Tips for Car Travel with Toddlers

by Alan Greene, MD, FAAP

Tip One: Try to stay as close as possible to your normal routine in terms of meal times and sleeping times.

Tip two: When making a six-hour car trip, it may be more comfortable for you to leave first thing in the morning and drive while you are fresh. This is the worst time to leave for a two-year-old. Instead, spend the morning in active play and preparation for the journey. At this age, most kids take one long afternoon nap. If this is true of your child, plan on leaving just after lunch (so that no one is hungry), which will probably be about an hour before normal nap time.

Tip Three: Take advantage of what your child normally uses to fall asleep. When your two-year-old starts to get fussy, it's time to start the normal nap time routine, even if it is a little early. This may include a tippy cup of juice, cuddling a blanket, or holding a favorite toy.

Tip Four: In order to take advantage of this sleepy time, be sure everyone has used the restroom before getting into the car (I know this sounds obvious, but stopping a moving car is asking a child to wake up).

Tip Five: Provide a shaded spot for your child's car seat. In advance, purchase excellent child sunshades to cover the windows that might let the sun shine on your child during the ride. If the sun is shining directly on a child, or if a child is too hot or cold, he or she will not sleep nearly as long.

Tip Six: About three hours into your trip, your two-year-old will probably wake up refreshed and ready to play. This is an excellent time to take a park-and-potty break for the entire family.

Tip Seven: If possible, plan to have time to let your toddler run! Bring along a ball and play catch. Have a picnic. Whatever you do, don't stick your child in a high chair at this point!

Tip Eight: The key is distraction, distraction, distraction! Bring along lots of toys and plan on giving your toddler one each time the previous one gets boring.

Tip Nine: When toys no longer seem to be helping, it.s time for an audio tape. We regularly travel with Raffi, Sesame Street, and a variety of other kid-friendly tapes. When one tape isn't doing it any more, change tapes.

Tip Ten: As much as possible, get involved with your child and get your child involved with the activities -- sing with the tapes, play with the toys, make funny faces (this also helps keep the driver awake!).

Bonus Tip: Don't forget fun food. Crackers, fruit, and cheese all make nice car snacks.

Dr. Alan GreeneDr. Alan Greene, author of Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Greene, is the founder of Dr.Greene.com and the WhiteOut Movement. He is a frequent guest on such shows as Good Morning America, The Today Show, and the Dr. Oz Show. He is on the Board of Directors of Healthy Child Healthy World and The Lunchbox Project. Dr. Greene is a practicing pediatrician at Stanford University's Packard Children's Hospital.

Copyright © Greene Ink, Inc., all rights reserved. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org. Reviewed May 6, 1997.