Road Trip Advice for My 3Y/o

Updated on March 23, 2009
M.A. asks from Red Oak, TX
28 answers

Hello! My husband and i will be taking a road trip to visit family this year instead our normal flying to save on money. We will be saving half the flight cost. My son turned three January 1st, 2009. It is almost 20 hours away (OHIO). We will be stopping halfway and spending the night somewhere, then finishing the trip the next day. So, almost 10 hours each day. We have never traveled more than 2 hours one way. How often should we let him out of the car seat to stretch and move? Him needing to potty? I need lots of tips and advice? I am wondering if the money saved may not be worth it.

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answers from Dallas on

My family just did this with their 3 year olds. They told the kids - we are going from one McD's to the next. So for every meal they made it a longer stop so that the kids could play on the equipment at McD's. They also used the in car videos.



answers from Dallas on

As you're considering the costs, you need to also add the meals (& motel) you'll need to buy when you travel two days. It may exceed what flying costs!

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answers from Dallas on

We travel cross country a couple of times a year, and my kids LOVE it. (They are 4 and 5.) I go to the dollar store or big lots and get them things they can do in the car (coloring books, stamp sets, stickers, pipe cleaners, etc.) and pack two activity chests for them (one for the trip out, and one for the trip back). They don't have any idea what's in the chests. I pack another bag with healthy snacks and drinks. Every so often I give them a new item out of the activity chest. After they have exhausted themselves with that item, I give them a new one. After every couple of activities, they have snack time. I also record shows and movies onto DVD, so they aren't seeing the same stuff they see all the time. They watch those when it gets too dark for the other stuff. We have used these tricks to go to Florida, South Carolina, and New York (nonstop, 18-31 hours.) One other thing we do is leave late in the afternoon. We can get in a good 6 hours or so before they go to sleep for the night. Then they sleep for the bulk of the drive. My kids view this as a cool adventure. My older daughter now keeps her own activity backpack with some books and things ready to go "just in case we decide to go on another road trip, Mom." There is a web site called that has some good tips also, although not very many for kids this young. Good luck! Almost forgot - the DVD player has headphones, so we don't have to listen to what they watch.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

We do the trip to Chicago (16 hrs) and then to Evansville, IN or Evansville (12 hrs) to Chicago every year at least once a year for Christmas (with the dog in tow!). Stop when he's restless and realize he'll probably fight naps. Invest in a Doodle Pro if you don't already have one it keeps my son occupied for quite awhile. Also the Crayola glow in the dark one is cool for night time. We do colored pencils instead of crayons or markers. Crayons melt and even the color wonder paper bleeds if you're not careful. DVD player is always good. Favorite snacks and drinks. I also recommend some potty seat covers for those yucky potties you can get them at Babies R Us if you don't do a portable one. Also, I have a tip I think I read in a magazine, I now always carry little post-it notes in my bag to cover up the "eye" on auto flush toilets. It's saved us many times from major freak outs.



answers from Dallas on

Have a map from your home to your destination. Kids will ask a million times, "Are we there yet?" (before you've even left the neighborhood). You can show Eli exactly where you are on the map. At 30 mile/minute intervals draw a symbol on the map (star, happy face, etc...). Every time you make it to a symbol, show Eli where you are now and let him grap a wrapped gift out of a bag or box. Inside these little "presents" can be simple and cheap items to keep his attention until you reach the next symbol. A box of crayons and a coloring book, a 30 minute video, a game the two of you can play, etc... Also, I would make stops every 1 1/2 - 2 hours, just to keep him from getting too restless. It will do you and your husband good too.



answers from Dallas on

When we moved from Indianapolis to Fort Worth (18 hour drive), a good friend of mine went through her kids' toybox and found all the Happy Meal toys and other little hand-held things her kids never played with. She put them in a plastic tub and gave them to my daughter. There were probably 20-30 new little toys for her to play with, so when she'd get tired of what she had, she'd just get something new. We took favorite books, including the ones that play music, and some CD's full of her favorite music. We stopped every 2-3 hours, and it was just fine!



