I’m excited to finally share some photos of our road trip with you today! As you all know, we took a week-long road trip from Chicago to The Smoky Mountains (Gatlingburg, TN to be specific) and Charlotte, NC.
We had a super smooth drive down there and Little Miss was seriously an angel for the first few days of being in the car, eating in restaurants, and being out of her element. But then things got a little hairy, as they quickly do with a toddler in tow, and we learned some very valuable lessons in traveling and taking a road trip with a toddler!
I wanted to share what tools and strategies we found helpful in traveling with our 14-month-old in hopes that this will help any of you that are planning on traveling with small children in the near future.
Tips for Taking A Road Trip with A Toddler:
1. Pack a never-ending supply of snacks
When I say never-ending, I mean pack the amount of snacks you think you would all eat in a month’s time, and then maybe double that. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. But literally the worst thing that can happen to you besides getting into an accident or breaking down on the side of the road is going to be running out of snacks.
I worry about Little Miss choking while in the car, so we kept her snacks to either liquid-type foods or really small pieces of dry foods that don’t present such a choking hazard. We also are obsessed with this super cute flower snack container for letting her feed herself small dry snacks, it helps keep the amount of cheerios that end up in her car seat at bay. We use it pretty much everyday at home too either when we are running errands or are out for a walk, so it’s definitely not exclusive for road trips.
Our favorite toddler snacks for in the car:
- Organic Tot Pouches with pureed fruits & veggies
- Organic Puffs
- Cheerios (I usually get the Trader Joe’s equivalent because they are consistently the cheapest)
Our favorite adult snacks for in the car:
- Granola Bars
- Pirate’s Booty
2. If your kid is sleeping, do NOT stop
There were probably five separate occasions where I almost peed my pants, but we were definitely not about to stop if the babe was sleeping. If you think your toddler is about to drift off, but there’s a 1% possibility you might have to use the restroom in the next hour, get off at the next exit or be prepared to hold it until your little cherub wakes up.
I can promise you, it’s not worth accidentally waking them up just because you need to go to the bathroom or fill up the gas tank. Be prepared so that you won’t find yourself in a situation accidentally waking up your kiddo.
3. Bring engaging toys
While snuggling baby dolls bought us a little bit of peaceful time in the car, I found that some toys were definitely more engaging than others, and helped to really make our road trip go as smoothly as possible.
Try to give some thought into what toys will actually capture your child’s attention for more than just a few minutes so that you can strategically pack those with you and have easy access to them during your drive.
Some of our 14-month-old’s favorite toys for the car:
- A plastic mirror (we just use the one that came with her baby gym set from when she was younger, she loves to look at herself and give the cute toddler in the mirror kisses. Adorable, right?)
- This touch and feel animal book
- Shape sorter
- The little egg shaker that comes with this music set (we left the rest of the set at home)
4. Give one toy at a time to entertain them longer
This step is key! I gave her one toy at a time to play with, and then when she was starting to get bored with that particular toy I would switch it out for a new one. This process helped to keep her occupied much longer than if I would have just dumped all the toys next to her at the get-go.
5. Be prepared for eating at restaurants
Eating at restaurants with a toddler isn’t always the most fun experience ever. We pretty much never take her out to eat at home, and after day 2 on our trip, we re-discovered the reason for this 😉 . She was pretty good considering we were eating out for three meals a day, but next time we take a trip, we are definitely going to try to just rent a house/condo with a kitchen to make some of our own meals.
The tools that we found very helpful for eating out at restaurants with a toddler:
- Disposable Bibs (we love to use the Baby Bjorn Bib at home, but find it too big and clunky to stash in the diaper bag)
- Small toys to keep in diaper bag that you only pull out at the restaurant (crayons, paper, Little People, etc.)
- Disposable placemats (great to use as a plate if your toddler is in the throwing everything stage)
6. Don’t be ashamed to let them watch a movie
We downloaded Frozen on our iPad just in case we would need it for back up if things got bat shit crazy, and low and behold, they did 😉 .
My hubby is amazing and found this super cheap iPad mount for my car on sale for $13 prior to our trip. While we were hoping to not really have to use it, it was the best thing we have ever bought….at least I thought so when we were able to dock the iPad in it and turn on some Frozen to have some peace in the car, hah!
Little Miss is still in the “I’m going to chuck this at your head to express my displeasure” stage, so giving her a huge iPad to hold while someone was driving in throwing range wasn’t really an option. This allowed us to safely mount it to a headrest in the second row and will also be able to mount to our front row headrests in a few years when we turn her car seat around to forward face. Considering we already had the iPad, it was a really cheap solution for an “in car” entertainment system.
