On the Road: Managing a Road Trip with a Toddler


Tips to getting on the road with

Summer has arrived, and with it comes days spent exploring our magical province (or if you’re more adventurous, country)!  We are truly blessed to live in a place where farms, beaches, mountains, forests, and the water are within driving distance. There are so many advantages to road tripping it.  As expensive as gas is nowadays, hitting the road is still cheaper than taking a flight.  On top of that, we live in a country where a flight would equal missed opportunities (to see wildlife or stop at beautiful attractions along the way). Perhaps most important for me personally, road trips are the best way to travel with toddlers!
Sure, maybe it’s uncomfortable sitting in a car for hours, but it’s not more comfortable than a plane and you eliminate long line ups at the airport, germs on that 6 hour flight, and that oh so wonderful airplane food.  With a bit of good planning, a road trip with a toddler can be a breeze!

Step One: Pitch the trip to your tot. Start telling your toddler about the destination in advance. Show them pictures or videos. Little Bear and I talk a lot about the passage of time (what day it is today and how many days until an event in the future) and have even created our own days of the week song.  We sing it in loop and probably annoy everyone around us!  If possible, take out some books about the location you are heading to and read them together.  The Good Night Our World books is a great example of a series of books all about different cities and countries in the world. The Good Night Vancouver book is one of Little Bear’s favourite books!

Step Two: Allot for extra time.  Think that drive takes 7 hours? Give it 9.5 hours and don’t leave at peak traffic times. Stop often and make each break an exciting look at a new place.

Step Three: The car is not a toy box.  There’s no need to pack everything and the kitchen sink, but pack a good variety of items that will entertain your little one.  One favourite or newer truck is better than 7 different trucks. 1 doll is going to get more use than 3 dolls.  Pack a good range of toys, but resist the urge to keep adding to the toy haul as most likely it will just be the favourites that are played with in all the excitement happening.

Step Four: The car IS a lunch box.  If your little one is anything like Little Bear, you know that when things are changing or exciting, proper meals go out the window.  Little Bear may not sit through an entire meal when on the road, but he will definitely snack away.  Pack tonnes of healthy, nutrition-packed (“snack”) food options…and opt to avoid the drive-thru window!  Some great ideas include fresh fruit (berries, bananas, apple slices with peanut butter dip, orange wedges), dried fruit, granola bars (homemade, when possible), frozen squeeze-pouches of applesauce (as they defrost they turn into makeshift slushies), hummus and vegetables and pita, and yogurt parfaits.  There are also many healthy options that you can buy at your local grocer’s, so if you’re running short on time and don’t have the time to make everything yourself, planning ahead and picking up those healthy choices is so much better than searching for food while on the road.

Step Five: Have fun! Don’t worry if things aren’t on schedule – you are on vacation after all.  It’s a good idea to try to maintain some regularity (naps, meal times), but don’t stress over little hiccups.


Some essentials to pack with you include:

entertaining your toddler on the road


a. A doodle board: The one pictured by Imaginarium is the one that Little Bear has.  It comes with a larger board (with shape stamps) and smaller, travel sized board.  For short car rides, the small board is great, but Little Bear prefers the larger board because of the increased space and the stamps!

b. Art supplies: Crayons, markers, pencil crayons, paper or colouring books.  Simple, and it can be done inside the car (with the help of a lap tray or a cookie sheet) or outside the car.  Just be careful that your little one doesn’t draw all over the car and themself! (Washable markers can still require quite a bit of scrubbing…as many of us have experienced!)

c. Music: Raffi is by far Little Bear’s favourite kid’s musician.  He loves singing along, and the songs are fun and nostalgic for the parents too.  Don’t limit yourself to kid’s music though.  Little Bear also loves Mumford and Sons, the Lumineers, Sam Smith, Jay Sean, Jack Johnson, and even some songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Look for a good beat and lyrics, and I’m sure your little one will love some of your musical choices too!

d. Snacks: Do not leave the house without an assortment of snacks.  Non-negotiable.  ‘Nuff said?

e. I Spy: Do you remember this game from your childhood road trips?  The book version of the game makes it so easy for the little ones to play this game, and it won’t require your complete attention.  They can practice naming items, and they will enjoy looking at the pictures with all sorts of treasures to spot.  When you stop for a break, you can work with your little one to identify the different objects on the page.

f. Magnets: Grab some of your favourite magnets and a cookie sheet, and voila! You have a magnetic board to-go! You can use these cool Melissa and Doug Vehicle magnets, or Little Bear’s favourite – the Melissa and Doug dress-up Joey.  Alphabet and number magnets would be great too! Added bonus? Your cookie sheet can also be their desk for art time and their tray for eating!

g. Independent Play Toys: As Little Bear grows out of his nap, we are loving these types of toys more and more.  These are learning and development toys which Little Bear can succeed in using all by himself (no adult help required!). Pictured is a gift that Little Bear got for his first birthday – a wonderful toy that teaches the alphabet, music and rhythm. It’s easy for toddlers to switch to different modes by themselves and it’s a great way to practice their letters!


What are your essentials when traveling with your toddler?

4 thoughts on “On the Road: Managing a Road Trip with a Toddler

  1. Great post! I love the idea of using a cookie sheet for a magnet board. Isla loves the Melissa and Doug Dress Up Dolls too and it would be a great way of keeping all the pieces together!

    I would add to the list 2 things:
    1) Favorite stuffie or blanket. On a recent trip that made nap time in the car seat very appealing.

    2) A small portable potty. With a newly potty trained little one, this is a life saver (even for short trips.) The one we got is small enough that it can be used right in our van in an emergency (once we pull over.) Don’t forget the TP!


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