The Getaway
I Survived Driving Cross-Country With a Toddler

My partner and I decided to do something wild a few months ago. We'd been cooped up since the pandemic started, and to be honest, for quite a while longer after travel restrictions had been lifted, not because we didn't want to go anywhere — but because we'd had a baby.

Finally, after seventeen months of sleepless nights, 3 AM feedings, countless hours of tummy time, and Sesame Street reruns, we packed up the car and hit the open road, intent on driving almost 4,000 miles. Our friends and family looked at us like we were crazy people - putting a toddler who'd just learned to walk into a car for seven-plus hours a day; who would do that?

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01 Pack a first aid kit. Then pack another one with all the baby's necessities

Photo of young brother and sister being excited about the road trip AleksandarNakic / Getty Images

Safety and preparedness are paramount when embarking on a cross-country drive with a toddler, and a well-stocked first aid kit is a must-have. It should include band-aids, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, a digital thermometer, and over-the-counter medications for common ailments like fever, cold, and an upset tummy. Don't forget any prescription meds your child might need. It's also a good idea to include a first aid manual or download an app on your phone so you have guidance if required.

In addition to the first aid kit, pack another kit with all the baby necessities, including diapers, baby wipes, diaper rash cream, and a portable changing pad. Bring enough formula, sterilized water, and clean bottles for the journey if your child is still bottle-feeding. A portable bottle warmer can also be handy. For toddlers, sippy cups, bibs, and toddler-friendly utensils are helpful.

Don't forget about comfort items. Pack a spare pacifier, a favorite blanket, or a beloved stuffed animal. These can help soothe your toddler during the journey and provide a sense of familiarity and comfort in unfamiliar surroundings.

If your toddler is in the process of potty training, consider a portable potty. Accidents happen, and having a portable potty on hand can save you from having to find a restroom in a hurry.

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02 Buy a reliable, easy-to-use travel crib

Happy baby in travel crib at campsite Cavan Images / Getty Images

A good night's sleep is crucial for a toddler, especially when traveling. Investing in a reliable, easy-to-use travel crib can make all the difference. Look for one that's lightweight, portable, and easy to assemble and disassemble. It should also be sturdy and safe, with a firm mattress and tight-fitting sheets.

Consider a travel crib with mesh sides for ventilation and visibility. It'll allow you to keep an eye on your child and gives them a sense of openness rather than feeling confined. Remember to familiarize your child with the travel crib before the trip. Let them play or nap in it a few times at home so it becomes a familiar and comfortable place for them. It can help ease the transition and ensure better sleep for your toddler on the road.

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03 Pack two changes of clothes per day on the road

Young girl eating ice cream cone Judith Wagner Fotografie / Getty Images

Unforeseen spills, diaper mishaps, or sudden weather changes are common with toddlers. To avoid stress, pack two changes of clothes per day so you're prepared for any situation. This strategy hopefully eliminates the need for laundry stops. Consider packing clothes that are easy to change, comfortable for long car rides, and suitable for various weather. Remember, it's better to overpack than to be caught off guard.

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04 Have a selection of interactive toys within arm's reach

oy playing with toy rocket on back seat of car Cavan Images / Getty Images

Keeping a toddler entertained during long car rides can be challenging. A variety of interactive toys within arm's reach, such as soft toys, picture books, or simple puzzles, can be a lifesaver. Rotating these toys maintains your child's interest and keeps boredom at bay. Consider toys that stimulate their imagination and creativity, and remember, the novelty of a new toy can also be a great distraction.

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05 Bring practical snacks

after toddler eats crackers in the car Catherine McQueen / Getty Images

Unexpected hunger pangs can strike a toddler at any time. Having a variety of practical, non-perishable snacks like granola bars, fruit pouches, and crackers on hand can prevent meltdowns and keep your child satisfied. Try to include a mix of sweet and savory options, and consider their nutritional value too. Hydration is also important, so don't forget to pack plenty of water or juice boxes.

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06 Use GPS to find parks, playgrounds, and other places to run around

Adorable little girl having fun on a swing. SonerCdem / Getty Images

Toddlers are brimming with energy. Utilizing your GPS to locate local parks, playgrounds, and other open spaces allows your child to run around and expend energy, making the next leg of the journey more peaceful. These stops also provide a much-needed break for the adults. You can enjoy the sights, maybe have a picnic, breathe in some fresh air, and stretch your legs before hitting the road again.

