11 tips to survive a road trip with a toddler

11 essentials to let the good times roll on your family’s next long-distance voyage.

11 tips  to survive a road trip with a toddler

If baby loves it, list it.

Make a list (probably on your phone) of fun songs and hand games that you know your little one enjoys. When your child gets cranky, it can put the pressure on and make it difficult to think of a solution. Keep baby’s go-to list of songs handy to knock out grumps fast.

Think “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” “Apples and Bananas,” and “The Wheels on the Bus” for starters.

Play luggage Tetris.

Luggage that you won’t need until you arrive at your destination should be packed at the bottom of the pile or in the trunk. Things you might use along the journey should be stowed within reach for easy access. This might include snacks, one change of clothes for little one, diapers and wipes, toys, books, and water.

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Call not-shotgun.

If you are traveling with a partner, take turns sitting in the backseat with your tot to keep each other company and to serve as entertainment and comfort. Sometimes the easiest way to keep your babe happy is to simply be present. And you know what they say: If baby’s happy, everyone’s happy.

Bonus: If you can keep your tot content by providing your services, you won’t need to pull over as often to deal with fussing.

Everybody out!

Anytime you stop for food, fuel, or fun, make sure the whole family pops out to stretch their legs and use the restroom…even if they don’t think they need to go. This will save you from making extra stops along the way.

When you gotta go...

Have a potty training tot? You may not always have a ton of notice when your little one needs to go (you know, like more than four seconds). Keep a child’s potty in the back of the car for those times when your tot really needs to go and there’s no rest stop in sight.

Treat your little one.

Not sure what toys to bring to keep your tot entertained? Buy an inexpensive backpack and fill it to the brim with special “road trip”toys.

Check the $1 Spot at Target or your favorite dollar store for inexpensive toys like coloring books and cardboard puzzles.

Toys like an on-the-go magnetic doodle board, Water Wow coloring books, and peg stackers are some of my tot’s travel favorites.

If you have an older kiddo, invest in a few classics, like Road Trip Bingo or Mad Libs.

Road trip! The words don’t really inspire the same thoughts they did in the days before kiddos, huh, mama?

Glam selfies are replaced with handing over your phone to keep the little one entertained. Journey and Foreigner are replaced with “52 Sing-A-Long Silly Songs!” on Pandora (joy…). Cruising with the windows down is replaced with “It’s too cold, mama,” and “Uh oh. Shoe ‘fell’ out the window.”

Okay, those glorious days may be over, but road trips with your whole crew may be even more lively (and definitely more exciting)—with a few key planning strategies that is.

Whether you are cashing in some of your hard-earned vacation time, moving cross-country, or simply want to make the most of your next three-day weekend, we’ve got you covered.

These 11 tips for ensuring a peaceful journey for your tot will keep your gang rolling along.

Park it.

Instead of your usual fast food haunt, opt for a park or another open space for taking a pit stop with your crew. Let your tot run around and get those wiggles out before hopping back in the car. Bring a picnic blanket or Monkey Mat for snacks and diaper changes. Simple sandwiches and a variety of healthy finger foods are always a safe bet.

Save money, eat healthier, and have more fun on the trip? Yes, please.

Timing is everything.

Road trippin!!! Baby girls first road trip...wish us luck! #EstherKate #babygirl #firstroadtrip #amarilloherewecome

A photo posted by J O Y O L S O N (@joyeolson) on

Know your toddler’s sleep schedule and use it to your advantage. If you are setting off during the day, eat lunch before nap time and time the trip so you are hopping on the highway right around baby’s nap time. (Stopping and starting at lights may not be conducive to sleep.)

If you are a night owl (or want to avoid rush hour), start the journey a little before your tot’s bedtime to clock in a few hours of smooth sailing while your little one sleeps. Just remember to fill up on gas, use the restroom, and stock up on snacks before little eyes start to droop. Stopping the car is guaranteed to wake up your tot.

Last but not least, make sure to pack the essentials for your excursion.

Water bottles for the whole crew. I love the CamelBak Eddy Kids bottle for my two-year-old.

Easy, healthy, and yummy snacks. Think nuts, whole grain bread, bananas, apples, Cheerios, pretzels, raisins, baby carrots, cheese cubes, fruit/veggie squeeze packs, or simple sandwiches like PB&J.

Blankets and pillows to make sure everyone is comfy (even with the A/C on full blast). ❄

Good music. Make sure to bring along a few options that everyone likes (read: you don’t need to listen to Raffi the whole time). My family usually agrees on The Beatles, The Shins, Foster the People, and Jimmy Buffett. ?

