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Best Tips for a Road Trip with a Baby or Toddler

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Road trips with babies or toddlers may seem daunting even to intrepid travelers. How will you keep your baby content while on the road? What if your little one cries throughout the journey? How can you make sure the whole family arrives safe and sane? Worry not, fellow parents! These 12 expert tips for a road trip with baby will ensure a smooth ride for all.

Road trips with babies
Tips for road trips with babies and toddlers (Photo credit: AChubykin, Depositphotos.com)

This story is in paid partnership with AAA Mountain West Group, which services Northern CA, AZ, NV, UT, MT, WY, and AK.

1. Don't overdo it.

Keep in mind that babies and toddlers do not have the patience for super-long road trips that you might. If your car trip will last many hours or days, then break the journey into manageable segments with stops for playing, eating, and sleeping. Traci Suppa, author of the Go Big or Go Home blog, advises, “In our experience, the best road trips with young children are short ones. As kids grow, so do their attention spans, allowing them to sit in a car for long stretches and remain immersed in their activities.”

Sleeping baby on road trip
If you're lucky, then your baby or toddler just may take a nap during your road trip! (Photo credit: logoboom, Depositphotos.com)

2. Schedule the right drive times.

Some recommend driving at night during road trips with toddlers or babies. In theory, a nighttime drive is easier for parents who will need to spend less time entertaining little ones in the car. In reality, however, this means parents will reach the destination exhausted and off-schedule. Arriving in the middle of the night might then wake your children, and throw off their circadian rhythms, too. Most importantly, it is much more dangerous to drive at night.

Instead, schedule your drive to take place according to your family's natural schedule while trying to avoid morning and evening rush hour traffic. If your child sleeps well in a car seat, then plan to drive during nap time to make the miles zoom by.

AAA's TripTik Travel Planner will help you map out a baby-proof road trip. This smartphone app is exclusive to AAA Members and provides point-to-point directions, recommended stops, and the best fuel prices along your route.

Happy mom and baby on road trip
Get in the backseat with your baby or toddler for part of your road trip, if possible (Photo credit: Wavebreakmedia, Depositphotos.com)

3. Get in the backseat for playtime with baby.

When traveling with another adult, it helps if one grown-up can ride in the backseat for at least a portion of the trip. Use your time on the road to bond with your baby. Bring along familiar books and toys, as well as a few surprise goodies. Check out our favorite travel toys for babies and toddlers.

Road trip with a toddler holding a toy
Pack some familiar and new toys for your toddler or baby (Photo credit: IgorTishenko, Depositphotos.com)

4. Distract babies and toddlers with road trip snacks.

Bottles for babies provide a tasty diversion during road trips. It's important to keep children safely buckled in their car seats, though, so if your little one is still nursing, then you'll need to schedule stops for mealtime. You can also join your baby in the backseat to spoon-feed puréed baby foods or rice cereal on the go.

For toddlers, pack some healthy travel snacks. Think whole-grain cereals, fruits chopped into bite-sized pieces, and cheese cubes. Be sure to store refrigerated items in a cooler for food safety. Put snacks in separate containers and dole them out one at a time to avoid overwhelming youngsters. If your child is particularly prone to choking, though, then I'd wait to serve snacks and meals at a rest stop, park, or restaurant.

I advise bringing along a “forbidden treat” or two as well. (M&M's Minis are my go-to choice.) Special snacks like this work well to distract children when stuck in a traffic jam.

Toddler eating on a road trip
Snacks keep toddlers content during road trips (Photo credit: CHVart, Depositphotos.com)

5. Get expert roadside assistance.

Reliable roadside assistance is critical, especially with babies and toddlers in tow. Gain peace of mind with AAA's roadside assistance service — the most highly recommended among major roadside assistance providers in the U.S.

AAA Membership includes towing service, fuel delivery, reimbursement for locksmith fees, jump-starts, and tire changes. Use the AAA mobile app to request roadside assistance on the go, and track your technician's route in real-time.

