In life, it pays to be prepared – especially when life takes you on a road trip with a toddler, and you’re faced with all sorts of unforeseen travel disruptions, from traffic to toilet troubles. But being able to accept that these kinds of annoyances can (and often do!) crop up is key, because it allows you to prepare for them in advance and then navigate those situations as smoothly as possible once you’re on the road.
In this guide, we’re walking you through how to best prepare for your road trip with a toddler, like having your little one’s essentials (think: diapers, baby wipes, snacks, entertainment) organized in durable, reusable Stasher bowls or bags that you can whip out with a moment’s notice.
Pack Your Car Strategically
First thing’s first: planning your packing list and then packing the car. One of the benefits of traveling by car is that you can (usually) bring a lot more with you than what would fit in an airplane carry-on bag, and you can also prepare your toddler’s area of the car ahead of time rather than scrambling to get them settled ten minutes before takeoff.
Once you’ve figured out your own road trip packing list, consider what your little one might need to feel content — this will depend on their age, how they usually handle car rides, the length of the road trip, and more. To avoid the experience of feeling like you’ve forgotten something, reflect on the following categories:
Comfort and Sleep
- Car seat
- Window coverings for daytime naps
- Pajamas and other sleep supplies to enforce bedtime routine if you’re traveling at night
- Healthy snacks that won’t exacerbate car sickness, like plain crackers and dry cereal
- Protein-rich snacks like roasted chickpeas or homemade trail mix stored in a Snack Bag
- Water, juice, and/or milk (keep it cool in a lunchbox with homemade ice packs – water frozen in a Stasher Pocket Bag!)
- Easily transportable toys, like a favorite stuffed animal or handheld game
- Tablet (if applicable) and toddler-friendly headphones
- Paper and crayons for older toddlers (keep it altogether in a Half Gallon Bag to minimize loose crayons!)
- Board books
- Audio books
- Diaper changing supplies (if needed)
- Sterilized baby wipes, toilet tissues, antibacterial wipes, and hand sanitizer corralled in a Stand-Up Mid Bag or Go Bag for extra-easy access
- Change of clothes
- Portable changing mat
- Trash bags to keep the car tidy (and to keep used diapers and baby wipes contained!)
In-Car Entertainment and Activities for Your Toddler
If you’re road tripping during the daytime, be sure to pack toddler-friendly activities to keep your little one occupied between naps. In-car entertainment for toddlers might look like:
A playlist of your toddler’s favorite music.
Put together a playlist of your toddler’s favorite songs that you can play on the car stereo or via toddler-friendly headphones. And when it’s time for a nap, consider playing calming nature sounds or other sleep-inducing music to help your toddler settle (just make sure the driver doesn’t get sleepy, too!).
Children’s audio books.
Tired of listening to Baby Shark on repeat? (Speaking from experience here!) Children’s audio books are a great alternative to music because they can help your little one get lost in a story and help time pass quickly.
Pre-download TV shows or movies on a tablet.
Before your trip, download your episodes of your toddler’s favorite tv shows or movies onto a tablet so that you can access them without wifi or cellular data while you’re on the road. Don’t forget the headphones!
Toddler’s favorite books.
For non-tech activities, consider bringing along a few of your toddler’s favorite books (or a new one as a special roadtrip treat) to give them something to look at besides a tablet. We love the All Aboard! board books, because they’re about a train ride through different landscapes – perfect for a road trip!
Drawing with mess-free markers or crayons on a notepad.
For older toddlers, bring along a notepad and mess-free markers or crayons in Half Gallon Bag. You can even designate the notepad as their special road trip notepad, so that they can gradually fill it up with doodles from their adventures.
Sticker books are also a great way to keep toddlers busy in the car while also giving them an opportunity to be curious, creative, and independent. If you’re road tripping to a new place that your toddler’s never been, like the beach, you can even pick up a themed picture book that helps you to gently show your toddler what to expect in this new place.
Drive at Night Where Possible
Perhaps the easiest way to road trip with a toddler is to drive at night, when your little one is naturally sleepy and relaxed. Driving at night helps you clear as many miles as possible while your toddler sleeps soundly, minimizing many of the stresses that can crop up from having a toddler cooped up in the car for an extended period of time.
Keep Your Itinerary Flexible
If possible, keep your travel itinerary flexible when traveling with a toddler. By having a loose schedule, you give yourself space to deal with bumps in the road like frequent bathroom stops, car troubles, or car sickness, all of which can add additional stress in the face of a rigid itinerary. So when organizing connections (like ferries or trains) and estimating arrival times, try to fold in a little extra time and create a flexible itinerary.
Stretch Your Legs
Don’t forget the importance of breaks! Just like making time for bathroom trips and miscellaneous mishaps, try to make space in your travel schedule for stops where everyone can stretch their legs, go for a walk, and enjoy some fresh air. Before piling into the car for your adventure, do a little research ahead of time on rest stops and popular stopping points on your route that can break the car journey up.
Some roadside areas have playgrounds and climbing frames, which can help your toddler let off a little steam and get nice and tired for their next nap. Having a list of playgrounds or parks you can visit along the way is also a helpful way to reward your toddler for good car behavior and help ensure the rest of the trip is smooth, too.
Toddler road trip checklistSo, what’s on our toddler road trip checklist?
- Car seat
- Window coverings
- Pajamas and sleep supplies
- Snacks and drinks
- Tablet and headphones
- Non-tech toys like books, paper and markers, and stickers
- Hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes
- Diaper-changing supplies
- An extra set of clothes
- Trash bags
- And, of course, Stasher bags and Stasher bowls to keep everything tidy and organized!
While mishaps are pretty inevitable when traveling with a toddler, there’s comfort in knowing that you’re prepared for those eventualities. By planning ahead, you’re setting yourself up for success and ensuring that you’ll have an awesome road trip adventure with your tiny sidekick. Safe travels!