How to Road Trip with a Toddler

It’s been a busy month for us already, and out just started. This past weekend, Chris and I took Friday and Monday off for a looking weekend, heading up to upstate New York for his family reunion. Chris’s mom is from a small town east of Syracuse called Canastota.

If you look it up on a map, you’ll see there’s not a ton there, especially in comparison to where we live in northern Virginia. The family reunion was on Saturday, leaving us with a lot of free time (and two long car rides) to keep our busy two-year-old entertained.

I have to be honest – I was nervous. We hadn’t taken Abbie on a long car ride since the last time we went to the reunion – two years ago when she was only 7 months old. I wanted to be as prepared as possible when we got there with things to do and fun for Abbie – after all, this was her first long trip away in a while. I also wanted the car ride to go as smoothly as possible and to avoid meltdowns if I could. So what did I do?


How to Road Trip with a Toddler

We left super early. We had a seven hour drive ahead of us, so we packed the night before and got started super early, leaving at 4 am in the hopes Abbie might go back to sleep for a few hours before we stopped for breakfast. She didn’t go back to sleep, but it still worked out – she didn’t mind the car ride in the dark in the morning and breakfast ended up being the perfect way to break it up. It also meant that early check-in at the hotel at noon was perfect timing, and we were able to get Abbie down for a nap in the afternoon.

We had car activities ready. Coloring books, toys, and our Kindle were lifesavers for us. Abbie was able to entertain herself quietly in the backseat, and the Kindle bought us time when Abbie was close to a meltdown. Well worth the screen time.

I looked up activities ahead of time. Though there’s not a ton of stuff around, it’s a family friendly area. I found a childrens’ museum that we hit on Saturday as well as a zoo we went to on Sunday. It gave Abbie a chance to play and get some energy out, and she got to do something different than her norm… even if she was asking to go to Target the entire trip (not kidding, she really was).

We made sure to get outside. The reunion was held at a lodge with tons of outdoor space, so I took full advantage and let Abbie run around and go on a walk with me. She adores being outside, even if she’s just walking… in fact, she grabbed my hand asking for a walk more than once. It was a great way to distract her – the reunion happened during her normal nap time and she would’ve been much crankier had she not had that time outside.

We tried harder to be patient. Abbie was in a new place, with new people, and she’s at an age where it’s hard to tell her what’s going on and know for sure if she understands. It was just a fact that meltdowns were going to happen sometimes. Abbie is very much a child of routine, and we knew that disturbing that routine would throw her off. We made sure to keep that in mind and work to anticipate any issues rather than just reacting to them.

What do you think? Any other tips for road tripping with a toddler?


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  1. Roksana
    August 5, 2015 / 3:52 pm

    We did three approx. 16 hour road trips with our then 2.5 year old (Chicago-Colorado, then DC-Florida) and what worked for us was leaving late and driving through the night! Also, having lots of snacks, tablet (I think we watched Frozen several times on repeat) and singing songs once she woke up around breakfast šŸ™‚

    • Jess
      September 2, 2015 / 12:33 pm

      Smart, great tips! I don’t know how our parents managed without technology!

  2. August 6, 2015 / 12:23 pm

    We’re planning a trip to Chicago with both kids soon (5+ hours in the car each way) and I’m totally freaking out about it. My children despise car rides, so I’m sure the trip will be an extra form of hell. Oy. šŸ™ I may be sitting in the back with them and drinking.
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    • Jess
      September 2, 2015 / 12:34 pm

      Hahaha. You’ll be okay, seriously. Just be as prepared as you can and maybe drive during the night/early morning if you can. It really worked well for us.