Travelling with a toddler (or more than one 🙈) is always a challenge.
And a long car journey with a toddler? Well, let’s just say, you need your wits about you…
Because they can’t understand why you need to be in the car for so long, where you’re going, or why the straps on their car seat need to be so snug, it’s understandable that toddlers are prone to frustration during a long journey.
And you know that frustration can equal shouting, crying, moaning, and other delights when it comes to toddlers.
But long car journeys don’t need to be the end of the world.
In fact, with a combination of forward planning and canny distractions, we’d argue that they can even be an enjoyable affair.
Take a look at our top tips on how to survive a long car journey with a toddler.
Tips for Managing a Long Drive with a Toddler
Timing is Everything
If you can, we’d always recommend timing a long car journey around your toddler’s nap schedule.
That way — even if you’re driving for longer than they usually nap — at least your little one will be occupied by a nap for a nice chunk of the drive.
Some toddlers are totally soothed by the motions of a driving car and fall off to sleep, and stay asleep, quickly but others may take a little more persuasion.
The best thing you can do is to try and simulate a sleeping environment for your little one. That generally means darkness and quiet.
So, no screeching along to Britney then?!
For darkness, we’d recommend buying shades for your rear passenger windows. These are cheap (usually under £15) and really effective at blocking out the sun and creating a slightly darker sleeping environment for your toddler.
Amazon usually have the best deals on things like this. We really like the DIZA100 Sun Shade Pack — there are two in the pack so ideal for both rear windows and they’ll fit 98% of car windows. It’s also really cheap and does a good job at blocking UV rays and the normal glare from the sun.
It’s a bit harder when it comes to being quiet in the car.
Let’s face it, most of us like listening to the radio or at least chatting when we’ve got a long journey ahead of us. Not to mention, the sat-nav sounding off about the next turning. But none of this is conducive to your toddler drifting off for a long nap.
What we’d suggest then, is putting on some white noise.
There are plenty of good value white noise machines available online but we’d recommend just playing it off your phone if you’re in the car. Check out Spotify for some good white noise playlists!
Not only will the white noise help your toddler drift off to sleep, but it’ll also help them stay asleep — even if you’re quietly chatting or listening to directions in the front of the car.
Wondering what to bring on a road trip with toddlers?
As well as timing your long car journey to perfection, perfect planning is also necessary if you’re looking for a smooth ride.
Planning out stops in advance so your toddler can get some fresh air, a change of scene and perhaps a nappy change before the next leg of the journey is a really good idea.
If you’re feeling really prepared, you could even do some research on service stations beforehand — some are really well set up for kids with play areas, shops and cafes.
Don’t wait until you’re on the road to make stopping decisions as you know how quickly a toddler meltdown can escalate from the first moan!
You also want to make sure that you have a well stocked changing bag to hand so you can attend to your toddler quickly while you’re in the car.
Here are a few things we’d suggest packing:
- Nappies, portable changing mat and wipes
- Change of clothes
- Toys and comforter
With all the planning and timing in the world, sometimes your toddler will simply refuse to nap in the car. Or, if they do nap, it’ll only take up a portion of the long car journey rather than all of it.
And while some toddlers are content to simply look out the window and enjoy the view as you drive, unfortunately most require a little more stimulation.
Toys are a great way to keep toddlers occupied in the car, and we recommend keeping a few in a bag that are only ever brought out for car journeys. This way, your toddler won’t be bored with them by the time it comes to drive.
Some of our favourite toys for the car are this pretend steering wheel that attaches to the seat in front, walkie talkies for your toddler to chat with someone else in the car, and this amazing travel tray that’s ideal for kids who like stickers and colouring in.
Playtime doesn’t only have to be with toys. Toddlers often love playing games with their parents and siblings when they’re in the car. We guarantee that you’ll be getting bored long before they do! 🤪
Here are a few you might want to try out:
- I Spy
- Twenty Questions
- Would You Rather
- Word Association
- Alphabet Game
Embrace Screen Time
There’s a worthy debate to be had about toddlers and screen time but we’d argue — for the sake of your sanity — it’s just not worth getting too worried about it when it comes to long car journeys.
Long car journeys are generally not something you’re doing every day. They’re an extraordinary circumstance — so feel free to use extraordinary measures to keep the peace if necessary.
Toys and car games are all very well, but there’s nothing like screen time if you want to keep your toddler happy for a longer period of time. And it’s a great way to keep fussy kids quiet if you’re trying to concentrate on the road.
You can use a normal phone or tablet for this, simply slotting it into a car seat organiser on the chair in front. These organisers have pockets in them for your technology that allows kids to watch whatever’s on screen without them pressing loads of buttons or you having to hold the screen up to them.
Make sure you download enough programmes and films in advance before you leave so you’re not streaming it on your data plan — that’s a fast way to rack up a big phone bill!
If you travel in the car a lot, it might be worth spending a little more and buying a car DVD player.
These can be installed in the headrest of the seat in front of your toddler and they simply play whatever you please, from a wide variety of formats including DVDs, USB drives and more. This is a good option if you would prefer to have access to your phone/tablet during the journey.
Our favourite car DVD player is this dual screen pack from Wonnie. It’s a really good price but includes two screens (great if you’ve got more than one kid!) and is very portable and easy to use.
Prioritise Safety and Comfort
Of course, the most important thing when you’re on a long car journey is the safety of your toddler.
There are a huge number of different car seats on the market which can make buying one a little overwhelming.
Make sure that your seat has the following features before you put your toddler in it:
- It’s the correct group for your little one’s weight and height
- If you can’t buy a new car seat, make sure you know its full history and only buy from people you trust – you shouldn’t use a car seat that has been damaged in a car accident
- It’s safest for the car seat to be in the passenger row of the car and not in the front seat. Make sure that the airbag is deactivated
- Ensure that the seat is correctly fitted and your toddler is secure
Comfort is also really important at ensuring your toddler is happy to stay in their car seat for a long time.
Make sure the temperature in the car is an ambient temperature. You can put a blanket over your child if it’s on the colder side (remember that your toddler should not be wearing a coat or really thick layers under the car seat straps) or put the AC on if it’s a hot day.
Bring your child’s comforter with them if you think they might like something familiar to help them settle. Toddlers can sometimes struggle if they’re taken out of their normal environment and routines so something they love and know well is a good way to help them relax.
Those are our tips for surviving a long drive with a toddler — do you have any tips to share?
Head over to our advice section for more tips on travelling with a toddler!