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07 When your kid is in their child seat, take their shoes off

A mother fastening the buckle on a child’s car seat MartinPrescott / Getty Images

Ensuring comfort during long car rides can reduce fussiness. Removing your child's shoes when they're in their car seat not only increases their comfort but also prevents them from kicking the back of your seat. Consider bringing a blanket or favorite comfort item for added coziness. Remember, a comfortable child is more likely to be a happy, calm traveler.

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08 Forget about a schedule. You'll get there when you get there

Child at a museum in Alberta

Flexibility is crucial when traveling with a toddler. Instead of adhering to a strict schedule, focus on making the journey enjoyable for everyone. The journey, after all, is as important as the destination. Embrace the unpredictability, enjoy the detours, and make the most of the unexpected moments. After all, those often make the best memories.

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09 Expect bedtime and naptime routines to be thrown out the window

Asian toddler girl sleeping soundly on traditional Japanese style futon, laid on tatami mat floor at home d3sign / Getty Images

Road trips often disrupt regular routines. While maintaining some semblance of routine is beneficial, being prepared for changes and demonstrating flexibility and patience are key. Bring familiar bedtime items like a favorite blanket or stuffed animal to provide comfort. And remember, a car ride can also be a great opportunity for a nap.

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10 Don't plan to sit at a restaurant after being on the road all day long

Unhappy tired mother worried about picky eating habits of the child nicoletaionescu / Getty Images

A restless toddler in a restaurant can be challenging after a long day on the road. Choosing takeout or room service instead allows your child to move around freely and gives you a chance to relax. It also gives you the flexibility to eat when it suits your child's schedule. Plus, you can choose healthier options that might not be available on the restaurant's menu.

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11 Childproof hotel and motel rooms as much as possible

Photo of mother spending time with her son during winter holidays by the window. MilosStankovic / Getty Images

Upon arrival at your hotel or motel, prioritizing safety by taking a few minutes to childproof the room can prevent accidents. Cover outlets, move dangerous items out of reach, and check for potential hazards. It's also a good idea to check the room for cleanliness and remove any small objects that your toddler might put in their mouth. If possible, request a crib or a room away from the stairs or elevator for added safety.

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12 Find music your kid will fall asleep to in the car

Seen in the vanity mirror of a car, a little child i fast asleep in her carseat Lisa5201 / Getty Images

Soothing music can turn a car journey into a peaceful nap time for your toddler. Finding the right sound can make a significant difference, whether it's lullabies, classical music, or white noise. Consider creating a playlist of your child's favorite calming tunes. Also, remember that the volume should be kept at a comfortable level, not too loud to startle or too low to be ineffective.

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13 Take lots of photos, even if you don't hit touristy spots

Mother and child walking through a park in Winnipeg, MB, Canada

Every moment of your trip is a memory in the making. Capturing lots of photos, regardless of whether you're visiting typical tourist spots, will provide cherished keepsakes for years to come. Don't just focus on posed shots; candid photos of your child's reactions to new experiences can be priceless. And don't forget to get in the pictures yourself; these are memories for the entire family.

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14 Your needs come second to your child's

Close up of a young family going on a road trip Marko Geber / Getty Images

When traveling with a toddler, their needs take precedence. Frequent stops, early bedtimes, and lots of patience can contribute to a happier child and a smoother journey.

Remember to take care of yourself too. Stay hydrated, eat well, and take short breaks to stretch or breathe. A well-cared-for parent is better equipped to handle the challenges of a road trip with a toddler.

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15 Share driving duties. Neither parent is sleeping well at night

Photo of two boys, brothers, getting ready for a car road trip with their mom AleksandarNakic / Getty Images

Long-distance driving can be exhausting, especially with disrupted sleep. Sharing driving duties helps prevent fatigue, ensures safety, and allows for necessary breaks to rest, stretch, and interact with your child. If you're traveling as a couple, sharing driving duties also provides one-on-one time for the other parent with the child. If you're a single parent, consider inviting a friend or family member along to share the load.

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