We love to travel! I’ve been to 41 countries in my 33 years of life and have taken bazillions of road trips. Heck, Maxwell took 10 plane rides before he was 5 months old! (Here are my tips for traveling with a baby via airplane.) Our longest car ride to date with two kids was from Texas to Florida. I put together a list of 16 tips for road trips with toddlers and preschoolers.
*A giant thank you to Kia for letting my family borrow a Kia Sorento for our 12 hour road trip to Seaside, FL! What a difference a car can make!
After meeting the Kia team at Mom 2.0, a blog conference, and then checking out their fleet of eco friendly cars in San Diego, CA I was sold on driving a Kia Sorento for our family road trip this summer. I can’t get over that 10 years ago Kia was at the bottom, and over the next decade, Kia dedicated itself to quality craftsmanship. In 2016 Kia earned the top spot on JD Power and associates study of best initial quality in the entire car industry, above all of the luxury car brands! That’s impressive.
*This post contains affiliate links.
16 Tips for Road Trips with Toddlers and Preschoolers
If you’re new here we have a 1.5 year old and a 3.5 year old and we drove to Seaside, Florida from Texas. According to Google Maps, 788 miles should take a little less than 12 hours. It took us about 15 hours. I put together a list of tips I wish I would have seen before we set off on on our crazy road trip adventure. #9 ensures 4 hours of peaceful driving, don’t lose kids shoes with #14, and if you get nothing else out this article, pack whole apples for car snacks!
1. Dry Car Snacks
Next to #9, this is the most important tip for my hungry crew! I love to use diaper boxes for traveling. The boxes are sturdy, have built in handle, and I have plenty of them on hand. I rip the flaps off of the diaper box and fill it with easy, healthy snacks. I also put the snack cups and paper towels in this box too. (These snack cups are the best!)
Here are a few of our favorite car snacks
- Gold fish
- Trail mix
- Apples (Whole apples are the best because they are not messy and take little kids a long time to eat.)
2. Cooler Bag Car Snacks
We use a medium sized soft cooler so that it can fit on the floor in the middle of the back seat of the car. We also love this kind of cooler for bringing snacks and drinks to the beach. At some point on the road trip, we grab a bag of ice from the gas station to keep our cooler cool. Plus my kids love ice cubes! (This cooler is very similar to the one that we use.)
Road trip cooler snacks
- Peeled whole carrots (same idea as the apples above)
- 2 no spill 360 cups filled with water
- Cut up strawberries in zip lock bags
- Bottles of water
- Yogurt pouches
- Ice packs
3. Car Activities
I fill another diaper box with car activities including books that I know my 3.5 year old loves. I like to pick a few books that he knows by heart and can “read” to his 1.5 year old sister. (Pout Pout Fish and Brown Bear, Brown Bear are always winners!) I usually buy a few new books too.
Travel toys for a 3 year old
Best toddler travel toys
4. Best Car Activities for Toddlers
Post It notes and pipe cleaners will bring your toddler and preschoolers hours of fun in the car!
Post It Notes
Pick up a few packs of Post It notes in different colors and let the kids go wild sticking them all over the car. Or make a fancy container like the one below and hand it to your toddler. Sticky notes on an oatmeal container, who knew that could provide so much entertainment? Oh and store the extra sticky notes inside of the container so that you can remake this fancy contraption if necessary.
As for pipe cleaners, I got this idea from my friend Cassie who wrote a blog post for C.R.A.F.T years ago. You can read all of her great ideas to keep kids busy on road trips with pipe cleaners here. Since my kids are both really young their favorite thing to do is make loops and connect the loops. My 3 year old enjoys stringing Cheerios too.
Feel free to judge, but electronics are a must for us on long car rides! I’m all about that iPad. My 1.5 year old could care less about shows, but the 3.5 year old will almost watch an entire movie. So, if the little one is sleeping, I insist the big guy watch a movie. We have about 10 of his favorite movies/shows downloaded on the iPad, and the iPad perfectly wedges between the 2 front seats the Kia Sorento.
6. Be Flexible with Pit Stops and Find Playgrounds
There will be lots of pit stops when road tripping with babies, toddlers, and/or preschoolers. Our 3.5 year old is potty trained so we stopped multiple times for him to use the restroom. We typically tried to combine that with getting gas, changing the 1.5 year olds diaper and possibly grabbing coffee or a real meal. If you’re traveling through small towns there might not be playgrounds readily available so one thing I like to do is search Google maps for Elementary schools. If it’s the weekend or summer, likely no one is on the playground and it’s the perfect place to stop and play.