7. Plan your driving time to overlap during naps or sleeping whenever possible
I cannot stress this enough. If your child will nap in the car, it is so much more pleasant for everyone involved if you can incorporate a nap into your driving time.
We have this sun shade on the window that her car seat is next to so that she can sleep without the sun in her face, and it worked out really well for our trip since she ended up taking a lot of naps in the car.
Do you have a toddler or small child that you’ve taken a road trip with? What tools/tips did you find helpful in making sure it went as smoothly as possible?
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My in-laws live in Minnesota, so we have taken probably 10-15 12-hour road trips with the kids so far. It definitely helps to keep driving when they’re sleeping. Sometimes we leave at like 3:00 a.m. so they sleep most of the way there. It’s getting a lot easier now that they are 4 and 6!
Christina Tiplea says
We did that too Holly! Left at 3am on both of our main driving days. It worked really well! Glad to hear it gets easier though 🙂
Lisa O says
Nice…thanks for sharing. Looks like you had beautiful weather to go along with the beautiful views.
Christina Tiplea says
Thanks Lisa! It was gorgeous weather, couldn’t have asked for better.
Alexandra @ My Urban Family says
I love seeing the photos and I’m amazed at how simple you make it sound! I love road trips, but this may still be braver than I am ha
Christina Tiplea says
Haha it definitely got hairy on the drive home, but the whole ordeal wasn’t as stressful as I thought it would be 🙂 I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I’ll be brave enough again to take Little Miss on a trip like that for awhile lol!
Shirria @ DGTH says
Great photos! It looks like this was a lot of fun and I can’t wait until we, as a family go on our road trip. I am taking baby Prince to TN next week to shoot in a movie so I’ll be keeping these tips in mind, especially the movie download for his Ipad.
Christina Tiplea says
Thanks Shirria! Good luck and have a blast on your trip!
Daisy @ Simplicity Relished says
I am so impressed that you went on a road trip like this with a little one! I’ve definitely heard that the lull of a moving car makes sleeping easier– your point about lots of snacks and one-toy-at-a-time is so good too. So glad you enjoyed your getaway! The photos are gorgeous.
Christina Tiplea says
Yes, yes, yes to #6! We try to play car games for a while, and then bring out the iPads for movies. Of course, if we pass something spectacular, I always force them out of their zombie state for a moment. “Look kids, it’s Denali, the tallest mountain in North America!” Their reply? “Uh huh.” Young kids just don’t have much appreciation for the amazing things in life. We love pirate booty too. Nothing cuter than a toddler constantly asking for their “booty” 🙂
Christina Tiplea says
Haha that’s adorable Janeen! Little Miss is just starting to string words together, it will be so cute when she’s old enough to ask for “booty” too 🙂
Great tips!! I totally agree. My only other tip would be “Don’t travel” hahaha!! No but our kids always amaze me in the car. I don’t normally worry too much about the driving part of it, it’s more the hotel stays, naps, carting them from place to place, eating out with them, etc. You are amazing for doing that trip with Little Miss!!
kay ~ the barefoot minimalist says
When we used to take road trips with baby “Junior”, I always played the radio and we’d sing along. When he wasn’t able to talk yet, he’d dance in his seat and try to sing. We’d bring snacks and juice too, but the success rate of him not barfing them up was pretty low. I like how well planned out you guys were. And your pictures are phenomenal! I’m not a big fan of mountain ranges, but I LOVED the Smokies! 🙂
Good list! Another economical tip would be to plan for stops at playgrounds along the way. When our children were young we eventually realized that playgrounds were our kids favorite thing to do on such trips, and they are free!
This is so helpful! We will be traveling 1200 miles in December with our toddler. I’m definitely going to use your advise!
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car Crete says
Such a neat way to display and remember some of your favorite trips! Thanks for linking up with Merry Monday – I’m featuring your travel cooler at our upcoming party. We’d love for you to stop by and link up again!
travel news and tips says
Another economical tip would be to plan for stops at playgrounds along the way. When our children were young we eventually realized that playgrounds were our kids favorite thing to do on such trips, and they are free!
maui hawaii says
Hello, I love seeing the photos and I’m amazed at how simple you make it sound! I love road trips, but this may still be braver than I am ha
When our children were young we eventually realized that playgrounds were our kids favorite thing to do on such trips, and they are free!
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