Roadtrip With Baby and Toddler Tips

Looking for hacks to make a road trip with a baby and toddler go great? This Summer my family ventured a 10 hour drive and tent camping trip to the Redwoods, with a toddler, 3 month old baby, and our dog. 

It went incredibly smoothly, and many of my mom friends have been asking for the secret sauce! I’m going to break this down into several posts, starting with our road trip hacks for road tripping with a baby, toddler, and dog. In future posts I’ll talk about tent camping with kids and some Redwoods specific tips too.

Car preparations for our family of 4 plus dog were make-or-break. I have plenty of hacks to offer here but let’s start with what’s on everyone’s mind: what to do with ALL. THIS. STUFF!

My husband warned me ahead of time that with all the camping gear, food, and firewood, we would have no wiggle room, and he even told me to kiss my foot space goodbye! I took that as a welcome challenge. Everyone knows a long road trip is better when you can extend your legs!

First, I minimized my packing list to the bare bones. Clothes and shoes were packed in carry-on sized roll away bags: one for kids and the other for adults. Inside I included laundry bags to use for dirty clothes and to separate shoes from touching clothes. 

Car Storage With No Roof Rack

If you don't have a car roof rack, you'll need to rely on interior car storage solutions. Since roof racks are ridiculously expensive, I was so pleased to find a reasonably priced alternative that works to create storage inside a car! Our car's interior cargo net was installed specifically for this trip, but I’m leaving it up. It provides a space for soft items like blankets and pillows.

car cargo net
With a baby it's normal to need lots of burp cloths, blankets, and changes of clothes, and this was a game changer. I had a spot for my blankets and a change of clothes for me right behind my head. I also used the area above my daughter’s seat to store her shoes. As a toddler she is prone to remove her shoes and in a crammed car it’s so easy for a shoe to go awol. This one trick likely saved me from lots of frustrated searching time. 

What I love about the car storage cargo net: 

  • Accessible storage from anywhere in the car keeps essentials always within easy reach

  • Super easy to install, using velcro straps on otherwise useless overhead handles. 

  • Tightens with bungee drawstring so you can still see using your rear view mirror

Find the cargo net here: Roadtrip ceiling cargo net, right now it's $26.98.

Staying Organized on Roadtrips with a Baby

With a baby, clutter seems to be a fact of life! That's why I recommend you start packing the car at least 2 days prior to your roadtrip. Motherhood is such a paradox, we need things to be neat and tidy to feel sane but we also need everything in arm's reach! Sit in your car where you will be sitting and check that you car reach all of the following...

Things You Need Within Arm's Reach on a Roadtrip with a Baby

  • Wipes and Diapers

  • Trash bin (I love this one)

  • Water and snacks for you

  • Water and snacks for the kids

  • Binkies, and MORE binkies

  • Phone charger

  • Blankies

  • Burp cloths

  • Change of clothes for baby

  • Change of clothes for you (trust me, you don't want to be digging through your trunk for your overnight bag if you just got spit up on!

  • Laundry bag - because spitup is stinky and you want to get that off you and keep it from stinking up everything else in your car

The biggest reason for car clutter with a baby is general messes and diapers creating lots of soiled clothes and trash. My baby is three months old and still in diapers, and my toddler is already potty trained. You'll want to bring way more diapers than you think you will need! It’s so stressful to be running low especially when you’re roadtripping to a more remote place like the Redwoods. I stored diapers and wipes in the seat pocket in front of the baby carseat, and also kept wipes and diapers in the front passenger seat. I made do with built-in storage in the car for this, but kept reaching for the cargo net for blankets. I did most of the diaper changes in the front seat, protecting the chair with a couple baby blankets just in case.

And just to reiterate, it’s important to know how you're going to handle dirty diapers and trash. I used to keep a plastic garbage bag in the front seat, but when space is at a premium and you have dirty diapers to contend with, you need to up your car garbage game! Yes, I got an actual garbage can for the car.

Car trash can
What I love about our car trash can:

  • It straps in place right behind the center consul, a spot you probably weren’t using anyway that’s still easy to reach

  • It’s soft sided

  • Looks small but holds a deceptively large amount of garbage at one point I think ours fit three or four empty drink bottles

You can see ours here, and it's only $12.99: car trash can Of any of the things I bought for the car, this is the one my husband was most skeptical of. But after seeing it in action he is a believer. He kept marveling that it still wasn't full!

Estimating Roadtrip Time with Kids

We recommend you take whatever Google maps tells you and then add 20% longer travel time to it if you're traveling with kids. This doesn't make you a failure, this makes you practical. If you can accept the fact that you're going to need to take frequent stops, you can do it with no drama.

Bathroom breaks are probably the biggest culprit for travel delays with kids. But let me get real with you for a moment... if you are a few months post-partum like I was for this road trip, remember your bladder is still healing. So need to take EVERY opportunity to use the bathroom, even if you feel like you don't have to. You can really make this a lot easier on everyone if you're willing to forgo the traditional toilet and get a little wild, haha. As an adult this is pretty straightforward, and you'll be glad you had those baby wipes on hand.