Reliable roadside assistance is a must during a road trip with baby
Reliable roadside assistance is a must (Photo credit: tomwang, Depositphotos.com)

6. Listen to music during the journey.

Music is one of the best tools to keep all ages content and entertained during a family road trip. Music provides a wonderful gateway to other cultures, too. I personally love the Putamayo World Music collection of culturally diverse songs.

Listening to music in another language is an easy and fun way to expose babies and toddlers to the sounds of words of another tongue. A favorite when my kids were wee is Songs in French for Children by Lucienne Vernay and Les Quatres Barbus.

Dr. Jessica Voigts of Wandering Educators suggests making a family playlist for your smartphone. Include a variety of melodies that will appeal to babies as well as their siblings and parents.

Toddler on road trip listening to music
Babies and toddlers love to listen to music on the road (Photo credit: IgorTishenko, Depositphotos.com)

7. Watch movies on the road.

Even if you don't allow your children to watch television or movies at home, you may want to consider bending the rules for road trips with babies and toddlers. Worried your kids will expect a movie every time they get buckled in? Do as my friend and former neighbor, Sara, did with her children and tell them the movies only work when you're far from home.

If your vehicle comes equipped with a rear entertainment system, then you might as well have a few movies on hand to play during a long delay on the road or in case of a whopper of a meltdown. Check out Baby Genius: Favorite Nursery Rhymes. When you'd like to encourage a nap, try Baby Genius Mozart & Sleepytime Friends Music. For additional ideas, take a peek at our picks for the best travel movies for kids.

Buckle up for safety on a road trip with toddlers and babies
Buckle up for safety on a road trip with toddlers and babies (Photo credit: endhals, Depositphotos.com)

8. Be sure to buckle up correctly.

All passengers should remain safely seated and buckled throughout the journey. Did you know that child safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and by 54 percent for toddlers? A 2021 general consumer survey* found that only one in five parents and caregivers seek help installing a car seat or securing a child in a car seat. However, more than half of all car seats inspected by Child Passenger Safety Technicians are correctly installed or used. Thankfully, both AAA Members and non-members can take advantage of free car seat inspections.

Road trip with baby car seat
Stay buckled for safety (Photo credit: monkeybusiness, Depositphotos.com)

9. Pack a roadside emergency kit.

You should also keep a roadside emergency kit in your car for safety's sake. Pack it with bandages, medicines, a flashlight, jumper cables, and other useful items. An easy solution is to purchase a pre-filled kit.

Emergency kit for car
Stay safe with an emergency kit for your car (Photo credit: VadimVasenin, Depositphotos.com)

10. Bring a bucket for babies and toddlers.

I learned this one the hard way. Plan to bring a bucket along on your road trip with baby. Be sure to keep it within arm's distance, too. If your child experiences motion sickness or stomach flu in the car, then you'll thank me. A simple plastic beach pail works well.

Plastic bucket for motion sickness on road trips with babies
Bring a plastic bucket for motion sickness (Photo from Amazon.com)

11. Prepare your car for safety.

Of course, your number one priority during a road trip with a baby or toddler is to arrive at your destination safe and sound. Before setting out, be sure your vehicle is up to date on any oil changes or scheduled maintenance.

Use discounts and travel benefits to save money on your road trip with babies and toddlers
Use discounts and travel benefits to save money on your family road trip (Photo credit: TpaBMa2, Depositphotos.com)

12. Save money on your family road trip.

In addition to trusted roadside assistance, AAA offers discounts on everything from auto insurance and repair services to restaurants, retail shopping, and pet insurance. Plus, AAA Members get travel benefits including discounts on hotels, car rentals, and deals on vacation packages. With these great savings, a AAA Membership could easily pay for itself. Join AAA today and save $10 when you enroll in automatic renewal!

Baby and toddler playing on vacation
Follow these tips for lots of fun when traveling with babies and toddlers (Photo credit: FamVeldman, Depositphotos.com)

Learn more tips for traveling with babies and toddlers.

Before loading up the car, be sure to print our packing list for babies and toddlers.

