, she is happy and safe to play, and is always much happier on the next leg of our journey.
Suzanne Jones – Creator of Keeping Up With Little Joneses
PLAN SURPRISES ALONG THE WAY
My husband and I have taken our kids on several long trips in the car and to keep our sanity, we make sure we travel with surprises. When we took our children to Disney World for the first time, we made sure we had different things to give them throughout the trip to prevent them for getting bored or hearing “Are we there yet?” 1,000 times because this was over a 14 hour drive.
Our first surprise for our 2 and 4 year old was a restaurant that we stopped for breakfast and we allowed them to order whatever meal they wanted. After a few more hours we could tell they were getting restless, so we gave them their biggest surprise, a portable DVD for movies. A little later in the trip they were given a new movie. Throughout the trip we gave them their most favourite snacks and sometimes a special sweet treat.
There is a wide variety of surprises that you can give during a long car ride. You could bring along snacks that they don’t get regularly so it would be a special treat. Before your trip, go to the dollar store and purchase a few items and bring out a long the way to keep them entertained. If your vehicles doesn’t have a dvd player, consider surprising your kids with a portable dvd player or just a new movie if you already have one. The surprises you give your child do not have to be expensive just little items to keep your children entertained.
Extra suggestion…if the location is a surprise to your child, try to make the surprises clues as to where you are going.
PACK SUITABLE SNACKS
Let’s face it, we parents rely on food, not only to fuel our kids but also to entertain them, and never more so than on a road trip. A bag of goldfish crackers or raisins can buy you several miles of contented munching.
Not all foods are created equal when it comes to snacking on the move though. You want things your kids can handle easily and – bonus! – not smear all over themselves or the car. It’s hard to avoid some dropped pretzels, but I’d rather vacuum up a few crumbs than have to wipe a cup of applesauce off the backseat. So, collect handy snacks in snack bags, lunch boxes, or special snack containers that make it hard to drop bits. Then place them in easy reach of the front seat, from where you can just pass things back, rather than having to stop.
Here are some favourites that have worked well for us: dried fruit (raisins, apricots), nuts, bite-size crackers (goldfish, pretzels, oyster), popcorn, small sandwiches, fruit leather, fruit pouches, squeezable yogurt tubes, cheese or salami sticks, olives, non-drippy fruit (grapes, berries, apple slices), mini muffins, energy balls. And of course always have a water bottle or small juice or milk boxes ready to wash it all down.
Find more tips from Olivia at Happy in the Hollow on how to eat on a budget while traveling.
My kids are snack monsters whenever we take a road trip. My eldest gets carsick too which means we need to be careful what we let him eat. High sugar snacks just don’t work for my kids when we’re driving. For that reason, I’ve started to freeze fruit smoothies in Icy Pole moulds.
The day before our trip, I’ll make a regular smoothie with banana, frozen berries, yoghurt and some chia seeds or other healthy sneaky food in the blender. Then just pour it into the moulds as normal. I always bury it deep in the back of the freezer so they are completely frozen when you depart.
Then, the last thing I do before we leave the house is put the smoothies in a cooler bag with some ice packs. They’ll stay frozen in there for a good while. When the kids start asking for a snack (in our family this happens approximately 36 seconds after leaving our driveway) simply warm the moulds in your hands so they come out easily.
I find having these snacks available means we don’t have to stop at service stations and other expensive places along the way. I’ll even let them eat 2 in a row if they want because it’s a frozen smoothie, no bad stuff here. The kids totally think it’s a treat though because I call them ‘smoothie pops’ – and they are delicious.
Emma – Aussie Money Mum
A BAG OF ODDS AND ENDS?
Going on long road trips with kids can be quite the challenge. Some kids are naturally good travellers and are perfectly fine sitting in their car seat for hours on end, with little things needed to keep them occupied. Some kids are great nappers while others need just a toy or two to keep them happy.
Babies and infants can be a wild card in the car. They can be content napping but when they are awake they may need to stay busy. However, traditional toys might not always work.
