Tell friends and family you’re going on a road trip with a toddler in tow, and they’ll look at you like you’re crazy. While traveling with toddlers gets a bad rap, giving kids the travel bug early is the best way to ensure a lifetime of fond memories together. Besides, kids who start traveling young are adaptable, flexible, and curious — traits that serve them well whether they’re sitting in a classroom or jetting around the globe.
Here’s how to make it come together so everyone has fun and stays sane.
It gets complicated quickly
Adding a toddler to your trip adds a lot of complications and extra costs. No longer can you have a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants vacation. You need to plan for nap times, snack times, and car seats, which means spending more on accommodations, meals, and transportation.
Rather than let that scare you away from making travel memories with your little one, plan a family road trip that’s easy, affordable, and fun.
Leave the family car at home
If you’re dreading cleaning out the family car for your road trip, you may not have to: Clark notes that for longer trips, renting a car is a better choice than driving your own. Not only does renting a car spare the wear and tear on your own vehicle, but a rental car may have better gas mileage and amenities than your daily ride.
Just avoid the mistake of buying the rental company’s car insurance. Not only will this overpriced coverage quickly eat up the money you save, but there are cheaper options out there, like temporary car insurance or coverage through your credit card company.
Time your drive strategically
If your toddler gets antsy around the same time every day, that’s exactly the time you don’t want to be in rush hour traffic in the middle of a city. Plan the bulk of your driving hours during times your toddler is asleep or otherwise calm. This may mean starting early and driving late into the night, but it’s better (and as Children’s Hospital Colorado says, it’s safer) than trying to manage a meltdown from the driver’s seat.
Don’t shun screen time
Family road trips are jam-packed with memorable experiences, but in between, there’s typically a lot of downtime. While you might set screen time limits at home, relax them on vacation to spare everyone’s sanity during long stretches on the road. An in-car Wi-Fi hotspot provides reliable connectivity, and a lineup of kid-friendly movies and games keeps the peace in the backseat so you can focus on the road.
Take advantage of free fun
The itinerary when traveling with a toddler looks a lot different than before you became parents, but that can be a good thing for moms and dads on a budget. Instead of spending money on fine dining and crowded tourist attractions, look for free ways to take in the sights, like stopping at roadside attractions, visiting local parks and street fairs, and finding scenic spots for a family picnic. Not only will you stretch your travel budget, but it’s also fodder for amazing memories.
Splurge on a sitter
Nothing beats the wonderment in a child’s eyes when experiencing something for the first time, but as amazing as traveling with your toddler can be, it’s also hectic and exhausting. You’ll enjoy your vacation better if you have time to relax too, so make arrangements for a babysitter during your trip.
This is easy if you’re traveling near family. Otherwise, try hiring a local babysitter through a screened service. You’ll pay less than you would for a hotel with childcare and have more control over who you hire.
Why let parenthood put an end to your wanderlust when you could share it instead? As long as parents keep their needs and routines in mind, toddlers can be great travel companions. We hope these tips for traveling with toddlers: how to save money and sanity on your next family road trip are helpful!
Your first toddler-friendly trip will be different from the vacations you’re used to, the memories you make together may just be your best ones yet.