Practical, realistic, tried and tested tips for tackling car rides with toddlers.
Tackling long car rides with toddlers requires two things: patience and gear!
No matter how many tips for road trips with toddlers you may read or how many toddler car ride must haves you get hold off, there is no doubt that a long car ride with a toddler requires a bit of patience and resistance to frustration, how much of it depending largely on the toddler and your luck on the day!
Over the course of the years, we have tackled many road trips with toddlers and since ours were not the type of kids who would fall asleep as soon as the engine starts rolling, we learned a few tricks along the way.
Recently, we shared how to plan a road trip with small kids, today we share our tips fo tackling long car rides with toddlers!
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Sanity saving tips for long car rides with toddlers
Get the right toddler car seat
The first thing you need to ensure is that your toddler is comfortable in your car.
This means getting the right baby seat or booster seat, one of the most important items for your toddlers safety in the car.
Make sure your toddler car seat:
- matches all the safety standard,
- hasn’t been mistreated (if not new),
- is the right size,
- has iso fix
- is of a pleasant material that doesn’t cause your toddler to feel itchy or too hot
Consider a travel pillow
A toddler travel pillow can be great to make your child feel comfy in the car. Depending on age, size and preference, you can opt for a neck pillow, a leg pillow or a seat belt cozy. You can find our favorite travel pillows for kids here.
Get a shade for the window
A sun shade for the window can make all the difference on a long car ride. Check if your car has a built in one (and that it works! Pay extra attention that yout toddlers cannot unhook it).
If you car doesn’t have one, you can buy cheap ones that attach with sucker cups to the glass.
They are cheap and you can even pack them easily should you get a car at the end of a plane ride instead of driving from home.
Get a seat mirror for rear facing car seats
When our youngest was using a rear-facing car seat, we found a toddler mirror to be a priceless piece of gear for long car rides.
You place it on top of their seat and it allows you to see how they are doing just looking into the rearview mirror, no need to turn around!
The one we got was smash-safe (obviously) and had a case in the shape of a soft penguin, which our daughter loved to look at!
Snacks are the one thing you need to tackle pretty much any type of travel with toddlers.
Good snacks for the cars are small rice cackes, fruit pouches, squeezable yogurts and small soft sandwiches.
You can find some ideas on easy to pack travel snacks for toddlers here.
Get a sippy cup
A sippy cup or a nonspill bottle your toddler can use independently is a must on any road trip.
Avoid sugary drinks and opt for water to avoid sugar-induced excitement!
Make sure your car has a cup holder so your toddler can reach for their cup easily. If it doesn’t, just remember to offer it regularly.
Not all toddlers like headphones but some do, either to block out noise or to focus more on their music or cartoon, if they have their own tablet for the ride.
The best headphones for toddlers are cordless as they pose the smallest risk of tangling up.
Turn on the music
Music can be immensely entertaining and soothing for toddlers and I would recommend making a playlist just for the trip.
For our own sanity, we found mixing kids songs and nursery rhymes with grow-up music that is kid-friendly worked best.
Classic songs from the Seventies and acoustic versions of songs can work well for kids and adults!
Give them toys
Toddlers need entertainment and some toys work well in the car.
Our boy would entertain himself for hours with a small toy car but aqua doodles, magic boards and magnetic puzzles worked great too.
The best toys for the car are those that cannot be repeatedly thrown on the floor – stacking cups are great but will mean constantly contort yourself to pick them up.
Bigger items are your best friend!
Give them comfort
A favorite toy and a pacifier, if using, can go a long way to get your toddler settle.
Keep them warm
If you are driving in cold climate, make sure you keep them warm.
We find a car seat cozy toes to be the easiest way to keep them warm in the car without adding bulk that can be uncomfortable on a long car ride.
Make sure they are not too hot
If, on the other hand, you are driving in very hot weather, make sure they are not too hot.
Check that the air conditioning hits them the right way (not too much, not too little), get them to wear breathable clothes and regularly check for temperature.
Consider that if they are in diapers, that can add to the heat and unpleasantness of the trip.
Sit with them
If you are not alone in the car, make sure you take some time to sit with your toddler.
The extra company and touch can be wonderful for them to settle and will cheer them up immensely!
Have plenty of wipes – you can never have too many wipes on long car rides with toddlers!
You probably took a note of this already when I mentioned yogurt pouches but yes, you want twice your normal amount of wipes when road tripping with toddlers!
Get some for them and some for the car: also get some disposable bags so you can trash them easily
Make plenty of stops
An obvious one maybe but must stop more frequently when you have a toddler. The only exception, in our experience, is when you are on your last stretch and your toddler is getting fussy.
I still remember the day: we had traveled many hours and had about 1 hour still to go our toddler was just done with the trip.
We stopped thinking it would help but it backfired: he was so happy out of the car, it was almost impossible to get him back in!
So I would say: if you are almost there, evaluate well what is best for them, there is no hard and fast rule.
Get a well stocked diaper bag
You don’t need a special diaper bag for road tripping with toddlers, you just need a very well-stocked one!
Double up on wipes, diapers, diaper trash bags and make sure you have a changing mat for diaper changing on the go.
Make sure you keep the changing bag handy on the backseat so you don’t have to advertise what you have in the trunk while on a pit stop!
If you are traveling with breast milk, make sure you also invest in a good quality portable cooler bag for breastmilk so your precious cargo will last longer.
Have a first aid kit
You never want to have to use it but a first aid kit should always be in your car. You can read what we have in our family first aid kit for travel here.
I hope you found these tips for tackling long car rides with toddlers useful. Happy family travels!
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