How to find playground while traveling
- Search “Elementary school” on google maps
- Download the app “Playground Buddy”
7. Music and Car Dance Parties
My kids love a good dance party. At home, we turn the music up really loud and “do circles” around the dining room table. Dance parties cure most bad moods even in the car. Find a song with a good beat and turn it up loud! It’s even better if your kids are familiar with the song or you have a few favorites ready to go on a Spotify playlist or a CD. Maxwell’s very favorite right now is the Hamster Song. (Listen at your own risk, kids love it, but it’s fairly annoying.)
8. Learn Something New
Since you’ve got lots of time, why not teach the kids something new! I found number flash cards in the Target Dollar Spot and decided to teach Maxwell to recognize numbers 0-9. On one side of the card was the number (3) and on the back side was for example, 3 apples. Sometimes I quizzed him, sometimes he quizzed me, sometimes he would ask for a hint and I would hand him the card so that he could count the items on the back of the card. We worked on numbers in sets of 3. So, we started with 0-2. Once he mastered those we would try and find those numbers on road signs. We did this in spontaneous spurts of 10 minutes or whenever he asked to “learn numbers”. There was also a prize involved, ha! It worked surprisingly well, upon arriving home he can recognize all 10 numbers!
9. Leave Early or Drive Through the Night
Driving through the night is not an option for us, but I do know lots of people that swear by this method. Mama needs sleep or everyone will be grumpy! We were on the road by 4am to get 4 hours under our belt while the kids were sleeping. When both kids were up and ready to move by 8am, we stopped and had breakfast. Here’s picture proof we were on the road by 4:36am! For the record, I love the navigation system in the Kia Sorento. It’s bright, user friendly, includes street signs, speed limit sign, and you can see how many miles until the next turn on the driver’s dashboard.
10. Leave Room Between the Car Seats
We are going to talk about car organization in #12, but I think this is worthy of its very own bullet point. It’s very simple: Do not pack anything to go between the 2 car seats in case you need to jump back there and heal the world! Or console a total meltdown, basically the same thing. I only had to use this tactic once per 777 mile trek, but when you need it, you really need it.
11. Window shades
The Kia Sorento comes with window shades built into the back windows! You can roll down the window and the shades stay up. It’s amazing! I’m a big fan. If your car does not have built in shades, you can buy these that suction cup to any window.
12. Recline Car Seat
This is especially important for our 17 month old. Our Britax Marathon car seats have 7 recline positions and we adjust hers to recline to the 7th position. It ensures she is ready for sleep at any moment! Also fair to note here, dress kids comfortable and bring their favorite sleep item in the car. Don’t pack it in the suitcase like I did one time. My kids need their “blanks”! After all, #RoadTripGoals= sleep! Also, I spy a lone Cheerio on the “blank”, ha!
13. How to Organize the Car for a Road Trip with Kids
The next 3 tips all have to do with how and where to put things in your car. I swear just knowing where stuff is hiding in the car is half the battle. I cut the flaps off of diaper boxes and use them to store dry snacks and books/activities on the floor of the back seat. The soft cooler goes in the middle.
14. Road Trip Shoe Trick
Andy invented this trick after hunting for kid shoes at multiple pit stops. Stow kiddo shoes in the space behind the carseat to make them easy find.
15. Hand Sanitizer
Leave it in the center console. Oh and this is my favorite kind. Those gas stations bathrooms are gross, y’all.
16. Diaper Bags & Trash Bags
The diaper bag should include bazillions of diapers, a ridiculous amount of wipes, and at least one change of clothes for each kid. I pack these goodies in my everyday backpack diaper bag and make sure it is the last thing packed in the trunk of the car. If you have a diaper situation, you’re stopping anyway so I prefer the diaper bag in the trunk versus at my feet.
If you are looking for more tips for traveling with littles, I’ve got you covered:
- Tips for long road trips with a baby
- Tips for traveling with a baby via airplane
- Traveling with a mobile lap baby via airplane
- Tips for flying with a toddler
Did I miss any tips? I’d love to hear! Thank you again to Kia for letting my family borrow a Sorento. Having extra space is so nice on the road. Not to mention packing all things baby and kid in the trunk!