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Top 10 Essentials for a Road Trip with Your Baby & Toddler

November 23, 2011

Road trip! What used to be spur of the moment fun, now requires a bit more planning and a lot more gear. I reluctantly parted with my convertible for a more family & 4-seasons friendly vehicle – and used , car reviews by and for moms, as a resource in choosing my current ride. Now that we live driving versus flying distances from our families, we’re really racking up the freeway miles. Here’s what makes our trips survivable, sometimes even enjoyable. Once the car is packed with these items, you too will be well equipped for a road trip, family-style!

What to pack

#1 Infant Car Seat – Graco Infant SnugRide & Base

#1 Convertible Car Seat – Britax Roundabout 55

#1 Harness to Booster Car Seat – Britax Frontier 85

#2 Travel Tray

#3 Sun Shield

#4 Soft Cooler

#5 CamelBak 0.4-Liter Kids Bottle

#6 Munchkin Snack Catchers

#7 Kalencom 2-in-1 Potette Plus or Kalencom Quick Change Kit

#8 Toys & Books

#9 Kids Music

#10 Favorite stuffed animal or blanket

#11 Tablet

Where to buy

For the items in today’s list, I shopped at,,, Target, my local grocery and our toy room. One Step Ahead carries inventive baby gear for traveling and other kid adventures. For more about where I like to shop for all things baby, check out Where to buy.

Why to buy

Timing is everything. If your child normally falls asleep in the car, plan to leave just before nap time. And if your trip culminates at a particular destination versus along a scenic journey, take the “red eye” and drive during the night after the typical bedtime routine. Otherwise, prepare to transform yourself into a one man variety show for hours of nonstop entertainment!

Build in an additional 15-20 minutes for every 2 hours of driving for potty breaks, diaper changes, and feeding. Don’t skip that last exit for 50 miles because your newly potty trained toddler says he doesn’t need to go. Anticipate that he will change his mind and stop. The potential messes and meltdowns are not worth arriving early, or even on time.

Pack everything you might need to attend to your child in small organized bags within arm’s reach. Remember there is no flight attendant button to ring for a blanket. Do the same for your more self-sufficient toddler.

#1 Transport infants in the rear-facing Graco Infant SnugRide with base. Use a car mirror like the SafeFit Jumbo Mirror to see baby while driving. Transition to the Britax Roundabout or Marathon once baby outgrows his infant seat. The Roundabout fits more easily in a coach airplane seat. Add the Kiddopotamus Deluxe PiddlePad Waterproof Seat Liner for newly potty trained toddlers. Next move your child to the Britax Frontier 85 Combination Harness to Booster. I so wanted to use the Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL for its narrow frame, 5-point harness up to 80lbs, and fold flat ability. Unfortunately, safety issues (2011) related to their highly touted Super Latch deterred me. While I do use seat protectors under my car seats, some car seat manufacturers void their warranty with use.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the center rear seat is the safest place for a child. Data exists to support that both the right and left rear seats are the second safest position. Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible per the seat manufacturer’s instructions. I agree that the second safest seat is behind the driver who will subconsciously protect his side of the vehicle, when possible, in a crash. With an infant and toddler, I sat the rear-facing infant car seat in the middle with the forward facing convertible seat behind the driver. Now we have transitioned to a rear-facing convertible seat behind the driver and harness-to-booster style seat behind the passenger because the latter is too wide to fit adjacent to the former.

#2 This tray is a great play and snack surface with mesh pockets around the perimeter for toys and drinks. Anything to facilitate self-sufficiency in your toddler helps.

#3 I don’t have a good product suggestion for sun shades. My vehicle has them built in and my husband’s has dark tinted windows. The two styles we tried in past vehicles didn’t work well – the Eddie Bauer Cling SunShade and Munchkin White Hot Safety Safety Sunblock Shade (rolls up). Gauze breatheable blankets do the trick over an infant car seat as long as they don’t obstruct the driver’s view. A hat or kids sunglasses perhaps?

#4 Choose a soft cooler to accommodate sliced fruit, portable yogurt sticks, string cheese, pureed pouches, a thermos to refill your toddler’s sippy cup and to store baby’s bottles. I like the coolers at L.L. Bean and a soft versus hard one is easier to pack.

#5 These cups don’t leak. Juice boxes are a mess; they are just too tempting to squeeze and watch the liquid fly through the air.

#6 Mindless eating passes the time. Bring boxes of your toddler’s favorite dried fruits and crackers to refill their snack cups. Fill the snack cups by hand instead of pouring the crackers straight from the box so you don’t end up with the tiny broken crumbs at the bottom. I use a large zip top tote with lots of inner pockets for transporting all the dry goods and empty eating/drinking utensils. See Top 10 Essentials for Feeding Baby on the Go for more tips on feeding baby.

#7 This potty works as a stand-alone potty chair with any plastic shopping bag as well as reusable toilet seat cover. Great for side of the road emergencies and gas station restrooms. Pack a spare outfit, more diapers and wipes than you think you’ll need, hand sanitizer, and a few plastic shopping bags for trash, wet clothes, and for use with the potty seat.

#8 Choose a bag with a zipper or snaps, something that can close to prevent spills. Make sure it’s not too big or heavy for your toddler to manage and place it within her reach. Fill it with a small Etch-A-Sketch, crayons, paper, Matchbox cars, trains, dolls or figurines, and books. A child’s atlas if age appropriate. Keep a few “surprises” with you to give her when the mood sours. Nothing with sound.

#9 Load up with kids music and “books on tape.”

#10 This is critical. Don’t forget his favorite stuffed animal or security blanket.

#11 I purposely purchased a vehicle without video screens…arrogantly thinking my kids were going to be happy looking out the window and listening along to NPR..ha! We have since caved and bring a tablet (i.e., iPad) loaded with our toddler’s favorite videos. Headphones aren’t recommended for little ones.

And once you’ve reached your destination..congratulations! But remember there’s still the return trip..

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