But for my toddler, I use a potty chair specifically for the car. I used to bring my daughter’s only potty chair with us in the car which was always a source of stress as I'd often forget it at home and it's just really bulky! For this roadtrip I got wise and purchased one that's designed specifically for the car.

What I love about the roadtrip potty chair is... 

  • It's fully collapsible, not a space waster - even the legs fold in

  • It has baggie liners for easy cleanup

  • The basin is removable so you can set it up outdoors to help them go on the ground 

 The one we use is reasonably priced at $20.99 and is linked here: toddler potty chair

Keeping Your Baby Happy on a Road Trip

The ability to easily see and interact with your baby in their car seat is really non-negotiable on a roadtrip. Its so hard not to hold baby for a long period of time, too as a Mom!

carseat mirror
The situation is made a lot better with a basic, high-quality carseat mirror. Full visibility of a baby is a safety must, and a mirror is the best option for visibility with rear-facing seats. A good mirror also benefits the baby. If it's large enough and a high enough quality, the view of the road and the front passenger seat reflected in the mirror adds interest and a sense of comforting presence for a rear-facing child. In the past, I wrestled with two terrible baby mirrors that required near constant adjustment and they would often flop down during driving excursions. I’m pleased that I finally found one I love. I have linked it here

What I love about the carseat mirror: 

  • Easy install

  • Super large mirror so you can see baby’s whole body and he doesn’t slip out of view

  • Sturdy swivel adjust

Like I said, any kids car mirror will do, but if yours is problematic, it's time to upgrade so those problems don't plague your whole road trip. Ours was only $20 and totally worth it, here's a link: carseat mirror I have watched my baby playing with his reflection now that its not the old small and cloudy one... quality makes a big difference here!

Sun can also be a big problem - many times you won't know why baby is so fussy and it's just because the sun was in their eyes! No matter how tinted your car windows, harsh sun can prevent kids from being able to rest easy. I used to struggle with blankets draped over the windows, having to constantly readjusting them and then even sometimes falling on my kids face!

sun shade for car window

I'm so glad I found these sun blockers for the windows. What I love about them:

  • no spit necessary! They actually stick with static cling. 

  • My child can easily remove them too for when we want to roll down the window and get a better look at the view (did this in the Redwoods!)

  • Slim and easy to store

They are another cheap hack at only $11.97 for a pack of two... car sun shades for kids window

Car Roadtrip Toys for Babies and Toddlers

Like any good mom, I want to give my kids the world and make sure they have everything they need. But for my two kids in a very packed car, it was essential I kept the toy clutter at baby. I chose just one or two quiet items for each of them to stay entertained. 

For my 3 month old, I brought his favorite- the TaGgies Crinkle Paper Baby Toy. I have linked the exact one. The interesting mix of textures including fuzzy parts, silky tags, and lumpy doggie face provided just the right amount of entertainment for eager little fingers, curious mouth and sleepy eyes that just want to doze. The best part? The silky tags serve as a kind of pacifier for him. This is amazing because the Binky kept falling out of his mouth which was driving me crazy! For some reason he likes the tags just as much. 

Why I love it

  • crinkle sound is like ASMR for babies

  • Keeps baby calm and occupied 

  • Big key ring so it won’t fall out of reach

  • Silky tags work like a stand in for the binky

It's only $10 and makes baby (and thereby me) very happy. Here is that link again: taggies baby toy

For my toddler, I love her quiet book (a soft, tactile activity book, link here $24.99) for times like these and the activity table. I was sure to fill up her Activity Table with goodies like paper, stickers, crayons, and yes I did use a movie or two on my iPad. If you’re going to have your child watch movies, be sure you’ve “downloaded” them so that they are viewable when your signal fades on longer trips.

car activity table

Why I love the activity table for my toddler: 

  • slot for the tablet keeps it safe from crayons and spills, propped up correctly, but still responsive to fingertips

  • Surface is wipeable, and dryerase if you’re willing to risk using dryerase markers

  • Slim and easy to take off and put on your child’s lap

  • Great surface for eating, drawing, reading or any other activity

  • Cuts down on the incidents of a front-facing toddler constantly dropping things!

The activity table is $26.99 (linked right here!) and is a great thing to put on your wishlist.

Beyond these fun hacks, my final piece advice for a road trip is just to be confident! You have so much going for you on a road trip- constantly changing scenery out the window, the steady thrum of the tires, the vibration of the road. There is a saying that my pediatrician told me when I was concerned my baby’s daytime sleep would lead to a sleepless night. He said, “Sleep begets sleep.”  Allow your children to enjoy a drowsy day full of rest without worrying about the consequences later. He was right. Any time we’ve allowed our children to sleep extra they seem to be alright with the night routine as well. 

This blog post has a companion video! There is so much to show you so I thought I'd give you an actual tour of our roadtrip-ready car. Follow along with this blog post for easiest access to links and extended descriptions that I didn't have the time to share in the short 4 minute timeframe. I invite you to watch our video on YouTube: Roadtripping with a Baby and Toddler which shows many of these items in use. It's a brand new channel just for our family adventures and I called it: The Go Wild Gabrieles! Thanks for checking out this blog post and if you have any questions please leave a comment here or on the video and I'll get back to you! Big hugs, remember to just relax and enjoy the journey!

- Laura

Content by Laura Gabriele