answers from Dallas on

probably every four hours... bring a walkman with his favorite tunes... maybe a dvd player for his favorite dvds... good luck



answers from Dallas on

saving money may cost a little money to keep your little motivated, happy, and at ease..... so here are a few ideas that have worked for us... HAPPY TRAVELING...
portable DVD player I've seen them for around $100 Target/walmart---
pack wrapped surprises (from the dollar store) for him to open every few hours to keep him excited...maybe one for every state that you enter. Show him a map of your trip and the BIG states that you will be going through and cross one off as you go through it... they have placemat maps at dollar store/walmart for a few bucks... use a dry erase marker to mark off as you go and then re-use /erase on the way home when returning...will keep him motivated to keep moving along throught the states...
Maybe as you enter each state stop at the info. center/rest stop and see if there are any interesting historical markers/FUN facts about each place...Great learning experience....
sticker books, maybe get a plastic lap desk and as a VERY special treat-- and mabe sit back with him to monitor but I've even let my kiddos use playdoh-- 1 small can at a time with small cookie cutter/stampers... my kiddos LOVED it...
if dough crumbs get on the floor no worries as it dries vacuums right up...
don't get stressed over messiness... the price to pay for a road trip---
COLOR WONDER from crayola--invisable marker and finger paints
pack tons of wet wipes/1 roll paper towels/cleaner
pack cooler w/ small waters instead of juices...
Google road trips for / w/children tons of ideas come up too.
Happy travels & good luck! :0)



answers from Dallas on

i would suggest leaving in the afternoon (maybe at nap time if he takes naps then stop for dinner) and going as far as you can before stopping for the night. that way he will sleep most of the way at least the first leg. we always try to drive at night so the kids sleep but our trip is only about 10hrs. i would stop at least every 3hrs for at least a few minutes. but i would also put a potty chair in the back of the car in case he needs to go & you just have to pull over. pack tons of snacks, & a goody bag with new color books, crayons & small toys.



answers from Dallas on

I traveled all the time by myself with any where from one to all four. I had a goody bag that every couple of hours they could choose something from it. It included snacks, a new book, coloring books, new small toy, ect. When they would get restless, I would let them choose something. As far as potty breaks, if they needed one I would stop. When I did it also included gas top offs. Our kids did great, so good luck with your trip. By the way, I didn't get stressed about it so there wasn't tension in the air. Also, our trips were anywhere from 6 to 13 hours in one day, so we had a lot of experience.



answers from Dallas on

Hi M.,

My daughter is 5 and we have been making that trip to Ohio from Texas 2-3 times a year since she was 4 months old. The most important thing is to be prepared for anything! I always pack lots of things to keep her busy (toys, books, music, coloring books, etc.) Also take a cooler with water, milk, snacks and a sandwich that she likes. That way if you get caught in a traffic jam or aren't ready to stop you have something to hold them over. Also pack a few new toys/treats to pull out if he gets fussy. We have been making this trip since we moved here nearly 8 years ago. We have preferred routes and places to stay. We usually stop every 2-3 hours for gas, bathroom breaks, and to stretch our legs. Please feel free to e-mail me if you have more questions. Good luck and try to have fun!



answers from Abilene on

WOW you have received some really great tips! I hope I have something different for you.

We travel with my 3yo granddaughter and always "just do it her way". When she asks to stop we stop, if she needs to potty, we stop and potty.

At three they are big enough to see out of the windows so we play I spy using shapes, letters, numbers and colors (billboards & traffic signs).

As we are going down the road, we have her pick something she sees and I make up a story about it. She has learned to pitch in on the story too. The sillier the story the better.

We do keep snacks in the car, but try to stop every couple of hours at a McDonald's or some place with a play ground to stretch our legs (my hubby even gets on the playground with her, lol) and potty. I will say, I love the portable potty idea - I never thought of that!!!

We do have a DVD player and use it when it is getting close to nap time. Once she is asleep, we don't stop until she wakes up!

Some one is always in the back seat with her. It can get kind of lonely back there.

Have fun and it is worth the drive. Family time is so important.



answers from Dallas on

We've been road tripping twice a year with our kids (now 9 and 3) since the little one was 5 months old. We drive to Omaha, which is about 10 hours from here. My best advise is to get a portable DVD player and bring lots of movies! We stop every 3 hours for quick potty breaks and when we stop for lunch/dinner, we take at least an hour break then. Really, it's not as bad as you think it could be (unless my kids are just used to it and handle it really well).



answers from Dallas on

We drive all the time with our kids. If not potty trained, make sure you have plenty of clothes and a way to keep the child seat clean. My baby, (2-1/2) went through 7 pairs of pants in two days, got car sick and puked within 1/2 hour of the drive.... our saving grace was a plug in dvd dual screen player.



answers from Dallas on

We've been driving our kids cross country to New Jersey, Iowa, and other random vacation spots since my 5 year old was 3 months old. We now have a 5 year old and 2.5 year old.
Lunchables... they are not real healthy but SO easy to eat in the car and kids usually like them.

