Day Trips: Bringing along Toddler

The idea of bringing a little one along on a day trip is daunting.

Where to go that will capture their interest, what to bring, what to do…

No longer can the carefree couple be truly carefree. A lot of planning goes into the whole process of taking a day trip when bringing a little one along.

That said, taking a day trip with a little one isn’t impossible, nor is it difficult to plan. It just takes a little extra prep the first couple of times and once everything is in place, it should be a breeze each time you want to take a trip.

Prepping a “Go Bag”

The quintessential item that should come along each trip, besides a diaper bag, is what I like to call a “go bag.” This bag is filled with books, toys, activities, and snacks that are age appropriate and “special” because they solely reside in this bag and aren’t for play at any other time.

I try to swap out a different and legitimately new toy each time to keep the bag somewhat fresh, but only if I have the time to pick something up. If not, the novelty of the bag tends to be enough.

In Jai’s Go Bag:

  • Small pots of non-toxic “dough”
  • Water marker and activity set
  • Several small figurines
  • Wooden noisemaker (that isn’t too obnoxious for us)
  • Wooden car
  • Special stuffed animal
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Stickers
  • Board books
  • Flashcards
  • Stretchy string ball
  • Non-perishable snacks that can sit between trips without going bad (and easy to use in the car)

I try to keep everything tactile in nature at this point because Jai is very touch-oriented. As he gets older, I will probably switch in some books and more activity sets that are easy to handle in the car.

As a last resort, we bring a tablet pre-loaded with some of Jai’s favorite movies so we can hand it to him if he is unable to occupy his time with everything in the bag. This is especially ideal for air travel where we’re in confined spaces and loud noises.

Don’t Forget the Essentials

Besides a go bag, I make sure to pack at least two extra outfits: one for warm weather and one for cold/after getting wet. While I try to pack light, I do include several other items in the vehicle to have within reach or easy to get when we stop:

  • Diaper bag
  • Towel
  • Plastic bag for dirty/wet clothing storage
  • Snacks (in addition to what is in the go bag)
  • Water or Favorite Drink
  • Cooler to store stuff for “long-term”

By having a list like this with all the bags mostly packed, it’s easy to say one day “let’s go on a day trip” and go with minimal prep. All we have to gather is perishable snacks, drinks, and restock any of the important bags.

Start off Small & Local

For the first couple of trips, we try not to go farther than an hour’s ride.

This is to gauge Jai’s interest and ability to sit in the vehicle for extended periods of time. Last year, for the solar eclipse, we went beyond our temporal boundaries and while he handled it like a champ, it was still difficult for him on the drive back (it took triple the time to get home because traffic was so bad).

Jai is older so he can handle longer trips but I try to keep in mind that there are plenty of options even within an hour’s drive from us. If we have to alter our plans either do to interest, weather, or traffic – it’s easy to adjust without causing too much disappointment.

Supporting small and local businesses is also a great idea, not just for holiday gifts. We have found some of the more unique and interesting sites and shops by keeping our day trips local. 

Each trip pushes us a little farther, and like for our own trips alone, we try not to exceed 3 hours travel time. With a little three hour trip, it can actually take much longer than that because we have to stop for food, stretching, and diaper changes along the way.

Plan Along the Way

If I am able to, I try to figure out our route ahead of time.

Sometimes we have to make adjustments on the fly due to detours, but if I know there’s a town with stuff to do an hour into the trip, we stop there to let Jai out of the car for a little bit. Toddlers need to stretch their legs and get their antsy feelings out, which can help them nap for part of the trip, along with diaper changes and a chance to eat while unrestrained in the car seat.

It’s also a great time for an impromptu picnic, restaurant stop, or park play. By emphasizing the adventure aspect of the trip it makes the stops fun and interesting for both child and adults.

Yet Again, Flexibility is the Name of the Game

Maintaining flexibility towards Jai’s mood and interest level is key to making a day trip successful. Having absolutely no expectations or firm plans helps keep the trip stress-free. With the solar eclipse, we were going to a specific destination at a specific time, so there was little flexibility as far as that was concerned.

But when it came time to leave? We took the adventure all over the local states and went where traffic would take us. We saw some beautiful vistas, funky small towns, and creepy gas stations along the way – but it was fun. We made sure to stop when Jai needed some time out of his car seat and try to stay relaxed when we encountered bumper-to-bumper traffic. It was still stressful, but a lot less stressful if we stuck to a schedule to get back home.

If we ever get the sense that Jai is not enjoying himself or is ready to go home, regardless of how long it took to get there or money spent, we head back home. It isn’t about giving in to him in a spoiled child sense but respecting his autonomy as a little person. Sometimes as adults, you’ve had enough of a certain place and you decide to head home. Because he isn’t capable of heading home on his own, we have to make that decision for him. By showing him that respect for his feelings and desires, it will hopefully make future day trips enjoyable because he knows to trust us.

What types of day trips do you take with your little ones? How do they go and what do you do to occupy their time? Leave a comment with your tips and tricks.


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11 thoughts on “Day Trips: Bringing along Toddler

  1. To take a kid on a day trip is really a challenging task.What i liked best is that you have suggested items of interest that will not be occupying too much space while travelling .

  2. These are some great tips. There is so much to remember when taking a toddler along on day trips and it is so easy to forget stuff! I love the idea of a Go bag to entertain them.

  3. Tara

    This is such a great idea. When my kids were young we stocked up the diaper bag and restocked when we came home. But an additional go bag full of toys may have been all the better. My kids were great travelers when they were small. My daughter loves long car rides again, which I am so happy about. As both my kids for some time stopped liking road trips since they are teenagers and it is more cramped in the car now. It takes some convincing for my son to come with us, but he is old enough to stay home and hold down the fort and watch the dogs for us.

  4. Excellent post and guide. My friends had a child not too long ago and this is basically the stage they are in now, keeping it local mostly and kind of seeing and noting how well she does on the trips that are a little further out. So far things are going well lol! We don’t have any kids ourselves but these guides are always reassuring as I know I’ll be coming back to them once we have some kiddos of our own.

    • MS//Mommy

      It really is! We use the bag as much as he’s interested which isn’t all the time. But knowing that it is there helps SO MUCH.

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