Road Tripping with a Toddler: How We Survive Constant Travel

How does Calla do with the constant travel? It’s a question we get often, so I sat down and thought about what gets us through so much traveling with a toddler. It’s definitely evolved over time – we’ve been on the road for almost a year now, and Calla couldn’t even walk when we left! Now she’s running, (somewhat) talking, and is developmentally way different than she was a year ago. Here are some thoughts on travel with a toddler, now that we’ve managed to make it down the east coast, across the country, and back (and are currently on the road again)!

She’s just the cutest, isn’t she?


Our travel days are short hops, not long stretches

This is a perk of this whole RV thing being our lives and not a vacation. I realize that the “short hop” road trip style wouldn’t be nearly as feasible if we were on a strict timeline. I’ve been asked, “How does Calla do with all that driving?” The truth is, she’s not in the car any more than any other child who goes to daycare or school every day. Ideally, we drive every 2-14 days. So we are not in the car for long driving days back to back. When we do drive, we keep to a maximum of 5 hours. If we do a 5 hour travel day, then our next one will be shorter…2 or 3 hours.

Devils Lake, Baraboo WI

Because we generally travel without any reservations, we can go with the flow as far as extending our stay somewhere if we’re not up for another stretch in the car, or we can leave sooner if an area isn’t good for us. This doesn’t work out in our favor sometimes, because a lot of times we can’t stay somewhere desirable over a weekend because it’s completely booked up. But we’d rather have the flexibility so we don’t plan ahead.

Read more about our travel style in this post.

Does this count as travel?

Take a break

Breaks are an important part of our car days. A few factors here:

  • Calla needs to burn off some energy (as evidenced by pulling at her car seat straps and yelling “OFF!!!”)
  • We need to use the bathroom (Trudy had a bathroom that was accessible when we were driving…The Fox does not)
  • We need diesel/coffee (one is fuel for humans, one is fuel for the truck)

Lately, we’ve been traveling on the interstate, so there are rest stops. These are better than a gas station because there are usually some grassy areas where we can let Calla run a bit. We even saw a rest stop recently with a playground! Must have been a parent who designed that one.

Yes, taking a break delays your arrival time, but they are an important part of our travels. Calla has become less tolerant of being strapped into her car seat for hours on end (but hey, at least she doesn’t scream the way she used to when she was younger) so I have a hunch that breaks planned around playgrounds will become an important part of our travels going forward.

Driving Day! Beautiful scenery out our window in Boulder, Utah

Bring lots of entertainment

Why lots? Because any entertainment with a toddler lasts about 5 minutes, then they are bored with it. I start out by sitting in the front seat of the truck, but it’s usually not very long before I have to crawl into the backseat to entertain Calla. Here are some things I’ve found to entertain her:

  • Melissa and Doug sticker books (she points and I peel off the stickers…)
  • Melissa and Doug Water Wow – great because it’s not messy like markers
  • Coloring Books and Crayons
  • Books
  • ME – singing, dancing, and doing whatever I can to keep her from whining
  • iPad (thanks to my Aunt for giving us her old iPad!) and tablet mount – sadly, Calla is becoming less and less entertained by videos. These were a staple for us for the past year on car rides…go ahead, judge! Sadly they aren’t working the magic that they used to.
I’m definitely the source of entertainment a lot more often than I want to be!
Watching videos on the road…see the tablet in front of her? Let’s not forget the Minnies when we travel, too!

Pack a lunch

Sitting in the car for hours makes us feel gross enough, we don’t want to add fried food on top of that! So we always pack a lunch. We have a cooler in the backseat of the truck. Our go-tos are veggies and hummus, apples, sandwiches, and sparkling water. I also pack a myriad of snacks for emergency entertainment for Calla! In Trudy, I could make lunch for us as Tim was driving, although I hated doing that…felt so unsafe! But with the truck/trailer combo we have to pack lunch ahead of time. We’ve gotten a ton of use out of our cooler (we also use it to keep groceries cold) so I’d recommend a decent cooler to anyone who will be spending a lot of time in the car.

Sometimes we pack and lunch and eat somewhere cooler than inside the truck. @ Canyonlands National Park

Plan around nap

This is becoming harder and harder for us, because we think Calla is pretty much done with naps. We are noticing that if she does nap, it impacts her night-time sleep. But when Calla was younger, we used to plan our drives solely around her naps. Most campgrounds have a check out time of 11am or noon, and Calla would go down for a nap around noon or 1pm, so it lined up perfectly. We’d get going, and she’d fall asleep an hour or so later.

I’ll also add that Calla became happier in the car once we switched her to forward-facing. In Trudy, she was rear facing. Soon after we got the truck, we switched her to forward facing. A big improvement for all of us.

Asleep in the truck, snacks in hand. #thelife

Time zone shifts

We have traveled from Eastern Standard Time to Pacific, back to EST, and now we are on the road again back to PST (eventually). Right now we are on Central time. Any time we shift time zones, we don’t worry too much about trying to shift along with the time zone. We let it happen gradually. This means that for awhile we all have late bedtimes and wake up later as a result. We have never tried to force adjusting to the time zone shift. Eventually we do get adjusted to the time zone, but often, it takes a week or two. I’m sure we could push it and make it happen more quickly, but we don’t see the need.

This was in my fortune cookie in one of the last meals we ate before we left for RV Life. I knew it was some serious foreshadowing…

Here are some other posts that I wrote awhile ago about RV life with a toddler:

Tiny House Living – With a Toddler

Reflections on Raising a Baby on the Road

Top 4 Must-Haves for RV Life with a Toddler

RV Life with a Toddler: Sleeping Arrangements


Do you have any suggestions for keeping a toddler entertained in the car? Let me know in the comments!


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