Toddler travel: Nine things that help us survive roadtrips

We travel a lot because many of our friends and family members don’t live nearby. Some live closer than others. And some months I feel like we are always on the move.

Traveling with toddlers is a different beast. Many are not yet self-sufficient and often lack the ability to reason. That is to say: toddlers are unpredictable and need a lot of attention.

Recently we took a day trip to Philadephia.  ZJ is now 27 months old and we needed to fill the three-hour ride (each way).

It was time to rethink our travel toys for our son. He has grown so much since the last time we took a road trip!

So I revised our packing list to accommodate a messy, and sometimes fickle boy. The toys that work best for us are ones that include stickers, magnets, cars or stories (movies, books, etc).

Toddler travel: Nine things that help us survive roadtrips

Here are nine key things we now include on our travel list:

  • Re-usable stickers. Melissa and Doug’s reusable sticker kit is perfect. Featuring cars, animals and dinosaurs, what more could a toddler want? They can be recycled for the next trip.
  • Magnetic Fun – Cars Planes and Trains.  This has quickly become one of my son’s favorite toys. It’s a small magnetic case with endless number of magnets to play with. It’s more compact than the re-usable sticker book (if space is a problem). If your kid is still prone to stick tiny things in his mouth, some of the magnets are tiny. Just be careful. Here’s an alternative: bring a cookie sheet with your own magnets.
  • Melissa and Doug’s Water Wow.  This coloring book is awesome. Just fill up the pen with water and when you draw, the pages come to life. It’s a no-mess alternative to coloring. Now if only the pen came attached to the pad…
  • A few favorite cars. Our son loves just holding on to his favorites while in the car. We like this because when we stop for gas, or we get to our destination, he is ready to play with them.
  • The Leapfrog Junior Reader.  A Leapfrog reader is a great way to get book time in while in the car. Regular books work just as well too!
  • Portable DVD player. We recently invested in car dvd players that easily attach to the back of the front seats.
  • Apps. My favorite are PBS Kids apps.
  • Snacks. Bring a mixture of healthy and fun snacks. We pack yogurt packets and string cheese in our cooler, but also have some animal crackers and jelly beans to mix it up.
  • Doggie. This is a given, but bring your kid’s favorite stuffed animal, blanket, pillow, toy, etc. Doggie (as we call him) comes with us everywhere and provides comfort in new situations. We are slowly weaning him off doggie but he is a life saver right now!

For our trip to Philly, I used a clear stadium bag to pack his toys so we could both see what was available to play with.

We have longer trips coming up this summer — an eight-hour car ride to North Carolina and a cross-country trip to Seattle. This shorter trip gave me a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.

Traveling with a toddler can be both exciting and exhausting at the same time. We try to make sure we have a variety of fun things to do, just in case!

Toddler travel: Nine things that help us survive roadtrips


New (and cool) mobile app for packing

With two upcoming family trips on my mind, I was interested to find a promising, new travel mobile app in the Sunday newspaper yesterday.

One of the prerequisites of a family trip is the packing list. Packing and list making can be time consuming, especially with younger kids.

Packpoint is a travel app that can guesstimate what you should pack (and how much) as well as suggest other accessories according to the type of trip you are taking and the activities you’ll be doing.  It makes recommendations based on weather and trip length, and of course, if you will have a baby in tow.

PackPoint app for travel!

I just downloaded it and will try it out for our next getaway in a few weeks. Here is a short description from The Washington Post. It’s free on Apple and Android devices.


How do you fly with an 18-month old? Three items that helped me!

Every day I am becoming a more fearless mother. Except for when we travel. It’s a gamble how a kid will react to being restricted to a confined space for many hours at a time. Or being let loose in a crowded airport. The unknown still makes me a little nervous!

I think there is something special about an 18-month old.  Your child is able to explore the world like never before, however, without much control, reason or any real accountability because of the language barrier.

I love this age, but traveling with an 18-month old is not for the faint at heart. 

We’ve had mostly successful trips on planes and in cars so far. Over the Fourth of July, I was facing a plane ride to Boston, just me and him. Frankly, I was anxious because there would be no daddy buffer in case of a meltdown. I tried to reason with myself: so many moms have traveled solo with their kids. Kids, plural. It would just be me and my 18-month old who doesn’t like to to stand still.  I could handle it, right?

How to fly with an 18-month old

I hope we won’t have to gate check our son!

I had visions of him running through the airport, and me running after him with all our gear in tow. Or worse, he darts into a busy men’s restroom before I can grab him!

None of my fears came true.  It wasn’t all rainbows and roses, but we successfully made it to Boston, just me and him. It took some help from a couple of very kind flight attendants. No scratches or scars, and very few tears.

Before the flight I researched how to travel with an 18-month old.  At his age, I learned that most toys you give to your child will likely end up on the floor of the plane. [Yes, this is true.] This didn’t leave me many toy options. Kids, apparently, like snacks too. I could do that.

Here are three things I did that actually made our trip easier:

How to fly with an 18-month old

Go Go Babyz Kidz Travelmate

1. I bought my son his own seat and brought his car seat on the plane.  This was a financial consideration, as ZJ is still under the two-year cut off for needing his own seat. But the flight to Boston was cheap, and keeping him restrained in a place he felt secure — his car seat — did wonders for his disposition.  He spent some good time staring out the window looking at the clouds. I even read a few pages in my book at this point.

I also invested in a car seat roller cart (pictured), which was a godsend. How was I going to manage carrying ZJ, his stuff and his car seat by myself? This wheeled carrier attached to his car seat and he got a smooth ride around the airport.  I bought the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate but there are other wheeled car seat carriers out there with great reviews, and some are cheaper. I found the Go Go Babyz very sturdy and would recommend it.

2.  I downloaded a few apps on my phone for toddlers.  I had never let ZJ play games on my phone before so this was a novelty. I searched for the best toddler apps, and as you would guess, there are a trillion available.  We particularly like Peekaboo Farm (this was $1.99 but there are plenty of free apps). It took a little time for him to warm up to the concept of playing a game on my phone, but he did.

The Melissa and Doug Water Wow! book is fantastic; How to fly with an 18-month old

The Melissa and Doug Water Wow! book is fantastic.

3. The Melissa & Doug Water Wow Coloring Book was the perfect travel toy. Ok, I admit that I didn’t know about this until the trip home, but I think it’s ingenious. Just fill the pen with water (it doesn’t leak) and an otherwise uncoordinated toddler is creating masterpieces.

The funny thing I am learning about kids is that what works one time, may not work the next. Here are a few other ideas I picked up that may do the trick for next time:

  • A mini slinky
  • Videos (Elmo, Daniel Tiger, etc)
  • Stickers
  • A magna doodle
  • A roll of blue painters tape or fun-colored masking tape
  • A normal plastic cup with lid and straw
  • Nesting cups
  • Finger puppets

This post on Kids Activities Blog also has some great ideas.

As much as I dreaded flying solo with ZJ, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  Next time we travel, he will be older and more experienced. And for better or worse, so will I!

Note: There may be affiliate links in this post to help with the costs of this blog. All opinions are my own.