Traveling with a Toddler

by Jenny Hagy | February 2019

Traveling with a small child is a trip — literally and figuratively! My husband and I grew to a family of three in 2016; well, four if you include our chocolate lab Powell. Before Layla arrived, my husband Ryan and I took to the road freely and on a somewhat regular basis. Both of us had family out of state, and we didn’t think much about packing our bags and hitting the road. We have tried to keep our wanderlust alive, even with Layla (and sometimes Powell) in tow. Traveling with a child, however, is more complex than our past adventures. We have done some road-trippin’ with her by car and have learned a few tips and tricks along the way:

Snacks

You can never have too many snacks. Make sure to have a variety of healthy snacks and special treats. The snacking is constant and can diffuse tense situations. You’ll want healthy options available to avoid having your two-year-old eating gummy bears for four hours (or more!). The special treats can be whatever makes sense for you and your child — things like candy, granola bars, chips, crackers, etc. work for us. It helps if these are treats your toddler doesn’t get regularly. Ryan and I aren’t afraid to use treats in negotiation when Layla’s patience starts to wear thin in the backseat. Trust me: You may need to pull a quick, “You’ll get an animal cracker if you’re good until the next stop.” Bottom line: Don’t skimp on the snacks.

Night light for nighttime travel

This may not be true for all toddlers, but Layla does not like sitting in the back seat by herself in the dark, especially since she’s still in a rear-facing car seat. As a solution, we found a fun, monkey-shaped night light that hangs above her and actually plays music! Double win! A night light and songs to lull your little one to sleep during the late-night hours of the drive can be a lifesaver.

Entertainment

This can mean a lot of things and may depend on personal preference or parenting style. For us, it means a combination of short blocks of screen time on an iPad and other fun car activities. A little screen time can be a welcomed break for mom or dad when you need a few minutes of quiet or you think you might jump out the car window if you have to reach back and grab a dropped toy one more time! If/when screen time isn’t an option, there are other fun car activities that can be used to pass the time. Now, keep in mind, it can be difficult for a toddler who is strapped into a car seat to move around and do a lot of activity, but here are a few ideas:

  • Books – We always have a bag full of books for her to “read” during the drive. Depending on the book, you might buy yourself a solid 10 minutes of quiet time.
  • Coloring – Get a few coloring books or black pads of paper (my daughter’s preference) and some crayons and call it a day. I do highly recommend crayons as opposed to markers unless you like cleaning toddler art off your car windows.
  • Interactive games – These could be games your toddler plays on their own or with you, if you are willing to hop into the back seat and join in the fun.

We are hoping that Layla will become more accustomed to traveling with us, regardless of the mode of transportation. However, we know our tips and tricks will continue to evolve as she gets older. These are just a few ideas that can help make a longer car ride with a toddler more enjoyable, for everyone!

What tips and tricks do you have for traveling with a toddler? Share your response in the Michigan Alumni Travel Community.