We have found that on our multiple road trips, especially our most recent road trip in Croatia, our youngest daughter was kept occupied by a few simple objects we brought with us. A remote control, tape, a bell, a lock, and a few other household items. These are items babies need to exam and figure out how they work, as not all of them make noise, and it keeps a lot of babies extra occupied on the road.
Next time you are heading on a road trip, throw a few basic household items in a clear bag before you set off, you may be surprised at how simple things can help tremendously.
Diana – The Elusive Family
DOWNLOAD NETFLIX MOVIES
Road trips can be hard with toddlers and littles. I have a 3 year old and a 10 month old, both boys and both wanting to move ALL the time. We go on road trips regularly to visit my in-laws. My husband and I are big into tech and we have found that although we don’t encourage the tablet all the time a good movie for our toddler helps a lot on these trips.
One cool feature about Netflix is that there are several shows and movies you can download for free. So with a little prep you can get some of the favourite shows loaded up for the trip. The trick is to wait to play the video until you are almost on the road or on the road because several titles will expire 48 hours after you click on play.
- 1. Search for a title and look for the download icon.
- 2. On the description page, tap the **Download** icon.
- 3. Once the title has completed downloading, you can access it from the **My Downloads** section of the app.
Happy downloading and happy road tripping!
Coussett – Techie Mamma
For older kids, audio books are a great way to stay entertained on long road trips. Novels, short stories, fact and fiction – the range of books available is enormous so you are sure to find something your child will love.
We took a family gap year and spent 5 months exploring Europe by camper. Audio books were a life saver on long travel days and became one of our favourite road trip activities. When combined with music, movies and games, they made long drives possible and so much easier to manage.
Whilst you can run audio books in the car for the whole family to listen to at the same time, it also works great if they have their own devices so you can tailor the choice to each child.
Some audio books are short (which is good for younger kids) but novels are generally hours long. The trick is finding a series of books your child loves and you may find it hard to get them to stop listening.
In our experience audio books have meant less squabbling and more peace and quiet in the back seat (a win for parents everywhere!).
Free audio books are available through some public libraries, so check to see what your local library offers. Alternatively, Audible is the place to find a great range of books.
MOTION SICKNESS BANDS
One of the toughest parts of any family road trip is dealing with travel sickness. If you have a child, or children, that suffers from this ailment, there are a few things that you can do to ease the stress for everyone.
Plan to take a little extra time on the journey to accommodate more stops. Find some playgrounds, parks or scenic spots along the way where you can get the kids some fresh air. Keep them informed about when and where you will be stopping so that they can look forward to it.
Motion sickness wristbands work for many people. The bands target pressure points on your wrists which are said to provide relief for motion sickness. The bands should be worn on each wrist and you must make sure they are fitted correctly. While some suggest that they offer only a placebo effect, there are others that swear by them. Either way, it’s a drug free and inexpensive method, and well worth trying for your kids.
Ginger is a well known alternative option for combating motion sickness which has been shown to help slow down the onset of nausea, and also speed up recovery. We have used Gin Gins with our daughter and she has really noticed the benefits. Gin Gins include between 10-30% ginger, depending on the strength you’re after, but do include some cane sugar, so should be used when required and not as an everyday treat.
Kylie Gibbon – Our Overseas Adventures
PAPER TOWELS AND TRASH BAGS!
A big roll of paper towels and a box of trash bags are a permanent fixture in our car. With a toddler and a baby, unfortunately I have many personal experiences where these two necessities have come in handy.
Most parents and kids snack on road trips so a trash bag is a must to throw out leftovers or wrappers until you make a stop and find a trash can. Paper towels are nice to wipe up minor spills and clean hands without dipping into the baby wipes stash.
Then, there is the scenario that every parent dreads and, let’s face it, is a right of passage. More than once, we’ve had to pull over on the side of the road (in the middle of nowhere) and clean up after our kid got carsick and vomited all over his clothes, car seat and car. Luckily, we had our trusty paper towels to do the job and trusty trash bags to contain the mess and soiled clothes. Trust me: do not leave home without these items.
Check Matilda’s (Travel sisters) travel gifts for kids article!!