We're planning to drive to visit my family later this year. It is roughly a 10-11 hour drive if we go straight through (I'm planning on making fairly frequent stops, however, as I think it would be unfair to expect our son to sit still the entire time, so I expect that the actual trip will take significantly longer).

How can I keep the trip pleasant for both my wife and I, and our son?

I know in-vehicle DVD players are very popular, but we want to avoid television until he's older (he'll be about 14 months at the time of the trip), and even then we don't want to rely on it to distract him. I'm looking for other suggestions for keeping him comfortable, happy, and entertained while we make our way across the country.

EDIT: The trip went very well. Here is what we did: We broke the trip into smaller portions. In retrospect, we could have done this better, as we stayed with friends in Pittsburgh, leaving us 8 hours to do the second leg of the outbound trip, but it was far preferable to traveling straight through. The trip was made much easier by providing two new largish toys featuring a variety of interactive activities (one was a cube containing a number of moving parts: beads, spinners, etc., and the other was a tray designed to fit over the lap with a number of musical buttons, levers, doors, etc.). Coming back we stopped in Ohio, and got a hotel room for the night, after driving until I started to get tired.

We did not try driving through the night, as that would have prevented us from being able to be awake for interactions with our family the first and last days of the actual vacation.

Other key tactics included making sure to have a bag with snacks, drinks, toys, etc. handy; a new, comfortable toddler car seat (our timing was perfect as he had just about outgrown the infant car seat by then); snack cups and sippy cups that we could hand him and let him self-feed from without supervision/assistance; the children's station on satellite radio; frequent rest-stops for diaper changes, meals, or just to stop and play; a changing pad and enough free space in the back seat that we could change a diaper in the car (while parked!); and being able to reach back and pick up the toys when he dropped them.

  • I'm distracting our daughter not by DVD, but by putting my camera on slideshow. Works just a well, but maybe it counts as TV. :-) Commented Jul 22, 2011 at 7:43
  • 1
    Btw: I just two weeks ago saw a truck swerving from side to side because the driver was falling asleep. Night driving may work for some people, but as a general recommendation I find it dangerous. Commented Jul 22, 2011 at 7:47
  • Great information!! This will come in handy soon, I'm sure! :)
    – user2443
    Commented Mar 29, 2012 at 15:44
  • Great tips thank you. We're your 12-15 month old babies facing forward or rear facing for the trips ?
    – user24521
    Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 1:51
  • He was forward facing by that point.
    – user420
    Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 2:14

8 Answers 8


We just (yesterday!) came back from a 10 hour drive from Ontario, canada to MA, USA. It was myself, my husband, and our 1 year old.

To go to Boston, we took everyone's suggestions and drove through the night. It may work for others, but it did NOT work for us. It was awful. We started at about 8 PM, and she fell asleep around 9 PM. All fine and dandy. However, between 1 AM - 4 AM, we started getting really tired. Both of us had a lot of trouble keeping our eyes open. We started taking a 30 minute break every hour - but it was really restless nap because we wanted to make it to our destination before she was awake/cranky. We found that it was just not possible for us to prepare by pre-napping or sleeping during the day to prepare for the night trip. Plus 1 AM - 4 AM is pretty dark and quiet on the roads. Food and fluids were just not keeping us awake (although neither of us are coffee or tea drinkers, so YMMV).

Our daughter also didn't have a very comfortable sleep - the rest stops wake her up, or well, she would at least cry in her sleep. Sleeping in the car seat for that long is fairly uncomfortable. She was too tired to play or eat, as it was her sleepy time. So she became really, really frustrated. It was too late in the night to go to parks or just let her stroll around.

After we arrived at our destination, at about 8 AM, it wasn't easy to just hand over our daughter to our relatives and go to sleep. She was shy about the new place / scared of the new people and only wanted her mommy and daddy. Relatives helped as much as they can, but you have to understand her waryness of new people and a new place.

