How to survive long car rides with toddlers

How To Survive Long Car Rides With Toddlers (15 Helpful Tips)

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Hello Mamas, are you one of those wondering how to survive long car rides with toddlers in preparation for your next family road trip?

Let me share with you 15 best road trip tips that we personally apply when embarking on a long road trip with our little kids aged 3 1/2 and 1 1/2.

We’ve already made a couple of long trips before, but with only one toddler in tow. It was challenging, but a long car journey with two young kids is even more so!

But don’t be discourage Mamas (and Papas)! Surviving a long car trip with toddlers is definitely possible with prayer, planning, and a positive outlook.

How To Survive Long Car Rides With Toddlers

Surviving long car rides with toddlers is definitely possible, albeit challenging. Start by dressing kids with super comfortable clothes, then make sure to bring more snacks, don’t forget to bring water, and stop every 2-3 hours and let the kids move around. Moreover, don’t forget to have some plastic bags, too, just in case one of the kids vomit, and make sure Mama seats with the kids in the backseat for maximum supervision. A tablet is also helpful in entertaining the kids, as well as listening to children’s songs, playing with one of their favorite toys, and playing games with them. Don’t forget the first aid kit, plan an overnight stopover, and don’t expect your trip to be tantrum-free to avoid disappointment. Consider slow travel, and lastly, make your car travel-friendly.

1. Dress The Kids With Super Comfortable Clothes.

I always make sure to dress kids in soft clothes, 100% cotton as much as possible. Denim fabrics or other similar are very uncomfortable for kids during a long drive.

toddlers in the backseat ready for a long car drive.
Our toddlers, in super comfortable clothes ready for our long car drive to Asturias.

In one of our shorter drives in the past, I dressed #1 in cargo shorts with bulky back pockets, and after a while, he was complaining that something is hurting his butt.

So, no more shorts with bulky back pockets for the kids when driving for long hours since that experience.

2. Bring More Snacks.

Snacks are a lifesaver during long car rides with toddlers. When they start to cry and be grumpy, they can just be hungry, and giving them snacks will easily solve the crying.

My husband always reminds me of a Catalan saying that says: nens petits, mals petits (which means small kids, small troubles) everytime kids stop crying after giving them something to eat.

So, make sure to pack snacks and better if it’s healthy snacks as much as possible.

Non-perishable snacks are great option,too, because you don’t have to bring an extra cooler and won’t have the pressure of consuming them all to avoid spoiling.

I prepared a road trip snacks bag with fruits, biscuits, bread sticks, and corn crackers. Then we just bought more in the stores where we did our mini-stops to replenish the bag.

TIP:

Mama should not forget to offer snacks and water to Papa, too. The driver should also be pampered, as much as possible.

3. Don’t Forget To Bring Water (And Reusable Water Bottles, Too).

And it goes without saying that water should be given next after giving the kids some snacks.

Kids should be given water frequently to avoid dehydration, especially when traveling during the summer.

Bringing reusable bottles is also convenient because you can just refill them at your next stop (given that the water is safe to drink).

We love our reusable water bottle from Decathlon because the tap also doubles as a cup which is very good for kids (can be a good replacement for a sippy cup) and it’s also a good and fun way (albeit a small step) to practice low waste while traveling.

4. Stop Every 2-3 Hours And Let The Kids Move And Play.

Long road trips with toddlers can’t be done straight! You need a rest stop every 2-3 hours for the kids and for your own sanity, too!

Driving longer than 2-3 hours straight with older kids is doable, but is impossible with younger kids.

Plenty of stops are necessary for diaper changes, meal times, and for a bit of movement and play.

It’s not good for kids (and adults, too) to be sitting for very long time.

Photo of a father and sons making a walk during a rest top - one of the tips on how to survive a long car drive with toddlers.
Allowing kids some movement and play as we stop in Logroño for lunch before finally heading to Asturias.

Everytime we stop, we let the kids out of the car and let them move around.

On our recent trip to Asturias and Santiago de Compostela and on our way back to Barcelona, we took out the bicycle for our 3-year-old on our stops so he can ride a bit, and we let our 1-year-old walk around.