Travel games. Not necessarily anything that needs to be packed, but just something to keep in your arsenal. Games like Simon Says and a sitting version of the Hokey Pokey are usually a hit with toddlers.

A diaper changing station. I love the wipe-clean surface and the pockets on the Skip Hop Grab and Go Pronto changing station. I also recommend the SkipHop Grab and Go Wet/Dry Bag to keep dirty diapers contained when you aren’t near a trash can.

Hand sanitizer. A must when public restroom facilities just don’t cut it.

Adorable baby sunglasses. Nuff said.

Books! Pack options that don’t take up a ton of space and will keep baby interested for extended periods of time. Or, if your little one is happy just listening, audio books are a great option for the whole family.

Give yourself plenty of wiggle room.

I’m not talking about leg room, either. (My family’s go-to ride is a Honda Fit.) No, I’m talking about the most precious asset on vacation. Time.

Setting a hard deadline for arriving at your destination is a recipe for stress and turmoil. Allow yourself at least 25% more time than your favorite app says it will take to make the drive.

Between poopsplosions, snack breaks, and group naps (a must when the whole family is sleep-deprived), you will be glad you factored in more flex time.

Make it a PJ party!

What better way to ensure a comfortable ride for everyone than by dressing in your favorite comfy-cozy jammies? And what a great excuse to buy a cute new pair of PJs, mama!

Not interested in waltzing into a gas station at 1am in your pajamas? At least consider yoga pants and a super-soft shirt, girl.

PJs are great for the kiddos, not only because they are comfortable, but because they are fun! Sell the trip as a pajama slumber party and you are sure to make the trip more spirited for everyone.

Protip—If your little one is still in diapers, choose PJs that are easy to take off (read: no snaps), and have an extra pair (or two) within reach for any unexpected surprises.

This is my one trick to get baby to sleep (and it always works!)

There's a reason why every mom tells you to buy a sound machine.

So in my defense, I grew up in Florida. As a child of the sunshine state, I knew I had to check for gators before sitting on the toilet, that cockroaches didn't just scurry, they actually flew, and at that point, the most popular and only sound machine I had ever heard of was the Miami Sound Machine.

I was raised on the notion that the rhythm was going to get me, not lull me into a peaceful slumber. Who knew?!

Well evidently science and, probably, Gloria Estefan knew, but I digress.

When my son was born, I just assumed the kid would know how to sleep. When I'm tired that's what I do, so why wouldn't this smaller more easily exhausted version of me not work the same way? Well, the simple and cinematic answer is, he is not in Kansas anymore.

Being in utero is like being in a warm, soothing and squishy spa. It's cozy, it's secure, it comes with its own soundtrack. Then one day the spa is gone. The space is bigger, brighter and the constant stream of music has come to an abrupt end. Your baby just needs a little time to acclimate and a little assist from continuous sound support.

My son, like most babies, was a restless and active sleeper. It didn't take much to jolt him from a sound sleep to crying like a banshee. I once microwaved a piece of pizza, and you would have thought I let 50 Rockettes into his room to perform a kick line.

I was literally walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around the house, watching the television with the closed caption on.

Like adults, babies have an internal clock. Unlike adults, babies haven't harnessed the ability to hit the snooze button on that internal clock. Lucky for babies they have a great Mama to hit the snooze button for them.

Enter the beloved by all—sound machines.

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9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.


Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.


Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.


The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.


The Snoo bassinet


Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!


Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

best baby sound machine

The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.


Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!


Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

In the first few months of life, babies can spend up to 17 hours a day sleeping, so choosing a mattress that is safe (read: no chemicals!) and comfortable is incredibly important.

Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.


Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

best baby swaddle

There are baby swaddles and then there is Sleepea. Similar to the brand's swaddle that is built into the Snoo, the Sleepea is magic for multiple reasons. First, it's got mesh panels ensuring baby never overheats. Second, the zipper zips from the top or the bottom, so you can change the baby's diaper in the middle of the night without ever waking them. Third, it's hip safe. Fourth, the patterns are SO cute. And fifth, the interior swaddle wrap that keeps baby's ams down has a "quiet" velcro that won't wake baby if you need to readjust while they're asleep.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


A few years ago, while my wife's baby bump got bigger and my daddy reading list grew longer, I felt cautiously optimistic that this parenthood thing would, somehow, suddenly click one day. The baby would come, instincts would kick in, and the transition from established couple to a new family would be tiring but not baffling.

Boy was I wrong.

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