Now, our trip back was much better. It was actually quite fantastic. We started at around 3 AM this time. We had put her to bed at 11 PM, so she had roughly 4 hours of sleep. She did wake up when we put her in the car seat, but fell asleep about 1/2 an hour later. We stopped every 3 hours for 15-30 minutes for a "car-seat-free-time." If she was sleepy, I'd just hold her and let her sleep on me. If she was awake, I'd feed her and change her diaper, if necessary. If she was awake when I'd put her in, I'd give her toys (old and new) to play with. Within 30 minutes, she'd be back to sleeping. She did this the whole way. She only got cranky in the last TEN MINUTES of our trip, when nothing would console her. But we were almost home at that point, so it was all good!

The nice thing about starting at 3 AM was that both of us were relatively rested. She had half her sleep, but since it was broken, she didn't have trouble snoozing the rest of the way. We did a stop at a Tim Hortons/Subway and let her walk around and stretch her legs. We got home around 2:30 PM and weren't exhausted so were able to take care of her easily. She went to bed a little early and slept for a long time, but so did we :).

We took lots of food with her that she would normally eat - baby cereal, frozen apple sauce (it was hot, so eating it was like drinking a slushie), crackers, etc. She also ate 1/2 a bran muffin and a little bit of tuna on a sub. We had a small water bottle just for her with a straw. Our daughter doesn't drink much juice, so none of that.

I sat in the back with her the whole way. I'd try to gently stroke her hair to help her sleep when she was sleepy but uncomfortable in the car seat. I'd play games like peek-a-boo with her or read a book in her awake time. Just...do stuff to keep her happy when she is awake, and be quiet when she is sleepy. It worked really well :)

We also did the same trip with her when she was 5 months old. On the way to Boston, we actually stopped half way at a hotel and spent the night there. However, on the way back to Ontario, we drove through. That actually only took us 10 hours - we started around noon and reached home by 10 Pm. We only stopped for nursing her - which wasn't very often. At 5 months old, she fell asleep in her car seat very easily.

  • Pretty much sums up my experience, although I did a trip from Massachusetts to South Carolina, we drove during the day and it was ok. I don't like overnight driving since no matter how much you feel awake, or how much coffee you have, if you are driving by yourself in the middle of the night you can still get tired from the tunnel vision you get from headlights and darkness.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Jul 21, 2011 at 17:25
  • 1
    +1 for the idea of starting with a half-sleeping kid, very early. Sounds like a good recipe. Commented Jul 21, 2011 at 20:36
  • +1 for early driving from me as well. If we can get on the road by about 6:00am, my toddler does really well.
    – Rachel
    Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 5:44
  • Maybe driving through the night with your child in the car is the time to break your usual "we're not coffee drinkers" rule? Better to drink something you don't really like than to go to sleep at the wheel. Or if you really can't stomach the taste of coffee then how about caffeine pills?
    – A E
    Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 10:52

I DO NOT recommend night driving--especially if your drive is in excess of ten hours. There are several reasons for this:

  1. If your initial drive-time is 10 hours, you should probably add another 2-4 hours of drive time with kids. So now your drive is between 12 and 14 hours. Even if you drive overnight, you are going to have to stop for fueling, food, bathroom breaks, diaper-changing breaks, etc. And, inevitably, when you do this your child will probably wake up almost every time. It's amazing, but our average stop time probably doubled after we started doing long road-trips with a baby.
  2. It doesn't matter how much sleep/rest you are able to get during the day, on long stretches of dark road in the middle of nowhere, no amount of caffeine or sugar is going to keep you awake.
  3. It is dangerous. When my husband and I were younger we could easily drive 12 hours overnight without a single thought after working a full 8-hour day, but the last two times we attempted the all-night drive the last two hours were an absolute nightmare and I still don't know how we all arrived in one piece. There are whole stretches of the interstate between Chicago and Madison, WI that I have absolutely no memory of despite the fact that I drove them. Just don't do it.

After we realized that driving overnight was no longer an option, we started breaking the drive up into two shorter chunks and we would spend the night in a hotel somewhere in Indiana. The positive side to this is that we were never so exhausted that we put our family in danger and it was nice to book a hotel that had a pool so we could wear down the kiddos before bedtime, but the negative side is that we ultimately spent 4 days just traveling (two on the way there and two on the way home), and we had to pay for a hotel room--twice.

