Long car trips with your mobile toddler

Maybe Baby was one of those babies who loved the car, and car trips were the best way to get anywhere, near or far – or maybe they were one of those little ones who shrieked every time the car turned on, and acted like their car seat was lava when you tried to buckle them in. Either way, now that they are a walking, talking, running, singing, jumping, chanting, climbing toddler, long car trips are a whole different game, and you’ll need to figure out how to play by the new set of rules.

  • Prepare to stop and start and stop again: Stop at rest areas and have them run around on grassy sites, maybe play a quick game of Red Light Green Light to get them moving and giggling. Toddlers and young children generally don’t do well buckled into their car seats for much longer than a couple of hours at a time, so preparing for fairly frequent breaks may be the way to go. Rest stops are great, playgrounds in towns you’re passing through are better, and well-supervised visits to empty lots behind gas stations will do in a pinch. If you know other families who have traveled the routes you’re taking, they may be able to give you some tips, and a little research into towns and areas you’re passing through can also help you figure out where to stop to get some of Baby’s restless energy out.
  • Get operatic: Now that Baby is older, they can really get into sing-alongs with you, and if that’s not something you do too much as a family, the novelty might keep them happy for hours on end. They don’t have to be Baby’s kind of sing-alongs – no one has to have a farm, no one has to pretend you’re on a bus instead of in your family’s car. The songs Baby will most want to sing along to will probably be the ones you have the most fun with, so pick something you can really rock out to – Baby may not know the words to your favorite songs yet, but they'll pick them up before you know it.
  • Set the stage: You can lay out all the props that you and your costars will need before taking the show on the road by making sure that everything Baby might need or want is right within reach – your reach, not theirs. If they end up feeling squirmy, anything you put within their reach might end up getting kicked away to somewhere hard for you to grab while you’re driving. Keeping everything, from toys to games to snacks, in your own reach means that you can hand it all to them at exactly the right moment, without risking losing Baby’s second-favorite toy under your seat.
  • So close, so far: You can also set yourself up to stay in touch with Baby better (if they are still in a rear-facing car seat) by setting up a mirror in the back of the car, facing them. Many families set up mirrors like these for very young babies, but many others don’t find them necessary for the short, day-to-day trips they mostly use the family car for. On long trips, though, when it isn’t always possible to pull the car over as fast as you’d like to, being able to get a look at your toddler’s face can be a helpful way of figuring out how they're feeling, even if they're safely buckled in facing away from you.
  • Center of the universe: The world doesn’t revolve around Baby, but your trip will probably go a little better if you let your itinerary revolve around them a bit. Plotting out your route so that they get their meals at about the same time as they usually do, and playing their favorite lullabies at about the right time so that they get their usual nap on-schedule can do a lot to keep your trip running a bit more smoothly.
  • Divide and conquer: If you’re a part of a two-adult traveling outfit, spending your non-driving hours squeezed into the back seat with a toddler or two may not be your idea of a good time, but it can definitely be helpful, if one of your goals on this road trip is to keep your littlest passenger from staging a one-toddler protest.

Taking long trips with a toddler in-tow usually isn’t easy, but with a little forethought, you may be able to figure out how to make it a little less hard.

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