Road Trip with a Toddler Survival Guide

Take your road trip with a toddler from hours to stress to hours of scenic family fun with these easy tips!

38 hours in the car as an adult is tough. Add a toddler in the backseat and it could be a disaster! Traveling with little ones can be a high anxiety time for parents. Whether you go by car plane or train, the stress of getting you, your child, and all of your things to your destination can be exhausting. At 2 years old, Aaliyah has been on 4 long road trips, many train rides, and flown in a plane. Throughout our travels I have learned tips to make our trips all about fun and less about stress. I have written previously on how much we love the train, but this time is all about taking a road trip with a toddler!

If you follow us on Instagram, you’ve seen that we spent the last week traveling to Colorado for my sister’s wedding. We traveled with my grandma, our road trip with a toddler totaled to 38 hours in the car across 4 states. Our trip out took 3 days, while our return trip only took 2 because of the weather.


Your road trip with a toddler begins before you hit the highway when you start packing. Packing correctly is essential for surviving your trip!

Pack two suitcases- one as an “overnight bag”

Packing an overnight bag makes it easy when you stop at hotels for the night. In our bag I packed us each 4 days of comfy car clothes, slip on shoes, and pajamas. I had a separate smaller cosmetics bag with toothbrushes, and hair and face products. This makes it easy to grab once you stop for the night, and easy to get dressed in the morning without having to unload and sort through your large suitcase.

Entertainment bag

Entertainment bag or emergency toddler kit? Whatever you call it this is the bag where you keep all the things to keep your little one happy. Keep this on the floor under their car seat so that’s it’s easy for you to get to, but out of their reach. Here’s what we packed in ours:

  • DIY Sensory Bottles
  • Dry erase activity mats
  • Finger puppets
  • Magnet activity set- only for hotel room because of small pieces!
  • Plastic Animals
  • Seek and Find books
  • iPad with kid’s case

Our screen time is limited at home, but I did let her have extra time on her iPad while we were on the road. Before leaving I downloaded episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, My Little Ponies, and Angelina Ballerina using our Amazon Prime membership. The downloads are available offline for 48 hours so you don’t have to worry about wifi. She has other puzzle and brain games apps like Bibi Animals, Edukitty, and puzzle games that she uses regularly and give a little bit of a break from being a complete screen zombie.

I also packed at least a full day worth of diaper and wipes in this bag to make sure I had enough without having to go into our big suitcase! Of course I also had my own “entertainment bag” with my sketchbook, pens, and chargers!

While driving it’s really fun to point out all the things you see along the way! We saw cows, horses, deer, and antelopes that she loved to spot and talk about. One of her favorites was the wind turbines when we entered the Mojave Desert, the photo above shows her reaction!


Snacks are really our #1 road trip supply! They are a great way to help when they’re getting a little antsy. We did bring turkey, cheese, and chips for lunch, but we all enjoyed having the snacks readily available.

We packed

  • fruit snacks
  • apple sauce squeezies
  • fruit twists
  • bananas
  • chips
  • pretzels
  • granola bars
  • licorice

I kept small bags of each up front with me, and would refill from the trunk whenever we stopped. I also kept drinks for us, including a water bottle I filled with juice so that I could easily refill her cup with juice and water.

Making Stops

We have made this trip 3 times before, so we know the towns we want to make it to in a day and where we like to stop for restrooms. Make sure to pay attention to the signs, rest stops are routinely closed for renovations and there can be large gaps between service stations.

Rest Stops

Rest stops seem to have a bad rep, but all the ones we stop at are well maintained. I prefer stopping at a rest stop over a gas station because there are typically open areas where she can run and burn some energy. Even more importantly? CHANGING TABLES! The gas stations we did stop at didn’t have any changing tables which makes everything more difficult. Aaliyah is in the middle of potty training and so to keep up with our progress I was having her use the potty when we stopped. Not having somewhere to put a new diaper on meant each stop took 3x as long as it should have!

Get Rest!

One the second day the traffic was backed up and the rain was pouring, we decided to stop 4 hours earlier than we had planned. When on a road trip with a toddler you have to know when to call it a night. If they start crying and you start getting stressed it’s not only miserable but also dangerous! Don’t forget you will still need to get unloaded and get them to sleep in a strange environment! Give yourself enough time, energy, and patience to have a well rested night for the next day of travelling.

To make sure everyone gets enough sleep, try to keep to your regular nap schedule as much as possible. This includes once you get to your destination! Her regular nap time is 1pm, so during our lunch stops I would make sure she ran around a lot at the rest stop so that falling asleep was easier.

Our road trip with a toddler was a total success! We had so much fun spending a few days in Colorado and the wedding was beautiful. The little road trip warrior was an adorable flower girl. Photo by Gillian Brown Photography

Have you been on a long distance road trip with a toddler? What are your biggest tips and packing necessities?

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  1. Tyese says:

    Sounds like you had a great trip! Honestly, I don’t know how people traveled with kids without snacks and technology. Those are the biggest essentials to any road trip!

  2. Thanks for the tips! I like that you don’t only rely on technology and also included other activities and had your little one observe things outside during the car trip.

  3. These are great tips. I think packing plenty of snacks and frequent breaks are key.

  4. Great tips!!! We’ve taken road trips up to see my MIL a handful of times but it’s not too long of a drive. With stops it could take up to 9 hours. 6-7 without. And it actually hasn’t been so bad! And I was stressed out the first time we went up there… my first baby was only 7 weeks old. 😱

  5. What a cool road trip! But 38 hours in the car – wow. You definitely have some great tips and it is impressive that you survived that much time in the car!

  6. I haven’t been on a road trip with my little one but when we do I’ll have to remember this list. Love the sensory bottle.

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