If stopping overnight is not an option for you, then here are some dos that we learned with our kids:

  1. Do stop frequently to give your kid the opportunity to walk around. This was especially important when we drove with our son who was 18ish months old.
  2. When you stop, try to get as much done at that stop as possible to at least minimize your stopping. As I said before, your stop time is going to increase anyway. If you're going to stop to eat, try to find a spot that will allow your son to run around and play after he's eaten and also change his diaper. Just FYI: Fast food restaurants SEEM like a good idea for this, but we have found so many of them do not offer diaper changing stations anywhere. Wendy's and Subway seem to be the worst for this, but we've hit a few McDonald's that have the same problem. If you need to change a diaper, stop at a safe, clean-looking rest area or a large travel center. Trust me, you DO NOT want to stop, get your kid out of the car, go inside, hit the restroom and discover there is no where to change your kid's diaper.
  3. Keep a stock-pile of toys (new and old) that are good car toys. Dispense them judiciously. Your child will tire of the toy eventually and you don't want to be two hours into the trip with nothing more to give your kid.
  4. If possible, it's nice for one adult to sit in the back to help entertain. Sitting in the back was never an option for us.
  5. Make a "travel box" that has diapers, wipes, toys, sippy cups, etc., easily accessible. This way, you're not trying to dig through bags to find whatever it is that you need. We always kept a medium-sized plastic tub of stuff in the floor behind the driver's seat.
  6. Take a small ball with you. Even if your ONLY option for stopping is a rest area, your child can play with the ball and still have a pretty good time.
  • Maximize baby's sleeping time during the drive. Drive through the night if possible arriving in the morning.
  • Keep him entertained, bring new toys.
  • Have one adult seat in the back with the child.
  • Stop in the parks or playgrounds, not rest areas, where he can run and spend some energy. GPS usually is good with helping you find these places on the way. In the US we search for State Park or County park. Most of them have playgrounds. Even if there are no playgrounds there is always something interesting to look at and space to run.
  • Any cell phone is a good toy to keep them busy. You said no DVDs, but if you have a Smartphone and let your child use it, there are a lot of games available.
  • Pack your snacks and drinks with you so you don't spend additional time stopping for food, picnic in the parks instead or eat on the way.
  • Have a lot of finger food to keep your toddler busy.
  • +1 for a new toy, and for stopping in parks rather than normal rest areas. Commented Jul 21, 2011 at 15:51
  • If you have a jailbroken iPhone, "IncarerApp" disables the home button, so you could fire up his favorite app and be sure he won't wreak havoc on your address book. Commented Jul 21, 2011 at 15:52

I recommend fewer, longer stops instead of short, frequent stops. I have routinely driven 6 hours each way with my son to visit family. I've learned that he does better, and we can usually make it with 1 stop or 2 if we stop and eat and play for a while. Usually the stop takes about an hour, but then we have an easier time in the car for a longer time than after a quick stop.

The time of day is also important, and I've found early morning to mid afternoon fits really well for us. We leave before he would normally wake up. Then we stop for breakfast and play, usually after about 3 hours of driving. When we get back on the road, he plays for a while and takes a morning nap. He is usually a happy kid anyways during the mornings and early afternoon, so that helps. We've tried driving in the late afternoon and evening, but that is his usual cranky time, and it's even worse in a car.

As a side note, even though it won't help the original poster, for others looking for toddler road trip tips, I highly recommend a portble DVD player with some Baby Einstein type videos. They play classical music and show kid-friendly visuals liek toys, animals, and nature. They are much less annoying to the adults in the car than most kid shows. (I'm thinking of a big purple dinasour.)


Lots and lots of snacks, preferably things they can pick out and eat themselves like trail mix type things.

A bag or basket of new (to them) dollar store toys / stocking stuffer type things. Depending on the child you can either give them the whole bag themselves to explore, or produce things one at a time as necessary.

Stickers / sticker books.

Games: I-Spy, 20 questions, I went shopping and I bought... etc. Some of these might be beyond them at 2, it depends very much on the child in question, and whether they are only-just-2 or nearly-almost-3!

(Making this community wiki so anyone can add more ideas, since it's a list rather than a single answer)


Night drive

The first idea that comes to my mind is driving at night. Our son often falls asleep in the car, most likely because of the movements and the white noise. I have a 14-hour drive to my family, from Austria to Denmark, and this is how I would do it.

