How to road trip with a toddler and a kid

How to road trip with a toddler and a kid

Our family has covered approximately 3,000 miles in the last three weeks as we’ve traversed the United States to kick off our family gap year. It’s been a great introduction to the world of family road trips! Here are our top tips from the trenches:

1. Don’t pack the car up to the roof. Learn from our mistake. For as light as we travel when jetting around the world, we were a little more lax when packing our CR-V for five weeks on the road. If packing the car feels like a game of Tetris at the beginning of your journey, it will only go downhill from there. Promise. As of this writing, we’re three weeks in and our car bears a striking resemblance to a nuclear waste site. (In our defense, we had just put 99% of our worldly possessions in storage and needed to bring provisions for a few weeks of travel, a few weeks of downtime at Nana’s house and a year of backpacking around the world. Everything from suits and ties to trekking clothes!)

Make sure to bring these road trip essentials with you!

Road trip with toddler

Don’t take this much stuff!

2. Mix up your accommodation options. Thanks to both circumstance and preference, we’ve stayed in a wide range of places over the last three weeks. It’s worked out great! Visiting family and friends has given us the comforts of home and warm hospitality. Staying in our own vacation home through GuestToGuest has given us the opportunity to spread out and let loose (laundry at midnight? No problem!) – when we left, Jacob suggested that we trade homes with the owner and stay there permanently! You can get all the details on GuestToGuest home exchange here.

We don’t often stay at hotels, but they’ve been a blessing on this trip now that the kids love to swim; the kids love a late-night stop at the hotel pool to beat the heat or to unwind after a long day in the car. We had an amazing stay at Little America Hotel in Flagstaff, where amenities include not only a pool, but also a playground and hiking trail. Our favorite utilitarian hotels are the ones where the kids have a separate sleeping area (not just for our privacy, but it’s easier for them to fall asleep). We usually book through booking.com to find great deals, even on last-minute hotel stays if our itinerary is flexible.

Looking for more family road trip ideas? Check out these favorites from around the world!

Little America Hotel where to stay in Flagstaff

Hotel swimming pools are perfect for family road trip relief!

3. Split your long drives up as much as possible. Let me start by saying that the kids have been amazing in the car. Long car rides with toddlers aren’t ideal, but we haven’t heard a single complaint or bored “are we there yet?” I’m writing this article from our longest leg, from Chicago to Philadelphia. The total drive time is around 12 hours and we managed almost 7 of that in one day with only a 10 minute break. The kids were troopers, but crazed by the end! At least for our family, 4-5 hours in a single day is a more manageable length; for a longer stretch, we’d need to start earlier in the day and take a substantial break in the middle.

Car rides with toddlers

4. Use technology, but use it wisely. The kids sure love their Amazon Fire tablets! We almost never grant access to them back home, so they remain an extra special treat when we travel. On driving days we try to start without them for a few hours and only hand them out part-way through our drive. Our other favorite road trip activities for kids are storytelling, playing with finger puppets or working on a small LEGO set. If we’re taking a long lunch break, the tablets go away when we get back in the car in the hopes of catching a post-lunch siesta. If you don’t have tablets for the kids yet, check out this great deal on a two-pack of the Fire Kids tablets! They’re indispensable for traveling with toddlers in a car. Amazon includes a worry-free warranty and lots of great content through the Freetime Unlimited plan. If you already have Fire tablets, don’t miss our list of the top free apps for toddlers and preschoolers.

Road trip activities for kids

A little technology break to keep things fresh

5. Relax, stay flexible and have fun. With reasonable planning, your road trip can be great for everyone! Don’t try to squeeze in too much, and if something gets in the way just find a solution and move on. When our car’s air conditioner died on the way into Flagstaff, I quickly whipped out my phone and found a local mechanic to squeeze us in the next morning and a car to rent for the day. Despite adding a small layer of complication to the day, we didn’t let it cramp our style! It was just another part of the adventure and we got to take a sweet new ride up to the Grand Canyon for the day. The experience even inspired us to spend the drive telling the kids vacation mishap stories from our own childhoods, which made it a memorable ride for us all.

portable car seat for travel

Ride Safer Travel Vest (3yo) and Bubblebum (6yo)

Your family road trip checklist

Snacks, lots and lots of snacks (our car currently feels like a showroom for the Annie’s Organic line)

baby wipes

Amazon Fire kids tablets / headphones / headphone splitter (great for playing the kids’ music on my phone while we listen to adults music on the car stereo, awesome screen-free kids car entertainment)

Flip flops for easy on-and-off

Kids road trip atlas to read up on cool landmarks

Crayola Stow-and-Go art studio

Check out more suggestions for bargain travel-worthy kids’ gear

These great apps will help streamline your road trip!

Some links in this post may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission at no additional expense to you. Using these links helps support the site and keep our family traveling. Please see the full disclosure for more information.

It's roadtrip time! Family road trips are great for quality time together, but how can you keep the kids happy in the car? Click to read our top tips for keeping everyone sane on your next family roadtrip! #roadtrip #familytravel #toddlers #kids #car #travel

Plutonium Sox



  • Momma To Go

    I love road trips! here ya on the state of the car in terms of going downhill from start to finish. I would say take some extra plastic bags for garbage (or my son can get car sick)

    September 25, 2017 at 6:50 am
    • Melissa

      We started with a pile of old grocery bags for trash and have replenished along the way! Knock on wood, we’ve never dealt with car sickness…

      September 25, 2017 at 6:54 am
  • April | Minivan Adventures

    Great tips! Our family loves road trips. Although, our longest was only two weeks. (Not 5 weeks like yours! Wow!) I agree that you should try to pack as light as you can manage and split up the long drives whenever possible. Side Note: We have that same US Road Trip Atlas book that your son is looking at in one of your pictures!!!

    September 26, 2017 at 12:18 pm
  • Kyla

    Great tips!! We spend so much time in the car with our family being spread out, I’m always on the lookout for new tricks! Why is it that the inside of the vehicle always ends up looking like a nuclear waste zone, even if the car ride is only an hour?!?!
    Safe travels as you take on the world!

    October 1, 2017 at 3:42 am
  • Annabel Kirk

    It’s so useful reading other family’s road trip tips, there’s always something new to learn. #familytraveltips

    October 4, 2017 at 4:27 am
  • TravelingWithOurKids (@twok_blog)

    We would rather road trip than fly, its much easier for us we find. Great tips #familytraveltips

    October 7, 2017 at 5:58 am
  • Baby Loves Travel

    We always end up packing the car to the roof – really must learn not to do that! Great tips here #familytraveltips

    October 8, 2017 at 5:55 am
  • Plutonium Sox Blog (@PlutoniumSox)

    I totally agree with all this. I hate it when we overpack, I always end up with loads of stuff by my feet and it’s so uncomfortable. I also agree with breaking it up, it’s great to get to where you’re going but not worth rushing and ending up with a hellish day of driving. Thanks for the heads up on the fire tablet deal too, I think we might buy these for Christmas! Thanks for linking up to #familytraveltips

    October 13, 2017 at 4:07 am
  • Sarah

    Some downtime and go with the flow, is the best advice when travelling with kids. My kids also love their atlas and trying to give dad directions!

    November 14, 2017 at 12:11 am

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