An Uncomplicated Life Blog: 5 Road Trip Hacks For Traveling With Infants and Toddlers


Monday, August 12, 2019

5 Road Trip Hacks For Traveling With Infants and Toddlers

Traveling with young kids? Use these 5 road tip hacks to make your next road trip easier!

I'll be honest: I'm not a big fan of road trips. I remember taking them as a kid. We'd drive to the Black Hills of South Dakota, which is a 13+ hour drive from Minneapolis. We drove to Yellowstone National Park. We even went all the way to the Grand Tetons in a Honda Civic! Perhaps it was being a tall family cramped into a little car but I tell you what - if it's over 4 hours of driving, I'm going to go ahead and just fly. Which is great... Except when you have four kids. All in car seats. I now understand why my parents did road trips, because for airfare, we're looking at $3,000. Plus an upgraded car rental that will fit all of us. Plus lugging all those car seats... Yes, I now definitely understand why my parents did road trips! I'm still not a huge fan of them, but we're taking the kids down to Galveston for a summer beach vacation. Here are my best road trip hacks for when you're traveling with infants and toddlers for an extended period of time. *Affiliate links used*

My first hack is to go BIG. If you don't have a large car/SUV, rent one. I happen to drive the largest SUV you can get (because four tall boys, all in car seats...) so we were set there. Even so, we bought a roof rack attachment (we got these roof rack crossbars and this carrier and it worked out really well - highly recommend, especially if you have a large SUV!) so that we'd have extra space for luggage and all the inevitable gear that comes with having four kids under the age of five. My sister, her husband and their 14 month old were also joining us from Boston, so we packed extra gear for them since they flew, like people with a reasonable number of children do for long distances. You'll never regret the extra space and you won't miss the gas money, but you will hate the trip if you're crammed and you will miss the gear you weren't able to pack in a smaller car. Just go big. Trust me.

Two blonde boys in car seats smiling while they listen to headphones in a three row SUV on a road trip

In car entertainment: Plan for regular changes to keep things interesting. I have an entertainment system in my car, which means drop down TVs and ear phones to contain noise. We can do DVD's in the center console or we can stream our Apple TV/iTunes purchases through a phone. That's pretty bad on data (although I do have a wifi hotspot in my car too... fancy!) so we decided the boys could each pick out a DVD to bring for each leg of the trip; we brought five or six DVDs total for them to watch there and back. If you don't have an entertainment system installed like mine, I highly recommend this portable DVD player. It has a remote so that you can control it from the front seat! You don't want to have to pull over every time your kids push a button or need tech help so that's a great feature, especially if you have young children like mine. The screen swivels to it's easier for more than one kid to watch, too.

5 Road trip hacks for traveling with infants and toddlers:

  • Go BIG. Rent a larger SUV if you don't have one. You'll welcome the space!
  • In-car entertainment: bring DVDs with headphones so your kids can watch movies and leave you in peace.
  • Pack a variety of activity bags. Stickers, coloring books, dry erase boards, and magnetic drawing boards are all great options. 
  • Get a set of infant toys and put 2-3 in your baby's car seat, then change them out every so often for a "new" toy for them.
  • If you can, limit the hours you drive each day to what your children can tolerate before meltdowns happen. If you can't, plan long breaks to get your kids out of the car.

Activity bags for toddlers full of stickers, magnets, a firehouse themed dry erase board all in ziplock bags to hand them on long road trips

I'm not a big fan of letting my kids zone out all day in front of a screen, so in addition to their special movies, I packed several "to do" bags in large Ziplock bags. One included an activity book with stickers and markers that only show the color on the page your child is coloring on. I have leather so the stickers would be easy to peel off my seats and the marker wouldn't show on any hands or leather. I got several options, so as they got bored with what they were playing with, I could consistently present them with new options.

Baby in a car seat with toys for a long road trip

My infant twins didn't have access to a TV screen because they're rear facing and... They're nine months old and don't watch movies. For them, we put 2-3 toys in the car seat with them. When those got old, we gave them empty water bottles with a few pennies in them to crinkle and shake. Yes, it was loud, but screaming infants is louder and you'd be shocked at just how entertaining empty water bottles are! If you're road tripping with babies, I recommend putting a few toys in their seat with them and having some spare toys to change out to when the first set get old. This is a pretty solid, well rounded set with a ton of options at a great price point. The good news is, with babies, they tend to sleep a lot with the road noise and movement of the car. Our twins slept a solid half to two thirds of the trip!

My final hack that made the trip bearable, dare I say fun even, is capping out the travel time each day. GPS told us it was 4 hours and 47 minutes from our home in Dallas to Galveston Island, our vacation destination. With kids, that meant about 6 hours with a stop for lunch and a bathroom break or two. My kids are five, three and a half and nine months old, and I'll tell you what, 6 hours of drive time in the car was about the absolute max before everyone was melting down. It is NOT fun to drive with kids who are melting down! So given your children's ages, I'd plan your driving distance over the number of days you need so everyone stays sane. My nine month old twins really maxed out at about 5 hours. The older boys could have probably gone 7, but that would have been stretching it! Plan to either stop for the day or have a nice long break BEFORE the kids max out. We took 45 minutes for lunch at Chick Fil A for them to get squiggles and wiggles out (and they still maxed out at the 6 hour mark for the day).

GMC Yukon Denali XL backing out of a driveway for a road trip
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Traveling with young kids IS manageable! But it takes plenty of planning in advance, a large vehicle for adequate personal and luggage space, and perhaps most importantly, it takes TIME. Properly planning the length of your travel days to suit the needs of your kids will result in a happier time for everyone! Use the rest of these road trip hacks if you're traveling with an infant or toddler (or both!) and you'll have as smooth a trip as you possibly can.


  1. Oh! I remember those days! Great tips! I love your comment about pennies in a water bottle being loud....but screaming babies? LOUDER!

  2. We did an entire US road trip with our infant last year. He was still 7 months old at that time. It was very easy. Now at 20 months, I don't think it will be that easy anymore. Thanks for the tips! Visit our blog if you can...

  3. I love long road trips! We had one planned this summer to Minneapolis that we had to unfortunately had to cancel last minute. We grabbed a couple of those Melissa & Doug Water Wow coloring books. The toddler loves those.

  4. These are all great ideas! Our family loves road trips!!

  5. Great road trip hacks for anyone traveling with infants and toddlers. Heck these are 5 tips I can use when travelling with my fiance' cause she gets antsy in the car and tends to drive me crazy cause she gets bored. Love that you try to limit their screen time with activity books. Before all this tech my parents before every road trip would take us to the local convenient store and let us pick out our own activity book or 2 for us to color, solve problems, or whatever in. Probably kept us quiet for hours. So I love this idea.
    As for the water bottle with pennies in it, sounds like a genius idea though Darcee would shake it non stop in my ear! Not sure which is worse a bottle full of pennies or a screaming Fiance'...please don't tell her I asked this question.