Pre-COVID, we were “plane people.” We didn’t mind a long drive, but with a young child, it was easier to shorten the travel time and fly. Now, in COVID times, we are “do whatever it takes to keep out of the clutches of an infectious disease people,” and if that means foregoing flights in favor of excruciatingly long car rides, then so be it. It seems like road-trip only travel is going to be the new normal for some time to come. Especially for those of us with small children who can’t refrain from licking airplane seats, armrests, and windows. So, we quickly became relative experts in road trip entertainment for toddlers.
We recently returned from a successful 11-hour (one way) trip. Far surpassing my expectations, my son had the time of his life and would hop back in the car for another 22 hours if I let him. I think he loved the trip so much because he got A LOT of attention from Mom. Theo is only 1.5 years old and his arms, while adorable, are too short to actually reach any toys by themselves, so I had to sit in the back with him to walk him through activities, books, screen time, and our entire mobile pantry.
Most of the items I packed, we already had in the house. I am a big fan of working with what you already have, but we did make a few purchases for the trip. While my son is not yet two, I am confident that all of my activities will suit his needs throughout his toddler years. Hopefully, they will also suit your needs!
My Criteria for Road Trip Toddler Activities
- Entertain the toddler for at least 15 minutes
- Be small and portable
- Double as a good toy at our destination
- Not annoy the crap outta me because I am also stuck in the car (no flashing lights or repetitive noises)
Here are 51 ideas, activities, and items to entertain your toddler on a road trip while the wheels on your car go round and round…and round and round…
Arts & Crafts
Developmental Activities with a Focus on Stashing, Stacking, Smashing, & Sorting
- Sort and Stash activity—recycled cream container, multi-colored pom poms, and Popsicle sticks. And for an added challenge, toddler tweezers. My son loves to drop items into this cream container and screw the lid on and off.
- Play Doh—Small plastic plate (to contain the Play Doh), a roller, and tiny cookie cutters.
- Old wallet filled with old IDs and business cards
- Painter’s tape—One of our favorite toys! We use this tape to make up many games on the go. He can tape down and free his little figurines. He can color sort and stick the pom poms etc.
- Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Lacing Beads and pipe cleaners (the squares can also be stacked!)
- Sticky notes and dot stickers for sticking and color sorting
- Toilet paper/ Paper towel tubes for stashing (not pictured)—these can double as fun slides for figurines and cars!*Yes, your toddler will probably drop pieces of these activities all over the car, but we do what we gotta do!
Puzzles & Brain Games
- Bristle Block Stackadoos
- Melissa & Doug Beginner Wooden Pattern Blocks Educational Toy With 5 Double-Sided Scenes and 30 Shapes
- Coogam Matching Eggs
- Spark. Create. Imagine. 2-in-1 Magnetic Alphabet & Puzzle (Pictured later)
- Mega Bloks First Builders Big Building Bag (Not Pictured)
- LOOBANI Montessori Activity Wooden Cheese Toy (Not Pictured)
My Toddler’s Favorite Figurines and Cars
Misc. Organizers and Toys
Keeping all of these activities organized and separated is of the utmost importance. Do NOT, I repeat DO NOT just toss all of these items loose in a bag and hope for the best. Use whatever containers you have on hand to organize them before you head out. This extra step will save your sanity.
- Green Leaf and blue patterned zippy containers- (Walmart wallet aisle)
- Pink and clear zippy containers- (Walmart make-up aisle)
- Recycled cheese container to hold the Play Doh supplies
- Wipe container to hold magnets
- Fat Brain Toys Whirly Squigz (Pictured later)
- Fat Brain Toys Dimpl Popper (Pictured later)
- Buckle Toy – Buddy Backpack—This bag has 12 buckles for little hands to play with! We also use the bag to transport his books (which is why it is included here).
- Lit for Little Hands: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—We love this brand of books because every page has some sort of interactive element and the book is very sturdy and tough to rip.
- Daniel Tiger: Friends Help Each Other—There is no special interactive element with this book but we take it because he is a BIG Daniel Tiger fan.
- On the Go: A Mini AniMotion Book—When he turns the pages, it looks like the pictures are animated!
- Pop-Up Peekaboo!: Bedtime—This is a lift-the-flap book.
- Yoga Whale: Simple Poses for Little Ones—We like to make his stuffed animals and figurines do the yoga poses.
- Melissa & Doug Poke-a-Dot Book – Dinosaurs A to Z—This book is a permanent car toy for us because our son loves to turn the pages and pop the buttons while learning about dinosaurs.
Tablet & Car Gear
- Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition tablet– After a lot of research, we purchased the Amazon fire tablet because it came with a kid-friendly case and we like Amazon’s “replace it” even if you throw it off a cliff, policy!
- TFY Car Headrest Mount Holder*– My husband and I joked that this was a the best purchase of the trip. Our son is too little to realize that when he touches the screen, the movie pauses, so a tablet mount for movies was necessary!
- Lusso Gear Kids Travel Tray*– We honestly did not use this so much because I think it is a little too old for him, but I think it will be perfect when he is 2.5-3ish!*Any item not sold by the car seat manufacturer, installed in the car seat area, can pose a risk (like backseat mirrors). We felt safe knowing the risks, but you should be aware and research for yourself before installing.
Headphone options for older toddlers (mine won’t keep them on his head yet!)
42. Mpow CH9 Kids Headphones Bluetooth –We
quickly realized that my son is far too
young to deal with the cords that come with
wired headphones (even completely
supervised). So we will be investing in a
pair of Bluetooth headphones like these for
Apps and Media
The day before a trip, We pre-load his tablet with his favorite shows, movies, games, puzzles, and books. All of the services listed below allow you to download content so that you don’t need the internet on the road to utilize them. Don’t forget to connect to WiFi to reload and renew your downloads every couple of days! Some shows and apps have a 48-hour download expiration date.
- Amazon Prime—Theo’s Recommendations: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood , Bubble Guppies, and Leo the Truck
- Netflix—Theo’s Recommendations: Little Baby Bum and the Great British Baking Show
- Disney+—Theo’s Recommendations: Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Moana, and “Forky” (Toy Story 4)
- Youtube—I threw together videos of our family and uploaded it to Youtube for Theo to watch. His own life is his favorite show :).
- PBS Kids has several Daniel Tiger Games. Theo is still young enough that he needs help navigating the apps, but he enjoys seeing Daniel and friends!
- Balloon Pop!—It is a game where you…pop balloons!
- Barnyard Games for Kids by RosiMosi—this is a series of animal-related puzzles and easy games for toddlers.
- Finger Paint Colorbook by Pixel Envision Ltd.—A digital coloring book
- Amazon Digital books—The Amazon Fire has thousands of downloadable digital picture books from which to choose! Theo’s Recommendations: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, 100 First Words, and The Mighty Maui Makes a Friend
If I’m being honest, I would say his pre-loaded tablet got the most use out of everything I packed. Everybody can make their own choices about screen time; for our family, we limit screen time to little or none at home, and we reserve the tablet for travel only. I am of the opinion that if he is stuck in a car seat for 10 hours and wants to watch Moana five times, then fine! As long as he doesn’t get cranky from the exposure, he will be fine and we can detox him when we get home. Whatever makes him comfortable and happy, makes the whole car comfortable and happy.
I know this seems like A LOT of stuff—it is. We did not take everything suggested on this list, and what we did take, we took in small amounts. You can see in the picture above how all the items fit nicely into a manageable bag!