Top Tips for a Road Trip with Toddlers

This is a guest post from Sharlene Earnshaw, the mother of three-year-old-twins living in Orange County, CA. She writes about her family travel adventures and great things to do in California and beyond on her blog, Double The Adventure. Last summer Sharlene took a 24-day road trip with her two-year-old twins, most of it was done as a single parent as her husband had to work. A brave, brave woman. This is someone with reliable tips on how to best road trip with young kids. Thanks Sharlene!

Let’s face it — toddlers are not the most easy going travel companions you can have. They are stubborn, lack independence, and have the patience of, well, a toddler. Luckily they are also excited about everything, eager to learn, and absolutely adorable. Traveling with little ones, while not always easy, is a great way to teach your children about the world around them and bond as a family.

This past summer I took a 24-day road trip with my two-year-old twins. My husband was only able to join us for the last week due to work constraints, so the kids and I had to go it alone for much of the journey. How did we survive and still manage to have lots of fun? Here are a few of my secrets…

Bring a portable DVD player

I can not stress this one enough. Our portable DVD player was my savior on more than occasion. It allowed me to cover large stretches of road without having to constantly stop for stir crazy children. Our DVD player (aka Mary Poppins) helped me keep my sanity while stuck in rush hour traffic in Portlandfor two hours. It also gave me peace and quiet when I needed it. I know families have survived long drives without electronics in the past, but I am still not quite sure how…

Make a pre-road trip visit to the dollar store

Sometimes a tube full of plastic farm animals can be mean an hour of peace after a long day’s drive. Wrap little books, toys, and games in wrapping paper and watch the thrill of something new take hold of your child. These little gifts don’t have to cost much and they will provide you with much needed moments of sanity.

Make your stops quality stops

I know. I know. Sometimes you just want to get to where you are going. Unfortunately, toddlers don’t usually have the same game plan in mind. Its important to let them get out and run every once in a while. Look for parks, reserves, and lakes along your route. A half an hour of throwing rocks into a creek or running down a grassy hill will help your kids get rid of some of that pent up energy and allow you to get a good stretch of driving in. It will also allow you to discover fantastic places that you might not have ever known to exist.

Bring food — lots and lots of food

I don’t know what it is about a car that suddenly makes my kids feel like I have they haven’t had a bite to eat in weeks. Maybe it’s the gentle hum of the engine that gives them a case of the munchies. Or maybe its just a good reason to bug Mommy. Whatever the reason, you certainly don’t want your kids living on fast food for the length of your vacation, so being prepared is crucial. Pack healthy snacks that are easy for little ones to munch on from the confines of a car seat. Sliced fruit, cheese sticks, crackers, and sandwiches are all great things to have in a cooler that is strategically placed within reach of whichever adult is on snack duty.

Pick a kid-friendly hotel

You have been driving all day long. You and the kids both need some time to unwind. A hotel with features that appeal to children such as playgrounds or swimming pools can help burn off some energyand ensure a good nights sleep for all. If a hotel doesn’t have anything kid-friendly on site, ask the front desk if there are any kid-friendly attractions within walking distance. Sometimes, the last thing your kids want to do is get back in the car. I usually look for hotels with suite style rooms so I can retreat to the living area while my kids get some sleep. A couple hours of peace and quiet can help you recharge for the next day and make you excited to get up the next day and get back on the road!

Relevant Links:

Tips for finding toddler-friendly accommodations

Ciao Bambino’s list of recommended kid friendly hotels

Entertaining kids on planes

Tips for traveling with kids (babies and toddlers) to Europe

Notes from a Dad on a road trip with school age boys

Tales from a Spring Break road trip with four kids

9 Comments

  1. I can SO relate to those (even Marry Poppins – one of our favorites!). Our kids are good for about 2 hours and then they have to stop. They don’t need a long stop, but if they get a chance to stretch their legs and run around a bit, then they’re good for another couple of hours.

    Of course, the inside of our car looks like a DISASTER, after a long road trip 🙂

  2. Great tips. With a 24-day road trip, you certainly qualify as an expert. I’m hoping to attempt a roadtrip this summer, I will definately use these as I prepare.

  3. You’re right Sharlene is a brave woman, and she has great tips from all of her adventures. I agree with all of her tips here…and love that bison photo.

  4. I still think you’re crazy for driving that far, but SO glad we got to see you & drive with you for a bit!! What do ya think, another road trip next summer?? 😉

  5. I still don’t know how you did it by yourself…lol.
    Very informative and “Mary Poppins” has been a savior on our road trips.

  6. People survued road trips without electronics because car seats didn’t exist then either! 🙂

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