Traveling with a little one can be challenging, especially when you have to spend several hours in a car. I know it can be stressful, but I’m a big advocate of not letting a small child keep you from enjoying life – vacations, and travel included! With some careful planning and a little bit of creativity, you can make the journey enjoyable for both you and your child. We recently took a 16-hour road trip down to Orange Beach, Alabama, and arrived with our sanity still intact.
Here’s how we did it:
Before you hit the road, make sure you have everything you need for the journey. This includes the obvious items like snacks, drinks, toys, diapers, and wipes, but also things that you might not have thought of. We also kept an extra change of clothes, a roll of paper towels, and some plastic shopping bags in the car in the event of an emergency. Also, plan your route ahead of time so that you can make stops at regular intervals to give your little one a chance to stretch their legs. I’ll talk more about our stops in a bit!
When it comes to packing for a road trip with a 1-year-old, organization is necessary. She had more items that needed to be packed for the week than my husband and I combined! I got a few clear plastic totes from Target to keep us organized. One tote had snacks, another tote for toys and books, our diaper bag, and a separate bag with overnight essentials were all items that we kept in the cab of the truck and were readily accessible. We also had a small cooler that we used for transporting milk for bottles. In the bed of the truck, we had another tote with bath, bedding, and food-related necessities. This worked extremely well to keep us organized – I knew exactly where everything was and didn’t have to worry about rummaging around the bottom of a dark tote bag for an item that I couldn’t see or having bags tip over and spill during our travels. The totes also worked well to stack on top of one another – making packing the car a breeze!
Make frequent stops
Historically, we’ve been a part of the “drive as long as you can so we can get there quicker – here, pee in this water bottle” crowd, so this was something our family (ahem, husband) had to adjust to. Plan to stop every 4-5 hours to give your little one (and you!) a break. During meal times, we made a point to stop, get out of the car, and get food. This gave us the chance to change diapers, refresh what we needed in the car, and stretch our legs. We loved stopping at Cracker Barrel along the way because they have food that our daughter likes to eat with lots of fresh options (not greasy gross fast food), a store to walk around and explore, and usually, a nice outdoor porch area with rocking chairs and games get some fresh air (and felt much safer than letting her wander around an empty corner of a parking lot!). Cracker Barrel’s are usually pretty easy to come by and are typically right off of major interstates and highways, making it super easy to continue your trip once you’re done!
Keeping your little one entertained is key to a successful road trip. An Amazon Fire tablet is what (truly) made this road trip somewhat possible. I know screen time with kids can be a hot-button issue for parents, but trust me on this one – it’s going to be ok. I don’t love the idea of letting my kid watch hours and hours of TV, but I justified it in this special circumstance because when we’re at home she doesn’t get much screen time. And honestly? She didn’t get THAT much screen time while on our trip – maybe a few hours before falling asleep or stopping for a break. Once we got to our destination, we didn’t use the tablet the entire time that we were there. I downloaded a variety of different shows on Amazon Prime and Netflix before our trip to help pass the time. Pro tip – download a soothing wildlife documentary show to use before nap time. I also utilized a free trial of YouTube Premium to download videos as well (thank goodness for Hey Bear and Ms. Rachel!). Our daughter just had a birthday, and a lot of what she got for her birthday were items to help us on our car trip. I saved all the books and toys she got so they would be new and exciting for her when in the car. We also got a tablet holder which clipped around the headrest. Additionally, my husband and I took turns sitting in the backseat with our daughter to be accessible to her. If she was fussy, we could easily maneuver our totes to find a new toy, change the show on the tablet, or grab a snack or drink for her.
Keep them comfortable
Make sure your child is comfortable during the journey. Dress them in comfortable clothing and make sure they have a soft blanket or pillow. If they have a favorite stuffed animal, bring it along too. We tilted her car seat back slightly to allow her to recline more comfortable when sleeping. Also, be mindful of the temperature inside the car and keep them hydrated.
Have patience and expect the unexpected
Traveling with a 1-year-old can be stressful, but remember to stay patient and calm. Your kiddo will sense your stress and anxiety, which can make the journey even more difficult. Know that your little one is going to cry. Know that you’re going to hit traffic. Know that there are going to be some less-than-ideal food options when on the road. Despite a few (literal) bumps in the road, it’s all going to turn out ok in the end. When you let go of your expectations of how the trip “should” go, you might be pleasantly surprised with how well it’s actually going.
Traveling with a young child might seem stressful, but it doesn’t have to be! By being well-prepared and considering your child’s needs, you can make the journey more comfortable for everyone. Remember to pack wisely, plan ahead, and take breaks when needed. Don’t forget to enjoy the moment and make unforgettable memories with your little one(s). With patience, flexibility, and a positive attitude, traveling with a baby can be a wonderful adventure. Happy travels!
Staying home instead? Check out our Spring Break Staycation ideas
This was such a timely and well written article. I am going to share these tips with my daughters as they venture out this summer. Thanks for sharing your adventures with all of us.