Five tips for successful road trips with toddlers Road trips provide a chance for families to connect through playing together—something that our busy lives don’t always allow. Creating a strong family base for your kids gives them a solid launching pad for life. 

Besides, kids love to see their parents play and be lighthearted—in other words, act more like they do. A Disney Time Survey of 1,000 people found that quality family time increases while on vacation. Parents who responded said they were more apt to feel excited, calm, affectionate and sillier than if they were home. Sounds like the favorite emotions of a toddler! 

With that said, travelling with toddlers can be a challenge. Their tolerance for sitting still when they don’t want to is short, as you know, and car seats are confining. Here are some tips to keep the focus on fun:

1. Get organized and stock up on supplies 

Pack a separate backpack or bag full of anything you might need within easy reach including spare clothes, diapers/wipes, favorite snugglies, toys and medicines, along with a separate snack bag and small drink cooler. Bring healthy snacks but let the rules bend a little when it comes to food. If you don’t normally buy squeeze yogurt, animal crackers, juice boxes, or another new treat, do it. You’ll be glad when you need to get them back into their car seat after a pit stop.

2. Bring lots of easy entertainment

Pack CDs with their favorite music, stories and rhymes and plan to sing and play along. Road trips are always more fun with a mini back pack or zip bag full of fun surprises. Keep it on hand and dole it out for melt downs or boredom as a positive way to turn the mood. Let them pick one new item to explore at a time. Think economical, like dollar store books and toys. Also, play silly games, like I spy, I’m thinking of…, what’s that (animal or other) sound, puppet play, and telling jokes.

3. Promote sleeping in the car 

If possible, have some activity in the morning and hit the car around nap time. End the trip by early evening so prolonged sleeping doesn’t keep them jumping on the hotel beds all night. Let them wear jammies or sweats in the car. Feed them foods that make them sleepy like dairy products, walnuts and turkey, which contain tryptophan. Or, use road trips as an excuse for a little sugar as it spikes their blood sugar, causing it to fall sharply and make them sleepy. Since candy can create a hyper blast, time it with an upcoming active pit stop and they just may fall asleep once you get back in the car. 

4. Schedule in rest stops 

Rather than blazing through to get there, plan on stopping every few hours to stretch, change diapers and run around. Most rest stops provide green spaces, or check the map ahead for a small town park for some swinging and old fashioned teeter-tottering. 

According to studies cited by the national Children and Nature Network (CNN) (www.childrenandnature.org), kids’ stress levels drop within minutes of seeing green spaces. Outside time and unstructured play often go hand-in-hand. Did you know the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids get 60 minutes of unstructured, free play every day? That’s because it’s good for developing kids’ brains and bodies.

5. Let them choose

Of course mom or dad should create the structure for the trip, but letting your toddlers make minor decisions, like, should we eat lunch at Qdoba or Chipotle or spend an hour swimming at a community pool or visiting a roadside attraction, helps to keep them engaged. If fights occur, implement the turn-taking rule. With toddlers, it’s best to stick to either/or choices as in, ‘Do you want to read Goodnight Moon or Curious George?’ rather than the open-ended, ‘Which book should we read?’ 

Now that you have a few tips, go for it! You might even form some new family rituals, like returning to a favorite spot or always playing an epic game of kickball when you arrive at the cousins’ house in Kansas.