Tips for Car Travel with Toddlers

Dr. Greene’s advice on car travel with little ones…

  • Try to stay as close as possible to your normal routine in terms of meal times and sleeping times.
  • 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.
  • 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 sippy cup of juice, cuddling a blanket, or holding a favorite toy.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!).
  • Don’t forget fun food. Crackers, fruit, and cheese all make nice car snacks.


Last medical review on: December 12, 2008
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness RecommendationsSignup now to get Dr. Greene's healing philosophy, insight into medical trends, parenting tips, seasonal highlights, and health news delivered to your inbox every month.
No comments yet. Start the conversation!
Add your comment