We usually stop for 10-15 minutes depending on the situation. If kids are a bit grumpy, then we let them move around a bit longer.

And we also take advantage of going to the bathroom and asking our 3-year-old if he wants to pee before hitting the road again.

TIP:

Mamas should check that the diaper bag has all the most important things: enough diapers (atleast for the duration of the long ride (you can buy more in the final destination), spare clothes, hand sanitizer, paper towels, wet wipes, and even a toilet paper (just in case you stop for a leak or poo and there’s no toilet paper available, which happens even in malls).

RELATED POST: One Day Tour In Oviedo, Asturias With Small Kids

5. Have Some Plastic Bags Ready In Case Of Car Sickness.

This tip is something I learned the hard way on our recent trip to Asturias and Santiago de Compostela.

We were already driving for 20-30 minutes from home and I told my husband that I had a feeling that I forgot something (which I usually say everytime we leave for a trip).

Then after just a few minutes, #1 said that he wants to vomit. I was getting nervous and I looked around the car trying to look for something.

Luckily, my husband had put the huge beach towel on top of the biggest luggage, so I was able to reach for it. I put it under #1’s mouth, and he vomited instantly!

a photo of three kids sitted inside the car with plastics bags on their mouth because they are vomitting - this is to signify  to bring plastic bags in case of car sickness - one of the tips on how to survive long car rides with toddlers.

Then I realized that the thing I forgot is some plastic bags (that I was meaning to pack before).

We stopped in a gasoline station for #1 to get some fresh air. My husband went inside to ask for some plastic bags and the woman gave us a couple of black trash bags.

#1 vomited again on our trip back to Barcelona and the trash bag saved us from cleaning the car floor.

I learned the hard way to never forget to bring plastic bags on our next long journey!

TIP:

Over-the-counter tablets or oral solutions for motion sickness for toddlers are available in pharmacies. Just ask in the pharmacy and follow the instructions on how to use them. It’s not a foolproof guarantee though, but it’s a good idea.

We gave #1 an oral solution for motion sickness that we bought in a pharmacy in Oviedo, but he still vomited once on our drive from Santiago de Compostela to Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

6. Mama Should Be In The Back Seat With The Kids.

This is what I always do on all our trips, be it short or long. Dad can be in the back seat, too, if mom is driving.

But an adult should always be in the back seat to monitor the kids, especially if they’re still very young children.

A mother sitting in the back seat with toddlers - one of the tips on how to survive long car rides with toddlers.
Always sitting in the backseat with kids to referee, feed, and play with them, among others.

I have to constantly pacify the kids especially because #2 likes spreading his legs and #1 doesn’t want his brother to touch him.

When #2 starts spreading his legs and starts reaching for his brother, an argument starts that usually ends up in #2 crying.

To prevent it, I have to stop #2’s legs from reaching #1. Go, Mama, you are a good referee!

It’s also Mama’s role to make sure that the kids are given snacks and water and entertained when they start to get bored.

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7. Bring A Tablet For Entertainment.

Our Huawei tablet goes with us everytime we go on a trip. I make sure that I don’t forget it because it has saved us many times in the past from tantrums.

Though we try to limit our kids’ screen time and use of electronic devices as much as possible, it’s our last resort when all else fails.

If one of the kids doesn’t want to eat his food at one of our stops, we let them have some screen time of their favorite Leo el Camion or Cocomelon.

We don’t let them watch videos though when the car is on the move because I found out that they get dizzy (that can lead to vomiting).

8. Listen To Children’s Songs.

Instead of watching their favorite videos, my husband plays it on his phone and connects it to the car’s speaker.

But one time, the phone was within the kids’ view and they started to look at the screen, and after a few minutes, #1 said that he was dizzy.

Since then, we make sure that the husband turns the phone down or puts it away from the kids’ sight, so they can’t look at the screen while the video is playing.

I’ll download the songs and save them on a USB for our next trip.

UPDATE:

I finally downloaded songs and save them in a USB on our recent camping trip, and it was a hit!