Portable DVD player... Our rule is that they have to read a few books, play, color for about 30 minutes before we put ANOTHER movie on. The only draw back is that you might find yourself listening to the same movie over and over again which can irratate some (like my husband:))

If you are a member of AAA check them out. They can do a trip ticket for you mapping it out and even find you a hotel with a pool or even playground. When we were living in Boston and drove to Florida, AAA even found a couple cool playgrounds along the way. Try to have a snack @ McDonalds with a playground if you're oppose to those kind of meals for lunch or dinner. An ice cream sundae @ McD's is a fun way to break it up.

Go online to Noggin, DIsney Channel, and even Sprout and print off fun color sheet that have you kiddos favorite characters. I bought a tray for each of my sons with a cup holder so they can eat and color in their car seats. They love it.

Present: My mother in law gets fun, random, stuff from the dollar store or saved from happy meals and wraps them in wrapping paper and when the "you know what hits the fan" she gives out 'presents' to open...

We take advantage of rest stops. For 15-30 I do relays, run, chase Mommy and Daddy, wrestle, anything active. Try to get out of the car even to pee every 2 hours or as needed. I also keep empty waterbottles in the car for emergencies when we just can't stop for the rest room.

AND MOST IMPORTANT::: This I have to always tell my husband... It is not a race and record making time. Take your time. Play games, sing songs, connect and enjoy each other's company. I flied with my sons (by myself and with my husband) and with delays, weather, carseats, blah blah it was always more stressful than driving.

Have fun and let me know if you need any other ideas!!



answers from Amarillo on

We have been back and forth to Alaska several times with kids ranging in age from 2 to 15, at least 10 days each way, 6 10 hours a day. We always have a great time, because we make plans.

Color Wonder is great in case the markers get dropped. We make packs of goodies for each day, things the kids have never seen. We also make up snack bags ahead of time, with a juice box, and a couple of munchies. They get one every few hours. We stop about every 3 hours, just for 10 15 minutes, so we can all stretchour legs, use the bathroom etc. We also make sure to take favorite stuffed animals, blankies, and a travel pillow so they can be comfy in the car, and have familiar things at the hotel.

We have made the trip with and without DVDs, and it's been fine both ways. It would be nice if you took it in turns to sit in the back now and then to read books etc too.

This can be alot of fun, just plan ahead, and if it is a bit rough, it's only 2 days! We much prefer to drive on our own schedule, rather than face the hassle of flying. Good luck, and have a safe trip.




answers from Dallas on

We have driven back and forth to Columbus a few times with our 3yo and her infant sister. We have had such great trips doing this with family bonding. Just a couple of things that help out:

We pack the car up the night before and try to hit the road between 5:30 and 6:00am. The kids sleep for the first couple hours of driving.

We always stop at the Arkansas welcome center, because there is an outdoor play area. We eat a packed lunch there. The more time the kids spend outside = the more time they sleep in the car.

I get new books to read from half price books and coloring books from the dollar store. I also print up games and stuff from (great preschool site). I put them in envelopes for her to open and discover when things are getting rough.

We take fun sing-a-long cds from the library, so that she isn't quite as familiar with them.

We usually stay the night in Memphis. You will get there early enough to have a nice dinner and maybe even swim at the hotel (again to help sleep).

Get to bed early and get another early start in the morning. You can be in Cincinnati by late afternoon.

