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How to survive long car rides with a toddler! Tips, tricks, and strategies to help your toddler thrive on long car rides and have everyone stay sane.

Are you wondering: How do I entertain my 2 year old in the car? How do you keep a toddler occupied on a long car ride? How can I help my toddler be happy for long car rides?

This post will help address those frequently asked questions about to manager long car rides with a toddler.

I’m a mom of two boys (one is a toddler and the other is almost entering toddlerhood). We have been traveling a lot recently and have made two 9-hour car trips and one 5-hour car rides in the last few months. I’m sharing everything I learned to help keep my toddler entertained during long car rides.

Drive Overnight

My biggest tip for parents traveling with their baby or toddler for the first time is to drive overnight!

Leaving around bedtime can be a great option if your travel schedule allows. Eat dinner, give your toddler a bath, and whatever else is included in their bedtime routine. Put on their pajamas and load them into the car right around bedtime. Then be on your way!

Leaving at bedtime works best if your drive is less than 5 or so hours away. Its also helpful if you will be traveling to visit family or somewhere where a crib or pack-n-play will already be set up, so that you can easily transfer your toddler when you arrive. However, it is possible to run in and set up their crib once you get there (we have done this many times!).

If You Can’t Drive Overnight, Leave Early

Another option instead of driving overnight is to leave very early in the morning. This is my favorite option because the adults get a little sleep and then are semi-rested for our long car ride and the toddlers will sleep for the first few hours in the car.

We like to leave around 2 A.M. and then drive 5-6 hours straight while the kids sleep until breakfast.

If you don’t want to wake up extremely early, at the very least try to leave first thing in the morning around 6 or 7 A.M. That way your toddlers will be in a good mood for the majority of the drive and you can do a long stretch before stopping for lunch.

One benefit of leaving early in the morning is that you won’t arrive to your destination in the middle of the night or have to worry about setting up cribs in the dark.

Stop Frequently

If traveling during the day, it can help your toddler tremendously if you stop frequently––every 2-4 hours. It will probably take you a little longer than pre-toddler life to get to your destination, but its worth it to have a less-cranky toddler in the car.

Plan out your trip before hand and look up places to stop along the way. Although we do some snacks in the car, a good time to stop is for normal meal and snack times.

Let Your Toddler Get Out Some Energy

When you stop, its also a good idea to let your toddler run around and get some energy out. Before we leave on our trip I like to look up fun places to stop that will allow my toddler to get some exercise. Here are some ideas for places to stop:

  • Local park
  • Restaurant with a playground
  • Unused baseball or soccer field
  • Mall with a playground
  • Children’s museum
  • Rest stop with a picnic area

Get a Carseat Snack Tray

My Travel Tray Carseat Snack Holder – this snack tray inserts into the cup holder on your toddler’s carseat and becomes a tray for snacks!

This is one of my favorite Amazon purchases to date. We got one for my toddler about a year ago, and just bought another one for my 11 month old.

It is so helpful for long car rides because you can pour out some crackers or snacks and it will take them a while to eat through them. Snacks are key when traveling with toddlers!

Another awesome part of this snack tray is that it doesn’t take up a cup holder, since it has a cut out for one as part of the insert.

Use a Toddler Tablet Holder

Car Headrest Tablet Holder – this gadget hooks onto your car’s head rest and allows you to mount a tablet for your toddler to watch movies or shows.

We don’t watch a ton of TV, but on long car rides that rule goes out the window and I do allow my toddler to watch a show for most of the trip. We have Amazon Prime and download a few shows onto the tablet to watch without internet service.

If you aren’t a member of Amazon Prime you can sign up for a FREE 30 Day Trial!

I really like particular tablet holder because I can mount it in the middle of the two back seats so both of my kids can watch the same tablet.

I have two rear facing carseats and this mount works on the headrests of the back seats. Its also marketed to mount on the front seat headrests as well for forward facing kiddos.

Toddler Toys for Car Rides

Toys can also be a great tactic to entertain your toddler during long car rides. Its a good idea to put away a few toys in the days and weeks before your trip and bring them out in the car so they feel ‘new’.

If your budget allows, also consider buying a few new toys to help keep your toddler happy on the road. Here are some of our favorites:

Toddler Busy Board – a busy board is a great travel activity because it has multiple activities on one board! My toddler loves his busy board and we now keep it in the car to pull out on regular day trips.

Buckle Toy – great for hand-eye coordination and problem solving skills. This toy has multiple styles of buckles that come in a variety of fun colors and also a zipper and a secret pocket to store more toys.

Wooden Lacing Toy a compact toy that is great for fine motor skills and problem solving. I like that this set comes with two toys (since I have two kiddos) and also that it comes with a convenient travel bag.

Melissa & Doug Puffy Stickersthese are such a fun activity for travel or quiet time. Peeling the re-useable stickers is great fine motor skill practice and sticking them all over the re-useable pages promotes creativity. Since these stickers easily peel off you won’t have to worry about them getting placed all over the backseat or windows.

Amazon Kindle Fire Kids – whether your toddler will sit and play apps or games, or you like to use a tablet to watch shows, I highly recommend the Amazon Kindle Fire Kids. We love ours and they hold the charge for the entire 8-9 hour car ride!

Get in the Back Seat

If all else fails, a good way to calm a fussy toddler and save everyone’s sanity is to get in the back seat if you can. I have two rear facing carseats in the back row and the middle seat is free––but its a squeeze.

In the back seat you can talk with your toddler, sing songs, make funny faces and do little dances, read them books, and more easily hand them more toys and snacks. I don’t love getting in the back seat because its harder to interact with the driver, but sometimes it is a necessity!

Thanks for stopping by. You might also like these related posts:

How to rock long car rides with a toddler. 7 Tips to entertain your toddler on long car rides.