9. Bring Some Of Their Favorite Toys.

Bringing some of their favorite travel toys on really long drives can go a long way.

#1 always have miniature cars with him wherever we go and they entertain him a lot.

It’s still difficult to identify the toys that #2 loves the most, so I also bring 3-4 small toys for him.

Definitely pack some of your kids’ favorite books if they are into reading.

It’s also a great idea to buy new coloring books or download coloring pages (bonus that they’re also good for their fine motor skills) just for the upcoming trip for additional entertainment.

Another option is to buy the kids new toys and only designate those as travel toys, so they get excited to play with them everytime you go on a trip.

Toys are a great way for Mamas and Papas to have some quiet time, too, even just for a little bit.

10. Play Games With The Kids.

It’s a great time to play games with your kids during long stretches of car drive.

Some of the fun road trip games are “what do you see”, “what do you hear”, or singing songs with certain words, high fives, peek-a-boo, and scavenger hunt.

a photo of three kids with seatbelts playing inside the car while on a road trip.

You can even invent your own games, too, the sky is the limit!

#1’s favorite game is identifying the brands of cars that he sees! And it amazes us because just in one glance he can already tell the brand, while I need to see the logo first before I can identify it.

High fives and peek-a-boo are #2’s favorites.

11. Bring A First Aid Kit.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t pack first aid kits on our past trips and it made me feel like a bad mama. 🙁

The first time I packed a first aid kit was on our recent trip to Asturias and Santiago de Compostela following one of the tips I read on the net about tips for long road trips with kids.

So I packed paracetamol for kids, ibuprofen for adults, and some band-aids and put them in one of the luggage.

But it was an epic fail!

During one of our dinners, my husband parked the car and we were going to the street lined with restaurants.

But on our way, there was a park and #1 ran to the entrance and fell! He got a cut on his knee with blood coming out, but we didn’t have the first aid kit with us. It was in the luggage in the hotel room!

Luckily, there was a pharmacy nearby and we were able to buy a betadine.

And in hindsight, I didn’t pack the betadine, so, even if I had the kit with us, it was useless. A band-aid without a betadine!

And I also realized how useless it was for me to bring paracetamol without bringing the thermometer! Arggggg!

TIP:

Make sure to put the first aid kit in your car, or better yet in the stroller or in the bag that you always bring to make sure it’s available when the need arises.

12. Make An Overnight Stop.

An overnight stop is ideal especially if it’s more than 10-hour drive.

It’s good, so Dad (who usually drives) can have a good rest and have a good start to drive again the next day.

Though others suggest night time is the best time to start a road trip, but we are against this idea because road accidents are common due to drivers falling asleep.

We have to consider our body’s natural rhythm – which is sleeping during the night and being awake during the day. Night driving is a total no-no for us.

a photo of the beautiful cobblestone plaza in Santo Domingo dela Calzada
The beautiful cobblestone plaza of Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

You can have an overnight stop in one of the towns halfway through your long drive, book a hotel or hostel (doesn’t have to be fancy) for the night, and make it a great opportunity for a bit of tourism, too, before hitting the road again.

This is what we did on our trip back to Barcelona from Santiago de Compostela. It is an 11-hour car drive, but that is without stopping. But because we stop every 2-3 hours, so it takes longer.

We decided to make our overnight stop in Santo Domingo de la Calzada – a place that my husband had a very good memory of for its beauty when he was doing the Camino de Santiago by bicycle when he was 17 years old.

We stayed in a hostel in the center, had breakfast, availed of a guided tour to see the beautiful and historic Church of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, roamed around a bit in the plaza, and back to the road again.

Then we stopped in Zaragoza to have lunch and finally arrived at our home-sweet-home at around 6 pm.

13. Don’t Expect A Tantrum-Free Trip To Avoid Disappointment.

Don’t expect that your family trip will be smooth because it won’t be Mama!

Long car drives with toddlers will always have tantrums, crying, and arguments. They make a family vacation more memorable.

Pray for more patience, grace, and a positive attitude.

