Thinking of booking a road trip and wondering how it would fare with a baby or toddler in tow? Find our tried and true on-the-road advice, to not only survive, but enjoy your family road trip.
Disclosure: This site contains affiliate links for products and services I recommend. When you make a purchase through an affiliate link, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Read our full disclosure here.
We’ve always been a road trip family.
Nothing makes me feel so free as hitting the open road, wind blowing in my hair, twisting and turning through mountains and stretches of dessert. Stopping at off-the-beaten-path places, winding our way through our country’s scenic back alleys, always kept us feeling alive.
It’s not a feeling I planned to give up after having children.
That said, I had no false notions that continuing to road trip with a baby, then toddler (then both!) would be relaxing and peaceful.
Family road tripping certainly does present its own set of hurdles. Packing, diaper changes, breastfeeding, snacks – it can all seem very daunting!
Take it from someone who road tripped 1800 miles with a toddler and a four month old…
We’re sharing our tried and true family road trip tips including:
- Planning your route and stops
- What to pack
- How to diaper on the go
- Breastfeeding during a road trip
- Road tripping with two+ kids
14 Tips to Help You Survive a Road Trip With a Baby or Toddler
Tips for Planning Your Route and Stops
Stop Frequently, Especially When Babies are Very Young
Small babies shouldn’t sit in a carseat for more than two hours. For this reason, shorter road trip itineraries and routes are ideal if you have a small baby.
Even older babies and toddlers, however, get stir crazy in the car. Frequent stops are pertinent if you want a family road trip to be successful.
Be strategic with stops. Plan to have dinner somewhere, get out and stretch, maybe there’s a shop you can kill some time at. The best part of road-tripping are these hidden stops, anyway!
I always search for nearby playgrounds or restaurants with jungle gyms to get some energy out, too!
Time Drives With Naps / Sleep
When children are older and able to stay in their carseats for longer periods of time, drive while they’re asleep.
Nap time is a great opportunity to burn through a chunk of driving. We also hit the road super early, before the kids fully wake up. Simply pack the car the night before, or quietly in the morning, move the kids from their beds to their carseats, and drive. If it’s swift, my kids will usually stay asleep, or shut their eyes within minutes.
We’ve done the same at night. Complete the typical bedtime routine wherever you’re stopped, and put the kids to bed in the car for a couple of hours. Again, if we move them quickly, we can get them from car to bed while they stay asleep.
Under no circumstances should you leave your children sleeping overnight in their seats, while you are unable to monitor them.
Avoid a Road Trip Through the Mountains if Traveling With a Small Baby.
No where in any article, anywhere on the internet, was I warned what a road trip through the mountains would do to my baby’s ears.
Driving from New York to Dallas, we took an east coast route through the Blue Ridge mountains. My four month old screamed for hundreds of miles because the change and altitude and pressure hurt his ears. Only when we hit the Central US, did the screaming stop. Don’t make the same mistake!!
Packing Your Baby / Toddler for a Road Trip
Carseat Safety is a Top Priority
Of course if you’re road tripping from home the carseat situation is already taken care of.
When you’re flying and renting a car, though, consider the logistics of the carseats first. Do you need to get them on the plane? Will they fit in the rental car, along with luggage? Do you want to purchase a travel carseat or rent?
Personally, I am not comfortable renting carseats (you can read why here).
Consider travel carseats. Lightweight, portable, and approved by proper US authorities, these car seat and booster seat alternatives make travel a whole lot easier!
Keep in mind that there is no safe place to install a carseat safely in an RV. We’re saving our RV road trip ideas until we are out of the baby and toddler phase!
Keep Your Baby Bag Expertly Packed and Accessible
The key to a successful road trip is keeping the baby bag – basically your essentials – accessible and expertly packed. Anticipate what your little one might need during a trip, if you’re unable to stop, and keep it close.
Some things I always keep within arms reach are drinks, pouches, safe snacks (no chocking hazard foods), baby wipes, toys, tablets, books, a binky, light blankets, plastic bags, and essential medications (like our epipens).