Worried your child (or you!) might suffer from motion sickness during your road trip? Be prepared by reading these tips for avoiding motion sickness while traveling.

Nothing zaps the fun from a family vacation faster than lack of sleep. Be sure to review these travel sleep tips from a child sleep expert before your trip!

Thinking of taking your little one to Disneyland? Take a look at our recommendations for the best Disneyland rides for babies and toddlers.

Tips for Road Trips with Babies and Toddlers

Save these road trip with baby tips.

For future reference, be sure to save this list of helpful tips for road trips with babies and toddlers. Simply pin the image above to Pinterest. We hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

Do you have any questions or additional tips for planning road trips with babies or toddlers? Let us know in the comments below!

* Analysis commissioned by AAA Mountain West Group.

A Note from The Travel Mama: I will receive monetary compensation from AAA Mountain West Group for this blog post. The views expressed here are those of the author and are for informational purposes only.

 
About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin, MBA, is the founder and editor-in-chief of the popular travel blog, TravelMamas.com. She is an expert in travel with kids and without. As the author of the book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents how to make the most of traveling with babies and children. Colleen loves sharing tips on hotels, cruises, spas, theme parks, and global lifestyle topics. When she is not traveling the world, she lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says

    These are great tips! I’ve found that the key to road tripping with toddlers is to take your time. They can only handle so much in a day!

  2. Joe's Daily says

    These are excellent tips. When road tripping with toddlers, it’s key to make sure you don’t do more than they can handle and that you keep plenty of snacks and things to do on hand.

  3. Jenna Wood says

    I love the tip to get in the backseat to bond with baby/toddler during the drive. My nieces and nephews are typically completely passed out, I guess they are great road trippers!

  4. I love all these tips! My favorite one is probably the bucket. I have also learned the hard way on that one. It is real important one to have LOL.

  5. Your list is great. Traveling with children is not always fun, but can definitely be easier if you plan ahead.

  6. Ha great tip for bringing a bucket! That is something we learned the hard way!!!! We leave at night a lot since my husband works nights and is used to those hours, so that helps a lot.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I don’t usually recommend driving at night because I want parents to be alert on the road, but that works out perfectly if your husband is used to being up at night!

  7. Melissa @ The Staten Island family says

    We will be road tripping this season and I can always use extra advice for making it as seamless as possible for our littlest family members! Thanks for the marvelous tips!

  8. Safety would be a big priority for us and having an emergency kit is a good idea. I definitely think bringing some educational music along is a good idea.

  9. Claudia Krusch says

    When I am planning a road trip with little ones I always plan frequent rest stops. Kids like to get out and stretch their legs. Packing a lot of snacks is a must.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Agreed! I know some people like to power through, but my family likes to stop and get some fresh air from time to time during the journey.

  10. Amy Desrosiers says

    Lots of snacks, drinks, movies, and toys are my only tips. Also, leaving when it is dark helps them to sleep more.

  11. These are all wonderful tips. I think traveling with kids can be hard at times. I always make sure to have activities and food/drinks with.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Smart! You don’t want to be stuck in traffic or far from a restaurant when hunger strikes!

  12. Awesome tips for parents with little kids. The more trips taken the more fun you have

  13. These are all great tips for taking a road trip with a baby and toddler. The good news in that pretty much all of these work for teenagers, too. LOL Our biggest road trip must haves are snacks and kids entertainment.

  14. These are all great tips. We travel a lot with our 4 kids and it’s so important to be prepared and try to prevent boredom.

  15. Bringing a bucket is a great tip! Sadly we’ve needed one a few times!

  16. Jessica Terry says

    These are really amazing tips for taking a road trip with your baby or toddler. I will have to use some of these next time we plan to travel,

  17. gingermommy says

    Taking a road trip with your baby can work really well if you are prepared. Excellent tips!

  18. Ellen Lanin says

    Sometimes the family’s dog can have an upset stomach. We now have a hand towel in the back seat for such a case. The bucket just won’t work.