We usually stop every 2.5 hours unless the kids are asleep. Babies R Us has this great little toilet cover that can also stand up on it's own as a potty. We used this a lot as road side potties can be yucky.



answers from Dallas on

My kids are now older but I have always taken them on road trips from the time they were infants by myself. Bring a box of ziplock bags gallon size great for everything from wet clothes to uh-oh car sickness. I bring a cooler with snacks and drinks. I have done both early morning driving and night driving, I really like night driving during the summer. If you do not have a portable potty I have used a plastic bucket with a lid ( like cheep ice cream comes in) and put clumping kitty litter in it a lot cleaner than having liquid in the car. Bathrooms are not always available when a 3 year old needs one. Depending on your child you may want to practice using it before you leave make it fun. my kids and I have always loved car trips,I did not have a DVD or new toys but we did use tapes of songs and we sang in the car. Have a great time.



answers from Tyler on

My parents live 10 hours away and I think you won't have a big problem with a 3 year old. Definitely get the portable DVD player (borrow one from a friend if you don't want to buy one). I always pack my son's favorite DVD's plus a couple of news ones that he has never seen (they often have DVD's for $5.00 at Walmart).

I'm a single parent and find travelling with the kids very manageable.

I leave at 5:30 AM and don't give them breakfast (they are not interested in breakfast that early in the morinng).

Stop for breakfast at 7:30 AM or so.

On our trip, we pass a McD's around 9/9:30 with a great playset and so I stop for about 15 minutes to let them run around on the playset.

Stop for lunch around noon. I actually stop for a good while for lunch to get some serious playing in. Again, I use a place with a playset.

Stop once in the afternoon.

Then, usually arrive by dinner time.

My son LOVES a magna doodle board to draw on while he is travelling.

The crayon type things where you have the water pen that colors the pages and then the pages show up colored are great.

I keep snacks in the car and tissue and the roll of paper towels. I pack healthy and "junk". Uusally apples, banans, raisins, but also nutter butters and gummy snacks for treats.

If you do get a portable dvd player, and your son is not familiar with them, go ahead and set it up in advance and teach him how to work it himself (change dvds, skip, adjust volume).




answers from Wichita Falls on

1. If you do not have one, a portable dvd player is your very best friend. I have the cheapie from wal-mart, and my kids watched the leapfrog dvd's ( also from wal-mart) to the point that the five year old was sounding out three letter words when he was 3, after our first NOLA trip.

2. Plan to stop every waking two hours (gas, potty) - bring an ice chest of food. Apple slices, string cheese, etc. Do not interrupt naps.

3. Benadryl (dosage by weight) helps with car sickness. It's in the same family as dramamine.




answers from Dallas on

Hi, M.. 10 hours is horrendous. Our family is in Louisiana, 7 hours away, and that drive about kills all of us everytime we make the trip (which is down to only once a year now). After about 5 hours, everyone is DONE... sick, tired, cramping, etc... My kids are great, and it is amazing that they can go 5 without complaint (I start complaining around hour 2). You will be on a 40 hour trip... 20 there, 20 back... more depending on how much you stop! That is less time with family, and when you get there, you'll need a few days to recover (trust me!). Ticket prices aren't bad right now-- I bet you could get a deal. In my opinion-- NOT WORTH IT!! FLY!!



answers from Dallas on

I am from Michigan. My twin daughters have been doing the trip since they were 4 months old (I do this by myself, and the first trip they were still nursing exclusively). Fortunately, I have a sister who lives in Nashville which is about the half way point. The trip really is not that bad.

We only make stops when we need fuel. I always stop somewhere that we can also eat and use the facilities. If a potty break is needed along the way, then it is usually a rest area. It is a lot easier to get in and out quickly.

For comfort in the car, they take pillows and a blanket to be able to snooze. They also take coloring books, a couple of toys, and their Magna-doodles. About 3 years ago I also got a dual screen DVD player for them to watch movies along the way. They are 6 now.

I also take a small cooler with drinks and fruit. String cheese, cheese spread, crackers, and trail mix are good too.

Obviously you know your own family best, but I would think stopping every 2-3 hours would make the trip longer and more difficult. We do this trip a lot (2-4x a year), and the sooner we get from point A to point B the better.



answers from Lubbock on

What I have found to be helpful on a roadtrip is to leave about 6pm in the evening. Drive until about noon the next day, stay in a motel with a pool and let the kids swim, relax have a good night's sleep and then start driving after lunch the next day on to our destination. We have portable DVD player(which is a life saver) and lots of coloring books, drawing paper, puzzles(my grandson particularly likes the magic coloring books...special marker and when he colors over the pictures the color appears. Saves on melted crayons in the car too). We keep a basket of snacks and drinks.And when they get cranky we just stop at roadside park or somewhere and let them run a little enery off.We drove from Lubbock, tx to Gulf Shores, ALabama last summer and this worked great. My grandson was 4 and my granddaughter was 2.5yrs. I hope you have a fun and safe trip and some of this helps.



