This past month my husband and I decided to visit family. After two canceled flights and trips, we decided to road trip! It had been two years since we’ve seen family, so we decided it’d been long enough.
There was just one problem: 1,000 miles, 16 hours, and a high-energy two year old. Until recently, the furthest we’d ever driven with her was to Santa Fe. So you can imagine our anxiety about how she would handle the long trip. In fact, she’s been known to lose her cool in just plain Albuquerque traffic.
So I did what any good mom would do. I asked the internet. The answers varied, and we filtered through what seemed doable for us. While there were lots of things that worked, some things didn’t, and some we didn’t need. So here’s my best advice for a long road trip with a toddler.
The first concern was storage. She can’t reach across the car and loosen her seatbelt to grab something. So we needed to figure out how to let her grab her own things without assistance. We started with a seat-back organizer, as well as our old diaper caddy. Lastly, we found a car organizer. This one has spaces for wipes, a changing pad, and trash bags. In one half, we stocked up on diapers, wipes, face and hand wipes, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes. The second half held all the snacks and water bottles for the ride, for mom and dad, and for kiddo. We also bought this travel tray which expanded her snack space!
Next up was the most important: entertainment. We grabbed a few of her favorite tiny toys from the Target dollar spot for the seatback organizer. We grabbed her Dimple Digits, color teacher, and magnetic drawing board and placed them in her diaper caddy. It was also filled with lots of books and her favorite stuffed animals. And of course, a pad of paper and an eight-pack of jumbo crayons because she loves to color! One of the best pieces of advice we got: screentime doesn’t matter in a car ride. So we decided to grab an Amazon Fire for her. We loaded up some games and downloaded her favorite movies from Disney+. And our favorite road trip toy: SQUIGZ! These little suckers stick to the windows and provide lots of entertainment.
Best Road Trip Tips
We drove for two hours and then stopped to let her run around and get her wiggles out. She got to go into the gas station at every stop and pick out a snack. This way she was excited to get back into the car to eat her Pringles. One of the recommendations was to wrap new toys in paper and let her open a new toy every hour! So we went to Target before we left and grabbed a few of her tiny toys from the dollar spot.
When we drove into the sun, we had sunshades on the windows and sunglasses stocked up. She rotated through her toys, and, after 11 hours, she was starting to get frustrated, so we handed her Dug Days on Disney+ until we got to the hotel. The tablet was our last resort in order to save the battery.
Remember that this is an unusual experience for your kiddo. While kids thrive and rely on routine, rules and routines can go out the window on a road trip. Screen time is unlimited, and snacks aren’t always healthy on a road trip. They nap when they nap.
Remember to have fun and eat at new restaurants on breaks, stop at roadside attractions, and try your hardest to keep your cool. They will have moments when they are losing it. Just find a distraction, and pull over at the next gas station for a wiggle break!
Check out more road trip tips, especially for older kids and multiples!
Originally published November 2021.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.