Bring Activities to Keep Kids Busy
Unless you want to hear are we there yet the entire time, distractions – and many of them – are pertinent to your family road trip. Toddlers have like a six second attention spans, so we always bring more than necessary to keep ours busy!
Some favorite road trip activities we bring with us for our toddler are reusable stickers, water paints, busy boards, and tablets.
New is always more exciting – you’ll get more mileage out of toys your kids haven’t played with before. See what I did there!
Also, always have a spare charger for those tablets.
Bring a Pop Up High-Chair
Have I mentioned this pop-up high chair before? Probably…because I’m obsessed with it and take it on every trip.
No matter where we stop – rest stops, hotels, campgrounds, AirBNBs – I have an easy place to feed and contain my kid. It’s lightweight, fits in my diaper bag, and assembles in literally six seconds.
We use this chair – and it’s literally the best and cheapest travel high chair I’ve found, too!
Diapering and Potty Training On The Go
Stop Frequently and Bring a Portable Potty
I’m not going to sugar coat it, taking a road trip while potty training your toddler is going to be challenging.
First, we only do short trips during potty training. Even then, we stop frequently – at least every two hours – if keeping our son in underwear. It helps to time this with other stops but it’s not always feasible.
Having a portable potty can make all the difference if you need to stop without a rest stop in sight.
This potty is inexpensive and folds up for use just about anywhere on the go! Of course you always have the option of using diapers or pullups while on the road, too.
Learn to Change Your Baby or Toddler Standing Up
Hands down one of the easiest diapering fixes for the road is to learn to change your baby standing up.
It’s no guarantee rest stops or restaurants will have changing tables. Stand up changes give moms and dads the ability to give baby a fresh diaper anywhere.
Taking a Breastfed Baby on a Road Trip
Get a Manual Pump if You’re Breastfeeding
Under no circumstances should you nurse while your car is moving. Even if your baby is in her carseat. And yes, I know people who have done this…
A simple alternative is to purchase a manual hand pump.
I personally used the Medela Hand Pump. It’s electric free and comes with a bottle attachment. When I’m unable to stop to nurse, I pump into the bottle, change out the pump parts for the bottle nipple attachment, and bottle feed the baby in the car.
The Haakaa is another popular, easy to travel with hand pump.
Pack Nursing Tanks and a Cover (if you’re more comfortable)
Wearing nursing tanks cuts down on packing and makes nursing on the go so much more convenient, especially during the younger years.
Just a personal preference, but I was always more comfortable using a nursing cover out in public, as well. I felt more at ease at a rest stop, a restaurant, or even sitting in my car if I wasn’t exposed.
Know Public Nursing Laws
Breastfeeding is legal and protected in all fifty states, including private establishments and Federal property. Some states have additional protective measures: you can find an entire list of nursing laws by state here.
It’s upsetting and sad that some still condemn mothers for feeding their babies in public. At least know that you are legally protected and have a right to feed your baby when he’s hungry anywhere you’d be able to otherwise bottle feed.
Road Tripping With Two or More Kids
Separate the Kids in the Car
So you’re ready to hit the road with your kids, but maybe you’re dreading the possibility of fighting. It happens.
But you can absolutely mitigate the fighting by at least keeping the kids apart (unless you have three or more and no third row). I’ve also put a piece of luggage between my kids’ carseats so they can’t throw things at each other. Again, it’s happened…
Pack Similarly for Each Kid
Unless you have a small baby who clearly has her own set of needs, pack the same toys and snacks for each.
It’s easy to overlook, but nothing ruins a road trip like a three year old whining that his brother got the apple flavored bar. Even with toys, we try to pack similarly so they’re not jealous. They each have the same tablet, too.
Do you enjoy road tripping with your little ones? Have any of these tips worked for you? Let us know what you’d add or like to see on this list!
Save these family road trip tips to Pinterest: