Dear Miriam | Toddler’s First Road Trip Raises Questions

car driving along the beach with a pile of luggage on top
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Dear Miriam,

We are taking our toddler on his first road trip over Labor Day weekend. Any suggestions for keeping him and his 6-year-old sister happy in the car? 


Kids in the Car

Dear Car,

The first and most crucial piece of information you’ll need to figure it out is whether your kids get motion sickness. Since your little guy has never been on a long car ride, unfortunately, you might end up learning this the hard way. But the difference between entertaining a kid who can look down at small activities and a kid who can’t is as different as being at home versus being on a trip. They’re just totally different worlds.

If you think your kids are unlikely to get carsick, then I recommend bringing along books, stickers, those amazing Water Wow Books and anything else that can be held on a lap and doesn’t have a lot of parts to get lost. Buying a few new things in this category will help keep their interest, and doling them out slowly over the trip will make sure the kids don’t get bored of everything all at once.

If carsickness is likely, or you don’t want to risk it, then you’ll need to be more creative, and probably more interactive. Listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks together can be a great way to pass the time. There are lots of games you can play that involve looking out the window: take turns spotting things in every color of the rainbow, or spotting every letter of the alphabet (for the 6-year-old), or count how many blue cars or cows or Amazon trucks you see.

Screens can be an indispensable way to entertain kids in the car, but in addition to the carsickness concern, you’ll have to make sure that you are equipped to help if something goes wrong with a device, that the two kids won’t fight over what’s on the screens and that you have a sufficient way to keep everything charged. If you want them to be able to watch something rather than play games and your car doesn’t have a screen built in for the backseat, you’ll need a way to mount a device and control it from the front seat.

Snacks are also crucial, but they need to be easy to pass back and forth without making a mess. Think about alternating between sweet and savory options, but don’t worry too much about their junk food consumption, as the goal is to get everyone to your destination in one piece, not to serve a gourmet meal on the go. If your kids can handle them safely, lollipops can keep hands and mouths busy for a long time. Water bottles are also important, though you may need to limit just how much they drink, depending on your potty-training situation and desire to visit rest stops.

You should make sure to have lots of wipes on hand, plus a trash bag. You should also have a few sure-to-please surprises in reserve if needed. (When my kids were around this age, I was known to blow bubbles in the car as a major distraction when driving got rough.) Bring changes of clothes just in case. And while entertaining the kids is important, if at all possible, plan to stop every couple of hours to give them a chance to run around, and time your driving around naps since even better than keeping them fully entertained is not having to entertain them at all.

Good luck, safe travels and be well,



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