Traveling by Car With Your Toddler or Preschooler

A Little Planning Will Make the Trip a Breeze

It was perhaps one of the most daunting things I have done in my entire life. I took my little girl on a three-hour car trip, just the two of us.

I spent weeks before the trip agonizing about how I was going to handle this. My little girl is very active and really loves to be the center of attention.

  • How in the world was I going to pull this off?
  • What would happen if we got lost?
  • Would she scream uncontrollably as I sped down the highway desperate to get to our destination and some peace?
  • How would she handle the fact that I could not turn around to look at her as I drove?

I am happy to report that we survived the trip.

We were going to see the Wiggles and I think that helped. She was excited to go. I think if I had been taking her to visit a random relative she might have given me a hard time.

Normally I wouldn’t have dreamed of driving that far with her alone but my husband could not be persuaded to come with us.

I’ll be honest; I wasn’t about to miss the Wiggles.

So off we went but not before I did some serious thinking and planning. If you are planning to take your little one in the car for a long stretch here are some tips to help you out.


Tell your child where you will be going and how long it will take to get there.

Children this age really can’t comprehend units of time yet but let them know they will be in the car for a lot longer than normal.

You may want to put a positive spin on the trip by telling them it will be a special time to spend together.

As you plan your trip and your timeline remember that toddlers and preschoolers are unpredictable.

Allow many stops for potty breaks and any other emergencies that may crop up en-route to your destination. In the course of three hours, I had to stop three times and two of those were planned.

What You Will Need

Your best bet is to dress your child in play clothing until you reach your destination.

Chances are good they are going to spill something down the front of themselves during the trip. This was a mistake I made.

I’m so glad I remembered to pack extra outfits so my little girl didn’t have to wear her orange juice soaked outfit into the Wiggles concert.

Pack extra everything including shoes.

You may want to pack a few plastic grocery bags for any wet clothing you may find yourself removed from your child. Don’t forget diapers and supplies if your child is in diapers.

Remember that the sun can be a direct annoyance to your child.

If you don’t already have one, buy a window sunscreen to keep the sun out of their eyes. You may even want to buy one for both rear seat windows.

Food and Drink

Most likely your child asks for food every five minutes, I know mine does.

I found that having a selection of no-fuss snacks available was my best option. Purchase things such as granola bars, fruit snacks and cheese sticks.

You can easily open and hand these back to them without having to take your eyes off the road for more than half a second.

If your child is old enough to use a juice box these are a great option. If they are younger you will want to fill up a number of sippy cups so they are ready to just hand over.

An absolute must-have for any trip with a child is a supply of wet wipes. These are great for quick cleanups and sticky fingers.

How To Keep Them Occupied

If at all possible try to travel at a time when your child may nap or at night. This will make your trip a lot easier. If this is not possible make sure you have plenty for them to do in the car.

Take along some of your child’s favorite music. You can also play games or ask them to tell you a story about the things they see as you travel down the highway.

Choose toys that are small but pose no choking hazard. You may want to buy large baggies and store a few toys in each.

That way when the get bored with the toys in their hands you can hand them a new set.

Be careful about giving baggies to younger children though. You may even want to buy a few new toys just for the trip.


Now that you have everything you need, you need to get organized. You should place everything you may need to hand to your child next to you in the passenger seat of the car.

Take a cooler with you and place it on the floor in front of the passenger seat. Use this for your child’s drinks and any food that you may need to keep cool.

Keep your directions, maps and cell phone (if you have one) on the passenger seat along with the toys and other food items.

Take the CD’s out of their cases and store them above your visor or lay them on the seat. This way everything is within easy reach and you won’t have to search around as you are driving.

In Case of Emergency

We never want to think something bad will happen but you should be prepared. Have a list of emergency numbers in your child’s bag, in your purse or wallet and in the glove compartment.

If you don’t already have one, purchase a stocked first aid kit for your car. Make sure you have water, food, flashlight, battery-powered radio, batteries and few warm blankets stashed away in your trunk.

Be sure your spare is in good condition and that you know how to change a flat tire.

You should also purchase paper maps of the state or states you will be traveling through to reach your destination.

You may also wish to slip a folding stroller in your trunk in case you have car trouble and need to walk for any distance.

Final Thoughts

If you are traveling more than a few hours you may wish to pull over every two hours and let your child stretch their legs and run around a bit.

This may help you avoid a meltdown in the car by an easily-bored child.

Try to remain calm despite any traffic hassles or tie-ups you may come upon. Your child will be more relaxed if you seem calm.

Remember to remain flexible, allow time for just about anything that may pop up and most importantly, have fun!

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