Prepare and pack the car during the day or early evening. Make sure you're well rested on this day. Do a shorter version of your bedtime routine, and do it earlier than usual, then get in the car and start driving. He'll fall asleep soon enough.

Both parents can take turns driving and sleeping, and you could also plan a short (<20 minutes) power nap around midnight to keep fresh, possibly with some booster music (see below). The important thing is to take a break before you get really tired.


Most obvious is that you'll both be kind of tired the following day.
-Solution: Since you're visiting your family, perhaps they can lend a hand with attending to your son.

You might also be tired during the drive, as I've already stated.
-Solution: Start out well rested. Take breaks early. Consume enough fluids and proper(!) food to keep you going. Make sure that the driver can safely access some snacks and fluids even while the co-pilot is sleeping.

It's also worth noting that some people are more comfortable driving in daylight, for various medical and psychological reasons. I personally prefer the night, as long as the roads are in decent condition and I know my way around (I wouldn't like to weave through unfamiliar, worn and narrow Italian streets at night).
-Solution: Choose an easy route even if it's a small detour. Know the way, and/or use a navigation system that you know you can trust.

When you return to your home, there's no family to assist you.
-Solution: Make sure you have at least one day at home before you need to get back to work. Yes, that will shorten your stay, but it will reduce the impact at home.

Booster music:
That booster music is something I actually use, and despite appearances it really, honestly works! It works best if you're familiar with it in advance, so some "training" (conditioning, really) helps. Must be used with headphones, and in-ear headphones are better than old-school ("walkman") on-ear headphones.

The last time I drove 14 hours, we started in the morning and arrived in the night. Our son was an infant then, and slept the whole time except for feeding and changing. We were very surprised that he slept through the night anyway! I'm sure I won't be that lucky with a toddler though :-/

Note: The pzizz link is an affiliate link. I forgot what it earns me but it's probably not a lot, and doesn't cost the buyer anything. I believe in the software, and there's a $10 "energizer pack" available as MP3. The more expensive choices offer more, but that's irrelevant to the question.


Ive found a small, cheap, headrest-attached DVD player to work wonders for 2-4 year olds to be a great way for them to pass long car journeys (regularly do 4-5hr drives with mine).

  • should be okay if you ensure they do not put the volume up too high.
    – tgkprog
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 19:22
  • @tgkprog - as anyone who's listened to Peppa Pig for 4 hours can attest
    – Jamiec
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 7:25

We drive many many places and sometime very long trips. I honestly never have a problem. But we have very different rules then most parents do wen talking about car rides.

  1. No food or drinks. Even for the adults
  2. No toys
  3. Hand to your self
  4. You have to wait your turn to speak

We do this on every car ride no matter how long or short. It works wonders. I don't know why others don't do it.

Now for the actual trips. Car rides start days before the trips ever do. Maybe even weeks.

First we build up the trip. Hey are your excited to go see Grandma? It's gonna be a fun trip. What are some of the fun things you think we can do there? And that type of thing.

Second we talk about what we expect on the trip. So were going to be driving through 4 states. There's going to be One, then two, then three, and then we will be in four, and we will be there. State one is big and fat, so it's going go take the longest, but state two is wide but short and were going the short way so it's going to be fast. State three has mountains, lets get excited about mountains. Were going to stop at every rest area and we will have lunch at so an so, and dinner at so and so.

Third while on the trip we help them keep track of where we are. We're in state 2 just another 30 mins till we can stop at the rest area and stretch our legs.

Fourth, we stop at every rest area. Every one. Get out, move around, eat a small snack and drink waters. Bathroom, and look at the visitors center map and learn where on the map we are. They may no be able to read a map but they can tell the "you are here" dot is getting closer.

Fifth, we engaged them in the car. We listed to their music. We sing along. We play "plane, train, bus, or boat" (where we look out for those things and point them out to one another) We play farm animals, or just talk about school or the trip. It all depends. Some times, a lot of times they just want to be left alone.

We have never had a bad trip. We do have bad sections, but never a bad trip.

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