answers from Dallas on

We drive to Ohio every summer and have since my oldest was about 2 years old. We now have a 7 year old, 41/2 year old and 2 year old. It is not too bad. We usually do it in 3 days. First, we invested in an Ipod for each child. We download lots of their favorite tv shows and movies. Especially with the older two this keeps them busy. I also bring snacks in case they are hungry or thirsty and we are not someplace easy to stop. We usually stop as much as needed. We kind of let our kids's moods dictate it. Sometimes we will just stop at a mall and get out and walk and stretch for 15 minutes. Or we will check our route and see if we pass any colleges and let them get out and run around for 10 minutes to get the wiggles out.



answers from Dallas on

There are some great ideas here. We got dollar store items and wrapped them up. I kept them under my seat and they would open them maybe 3 times a day. It was a big deal for them and even though we don't do it anymore, they still remember it. Take a break every couple of hours. That's an important rule for the driver to get a break. We'd be at the gas station and I'd have the kids hopping and doing jumping jacks, anything to get the wiggles out.

One thing you might do, just in case, is to bring some benadryl or dramamine. We found out that, in certain circumstances, our kids could be prone to carsickness. Stop-and-go traffic(traffic jams or construction), travelling on an empty stomach, and winding, bumpy roads were triggers for us. You may not be able to find it on the road when you need it. Sea-bands helped some. But check with your doctor first for dosages for a little one.

You'll be fine. It does take longer to get there, but in my opinion, it's less stressful than flying.



answers from Dallas on

I have read some of your responses, but may be repeating some things. So, forgive me.

Lots of activities that are car-friendly are important. I don't know how you feel about videos, but long trips (3 hours or more) are the only time we let our 3 year old daughter watch movies or educational videos in the car. I record shows like WordWorld on my DVR and then copy them to DVD to take on the road. We also include a few movies and such. I have other educational videos that teach letters, etc. We usually alternate between videos and games. Also, if you can trade off driving with your husband and one of you can sit with him in the back occassionally, that will help.

We went to Fort Lauderdale last summer (9 hours) and the trip was a breeze. We did start the trip going very early in the a.m. (4 a.m.) so that she'd sleep part of the morning. That took out a good 3 or so hours out of the trip.

I recommend a portable travel potty for the car. You can find one in the One Step Ahead catalog (Item # 11776). It is $24.95 and very worth it. You use one gallon plastic ziploc bags, or plastic grocery bags, in it). I still keep mine in my car all the time, just in case. You never know when they might have to go quickly and can't wait for you to find the nearest McDonald's.

Good luck.




answers from Dallas on

Consider putting a child sized potty in the back of your car and that way you can line it with grocery bags, he can go to the bathroom without having to go inside somewhere and you can just dump the bag. Works well if you have a van or a big suv where there is a flat place for him to sit. Also, my son thought it was really cool when we pulled over and let him pee in a bottle!

Keep lots of snacks, read books to him, let him color (get the ones that only color on special paper). Try to find games that he can try like the water filled things that you push the button and try to get rings on a hook. Have music he likes to listen too, let him watch a move. Don't forget he'll nap for part of the way. I'd definately suggest stopping at a McDonald's to play outside and eat lunch, or at a rest stop that has a place where he could play for a bit.



answers from Dallas on

Every 3 hours seems to be just perfect for our family. We always take a good 15min-1hr break depending on if we are just getting gas or it's time to eat a meal. Make your plans on leaving to where those breaks will corrilate with meal times.

You never have to worry about running out of gas, just fill up at each break. Everyone goes potty, and gets a snack or a meal.

Be sure to bring a ball with you that you can play with your son at each break. Think about running races or chase or something that is super physical even if it's only for 5 min, it will totally help.

Also this time frame allows for a decent amount of time for your son to get sleepy and take a nap or even watch a video if you have the capability in your vehicle.

Have a rotation of activites planned for each section of time. For example the first section be coloring ( I highly suggest Color Wonder products in the vehicl). Another section could be action figures, then a movie section, then book reading...etc. If you rotate things he's less likely to get irritated and bored.

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