14. Adapt Slow Travel.

Though I just learned about the term slow travel recently, but it got me interested because most of the descriptions are exactly how we are doing it because it’s what my husband likes best.

I was not convinced at first, but after few more slow travel trips, I was completely sold about the idea!

And I am now convince that it’s a great way to travel with kids (especially if it’s your baby’s first road trip), it’s good for both kids and parents.

15.Make Your Car Travel-Friendly.

Last but definitely not the least, make sure to make adjustments and tweaks to make your car travel-friendly to ensure the safety and convenience of the whole family.

  • Make sure that you have the right toddler car seat for each child.
  • Don’t forget the window shades (we didn’t have these on our first two long drives and realized that we needed them).
  • Make sure to have travel pillows for the kids – very useful during nap time. It’s a good idea to start with just one travel pillow and buy more if you see the the kids like them. We have two, but both kids don’t like using them, so I didn’t bother bringing them on our next trip.
  • Free the luggage area of unnecessary things for more space.
  • Prepare the car’s built in GPS or google maps for the destination of the trip to avoid wasting travel time if you get lost (though it would be a fun experience, too).

More Tips For Surviving Long Car Rides With Toddlers

Looking for more tips as you prepare for a long car journey with your kids? Here are two articles with more tips:

Tips For Long Road Trips With Toddlers from Twin Mom And More:

https://www.pinterest.es/pin/143270831887505202/

And 40 Kids Activities & Essentials You Need For A Road Trip With Toddlers from Moms Collab:

Final Thoughts on How to Survive Long Road Trips with Kids

Even if long road trips with kids are challenging, it’s not reason enough for parents to get scared to try it at all.

Instead, let’s have more long car journeys with our kids to give us more practice!

We can even push the limits by trying out a cross country road trip next time!

Go for it Mamas and Papas, we can survive it!

But, always remember Mamas that if a long car ride is not an option for your family right now, you can always substitute it for a staycation. It’s equally fun but less stressful than a vacation with small kids.

RELATED POSTS:

What Is The Difference Between Vacation And Staycation?

How To Plan A Family Staycation With Toddlers

236+ Summer Staycation Ideas For Families With Toddlers

Have you tried long car trips with your toddlers? Do you have tips that are not on my list? Please feel free to share them in the comment section below.


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8 Comments

  1. One of the things that has made a huge difference for us as a family when we travel is to listen to children’s songs. Both of my toddlers really seem to be into singing and they enjoy their time so much. It’s as if the journey all of a sudden becomes less burdensome. Thanks for all these tips. The bag for vomiting was one I hadn’t considered.

    1. Hello Ann,

      Yes, I agree children’s songs are a great way to entertain kids during long rides, and it’s entertaining for adults, too.:) My husband and I love to sing with the kids, too.

      Same here, I only thought about the bag for vomiting on our last trip. At least we now know not to forget them next time. 🙂

  2. Hello, I really like your page about how you giving useful information and it is really a great post for how traveling with babies. I really like your presentation and the font is different and great. your pictures are very catchy. I hope your post finds this useful for people who are in need of these wonderful tips.

    1. Hello Raja,

      I am glad that you find this post about how to survive long car rides with toddlers helpful. Have a nice day.

  3. Thank you so much because I know that many parents will find this to be helpful, I know all too well about long rides as an adult I mean for hours from that afternoon until midnight. If that was too much for me so I know that for kids it will be unbareable. These tips are so helpful and parents will appreciate what you have written. Thanks again for sharing.

    1. Hello Norman,

      Yes, even for us adults, long rides are uncomfortable at times, but at least we can hold it all together without crying.:) 

  4. Thanks for the very interesting article you’ve written here. It reminds me of having travel sickness as a child. I remember going for a drive with my dad who was in sales at the time. As we pulled into the customers street. I couldn’t hold it in any longer and ended up spewing all down the side of the car after trying to spew out the window.

    1. Hello Kwidzin,

      I can totally relate because I also had travel sickness when I was a kid, well until my high school years. It’s very uncomfortable to have motion sickness as a child. I need to have the seat by the window when taking public transportation. It finally went away when I started university.

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