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Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Road Trip with a Toddler

If you read my last post, you already know that we went to Maryland as a trial run for traveling with a toddler. Just when you think you have it all figured out, they are out of one stage and into the other and you have to pivot or even completely change your strategy. Traveling with a newborn vs a 6-month-old vs a 1-year-old is all very different. Gone are the days of sleepy babies happy to nap in the car or at a restaurant. Here are the days of a mobile toddler who hates to be restrained in any type of way and demands all sorts of food at all sorts of times. If you are nervous about traveling with a toddler, I can't stress a trial run enough. This road trip gave me confidence that we can travel with him as he moves through his toddler stages and we had the chance to test out some new gear and new strategies. Today's post is all about some tips and tricks that worked well for us. 

When Whitney was 0-9 months old, we planned our adventures around his nap times. Hour drive? Perfect, leave at the beginning of his nap. This strategy backfired greatly at around 1 year old. He was cranky and tired and he wanted to take his long normal nap at home. A sound machine on, blackout curtains were drawn, cozy crib and sleep sack included. He hadn't slept in his car seat in a few months and I knew we needed him to sleep during this 5.5-hour drive. More importantly, I needed him to get a bit better at napping on the go before we spent two weeks traveling and sightseeing around Portugal. 

Timing - Take a break, Find a Park, and Pack a Lunch

It was a 5.5-hour drive and the "general rule" is you get your kid out of their car seat every two hours. I knew we were going to need to stop for lunch as well so the art of a successful (toddler) road trip is all about timing. We looked at google maps and found a park halfway to Maryland that allowed us all to get out of the park and stretch our legs. 

It's not fair to expect a toddler to sit in the car, sit at a restaurant and then get back in the car. A picnic-style park lunch was the perfect (and budget-friendly) solution to a break and a meal. Bring a picnic blanket, a cooler with sandwiches, and burn some energy before getting back in the car. 

Keep 'em Cool

We traveled to Maryland on a random spring weekend where the temperatures hit the 90s. This meant we had to do a little extra planning to keep Whitney cool and safe. Our battery-operated travel fan and a travel umbrella were key in keeping him cool and shaded. I also bought a Cozigo stroller cover as another way to keep him in the shade (and darker) for napping on the go. 

Sleep Success

Booking a hotel with a toddler is tricky. Unless you want to go to bed at 7pm or sit in complete silence in the dark after your baby goes to bed at 7pm, sharing a room is tough. An easy hack is to put the travel crib (we use the Baby Bjorn travel crib and we love it) in a hotel closet (if it fits) or the hotel bathroom (if it fits). I requested a handicap accessible bathroom that way if all else failed, I knew I would be able to fit his travel crib in the larger bathroom or walk-in shower. This meant we could shut him in the bathroom and watch tv in the room and relax. I brought my blackout travel curtains as well to use in the hotel room if needed. We also stuck to his routine of bath, book, milk and bed and brought his favorite sleep sack with us. We kept his routine the same and focused on the basics of a dark, quiet room. 

The Art of Naps

Practicing naps on the go was what my confidence needed. What worked really well for us was to recreate his routine as much as we could in the car. I used a towel to block out the window/get rid of some light and distractions, brought his pacifier, read him a book, and let him snuggle with his sleep sack (he obviously couldn't wear it). This worked surprisingly well and we made sure we were filled up on gas to let him sleep as long as possible in the car (they always wake up when the car stops...). If you are relying on a car nap, make sure you fuel up on gas and get your bathroom stops in before your babe falls asleep.

Make Diaper Changes Easy

I set up a few "change stations" in a few different areas while we traveled. I always keep an emergency stash of two diapers and wipes in the car (and a change of clothes). I then have diapers and wipes in a separate grab and go back in my diaper bag for when you need a quick change and you don't want to lug it all with you. I can throw this in a bag, in a stroller, or in the car. A travel changing pad helps but I almost always use the trunk of the car when we are on the road. 

Eating/Travel High Chair

Snacks are the key to survival. We had a bag of various snacks along with his eating must-haves (bib, travel high chair that fits anywhere with an attachable table, disposable placemats wipes). The travel high chair is perfect for picnicking or in a place without a high chair. Another great hack is to find a hotel with a free continental breakfast. Whitney DEMANDS to eat the moment he wakes up and this was the perfect way to get some food in him fast before getting breakfast for ourselves. If you are eating out most meals, check out the restaurant online to make sure it's kid-friendly. Make a reservation if possible or show up early for dinner - don't expect a toddler to wait for a table and then sit through dinner happily. Outdoor dining with a bit of room and noise is a big plus. Go early. Go early. Go early. 

Travel Stroller

A travel stroller is one of my favorite items to bring along on a road trip. It takes up way less room in the car, it fits in restaurants and shops much easier, and can quickly be folded up and stashed away. It's also super light for him to push when he wants to get out and burn some energy. Here is my guide to finding the travel stroller that's right for you and here's my review of the Cybex Libelle. 


A variety of toys (and a few that are new) are really helpful during any road trip. A big hit was a few fidget spinners attached to his car seat mirror. We also had a few trucks and other toys on hand. We also depended on music to keep him happy and when things got desperate (and they did) we let him watch Cocomelon on an iPad. I highly recommend you download a few of your toddler's favorite shows from Netflix and bring headphones if needed. 

Plan an Itinerary with Kids in Mind

Some of the best advice I can give is to keep doing it. Keep traveling with your toddler no matter how daunting it seems because the more you do it, the easier it will be. 

With that being said, you will have to adjust your expectations. While you can (and should) still travel, you will not be able to drive as far/long as usual, see any many sites, or eat at as many nice restaurants. You know the saying, vacationing with kids is just parenting in a new setting and sometimes it's really true. That doesn't mean it won't be a great trip, it just means you have to set realistic and age-appropriate expectations.

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