Road Trips with Little Passengers

Driving across the country with little passengers is possible - but requires a change in expectations and a little planning

Before we had our little girl, my husband and I would spend most of the summer on the road traveling the country. As teachers, we felt extremely fortunate to have time together to unwind from our jobs and explore new places. We loved the changing scenery; particularly sunsets and the magic of twilight. It was not uncommon for us to spend 16 hours in the car just so we could reach the mountains, which always soothed our souls.

Our little one’s first road trip was at two months old when we moved from Chicago to western New York. This road trip immediately looked quite different from any other we had taken. She was waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. for feedings so we hit the road quite a bit earlier than usual. A relatively short 9 hour trip took much longer with hour long stops every 2-3 hours. The blowout diapers at just about every stop were a delightful change of pace. 

We knew we would remain a road tripping family after we had kids, but also knew it would look vastly different. Traveling 16 hours in a day is a thing of the past and I don’t think I’ve seen a sunset in 3 years. We’ve spent sleepless nights in hotels with a fussy baby and have seen many sunrises from the car trying to lull her back to sleep. I’ve discovered though that the sunrise is no less magical than the sunset and is actually pretty spectacular coming up over the mountains. I guess that’s not a bad trade off if you’re going to be up at such a ridiculous hour. I now spend a lot of time in the backseat entertaining our little passenger, trying not to get car sick. We try to be at our destination before 5:00 p.m. because the alternative is just not worth it.

 Watching her squat down to smell the wildflowers makes my heart burst with love.

Our independent, care free, spur of the moment lives as a couple are over for a season.  But the trade off is rich; seeing our sweet one take tentative steps with the mountains and a lake as a backdrop is not a bad gig. Watching her squat down to smell the wildflowers makes my heart burst with love. Seeing her older cousins, who live thousands of miles away, follow her around like puppies make the hours in the car all worth it.  

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We’ve learned a few things about traveling with a little one over the last few years and making our lifestyle work for all of us. And that’s part of the beauty of parenting, keeping true to yourself, but allowing experiences and your children to change you for the better.

Changing expectations allows for less disappointment. There are just so many things you have to let go of when you are on the road; which offers countless opportunities to practice patience. Not the least of which is stopping to go potty a mere 15 minutes after you filled the car with gas and the little person in the back seat insisted she didn’t have to go.

Pinterest has many great car trip ideas. Of course, it’s easy to go crazy on Pinterest, and there are the inevitable “Pinterest fails,” but like everything in parenting, it takes some time to hone in on the things that work best. Having been a teacher, my favorites are the ones that are educational such as counting beads on pipe cleaners or playing with magnetic letters on a cookie sheet.

Create educational experiences while in the car. Using movies and electronic devices is an obvious way to entertain kids on road trips, but we try to be conscientious about it. Instead of being quick to hand over the iPad, we create games and activities that are fun and educational. For example, we play I-Spy where she not only identifies objects such as trees and clouds, but we also ask her to look for letters, numbers, and shapes. At three years old she is naturally curious about everything, so we have lots of meaningful conversations in the car. We also practice counting and writing letters on the Magna Doodle. When we use the iPad, it’s as a last resort and we try to be relatively close to our destination so we have a natural stopping point and guaranteed distraction after its put away.

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Use rental websites such as and We’ve discovered that renting a condo can be just as cost effective as getting a hotel for a week. And the space and freedom it allows is wonderful. It’s hard enough to have a crying baby in the middle of the night, but adding the stress of people in the next room can be avoided, or at least lessened, if you are in a larger condo.

The joy of passing on our love of adventure and discovery is worth the extra hassle of traveling with a little passenger in tow. My love for hiking and camping was developed over many years in the woods with my dad. The time I spent with him shaped my life and I want the same for my daughter. So we fill our car with way too many toys and activities to pass the hours. We take a little pink Minnie Mouse potty that cheers when you “flush” it and empty it in a vacant lot. Children complicate our lives in the best possible way and we make adjustments so that our little girl can join us on the adventure.

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.

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