  19. Ashlynn Marazon says

    We are thinking about planning a road trip in January with our 15 month old. Its about 10 hours and wanted to drive overnight to save time. Is it safe for her to sleep in the carseat overnight?

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Hi Ashlynn – I don’t see why not, but I would definitely check with your pediatrician to be sure! My bigger concern would be for the safety of your family driving overnight. It’s easy to get sleepy when driving at night, especially when you’re used to sleeping at that time of the day. Plus, you’ll start your vacation exhausted. I would encourage you to drive during the day instead so you can make the most of your time away! 🙂

  20. Glamor Medical says

    These are some great tips! I can’t imagine having to do a long road trip with a baby. I have traveled with friends who have young children and I was always on top of keeping them entertained. However, if I were the one driving I would need someone to help in that department!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      I hear you! Road trips with young children without a co-parent or other adult definitely are more challenging, but not impossible. How sweet of you to help with your friends’ children when traveling together!

  21. Neely Moldovan says

    I feel like babies are so easy to travel with but once they hit the toddler stage its tougher!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Neely – So true! Babies sleep so much and are pretty immobile. And then they start to crawl and walk…and look out!

  22. Bryan Carey says

    What always worked best for us was playing movies- our minivan had a DVD player, positioned perfectly for the backseat passengers. Watching their favorite films kept them quiet and focused for the whole trip.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Bryan – Movies are a great option on the road. I have been known to climb into the backseat to watch shows with my kids while my husband drives!

  23. Absolutely great tips! I have been on trips with my kids when they were toddlers that were amazing and that were terrible. I can say from experience that every parent should take these tips to heart.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Beth – Thank you for the feedback! Traveling with little ones isn’t always easy but it’s always an adventure!

  24. Heather says

    So many great tips! We have always gone on road trips since our girls were babies. They got used to them quickly.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Heather – I think it’s so smart to start traveling with children when they are very young. It makes things much easier as they grow. Way to go!

  25. Cristina Petrini says

    I have been traveling by car with my parents since I was a baby, even now as an adult I love to do it in their company. And I must say that with the right precautions it is not an impossible challenge, from words I never gave problems even though I was small!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Cristina – Your parents are very lucky to have such an easy child and you are so blessed to have parents you enjoy traveling with! <3

  26. Brianna says

    Such great tips! I wish I had this when my twins were babies and we were starting to travel with them. We had to learn things the hard way!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Brianna – Oh I learned so many of these lessons the hard way! I hope you still enjoy traveling with your twins now that they are older!

  27. Ntensibe Edgar says

    Well well well….haven’t you mentioned everything that there is, to mention? I personally can’t have a road trip without music playing in the background.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Ntensibe – I do pride myself on being thorough! 🙂 Music on road trips really is key for everyone on road trips, not just children!

  28. Myyellowapron says

    We have two boys and we have been doing long road trips with them since they were babies. So much fun!!

  29. Thanks for these tips! I will send your link to my cousin. She’s always scared to go on a long trip with my nephew. This should give her a pretty good idea what to do and what to expect.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Kat – Thank you so much for sharing our road trip tips with your cousin! I hope she finds them helpful!

  30. Chloe Arnold says

    SO many good tips! We did a road trip with my baby and toddler last year and definitely over did it. We learned the hard way. If we get the courage to do it again, I’ll definitely recheck this list again and again so we DONT have a repeat of last time Ha. I need ALLLLLL the tips after that experience

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Chloe – I feel for you! Been there and done that, too! I hope your next trip with your little one is easier for all!

  31. Christian Foremost says

    Thanks for these tips! Im sure new mommies are itching to travel again and these tips will surely be helpful!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Christian – Road trips are a great way to start traveling with little ones, for sure!

  32. Clarice says

    This is timely! We are planning to make a 10-hour trip and is a bit hesitate due to our baby. Thank you for sharing these tips. Will make sure to travel early and make more stops so, we won’t be driving during the night. Thank you for sharing the app.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Clarice – So happy to share these tips with you! Best wishes for a safe and fun trip with your baby!

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