Three Things I Learned About Traveling In A Van With My Toddler For A Month


25 states in 34 days with two adults, a toddler, and a dog. For a family of East Coast transplants who love to travel, the pandemic definitely put a damper on those plans. A severe case of the stir-crazies and a couple of family members with some health issues got us to jump-start our travel bug again. We found a used Mercedes Sprinter cargo van, and little by little, my amazing husband outfitted the van for its maiden voyage across the country with our 18-month-old son and 5-year-old dog. For anyone who has attempted a road trip with a child of this age, you know that you are one part crazy and one part ambitious — and of course, I include myself in that as well! Attempting a few-hour (let alone several-day) road trip with a toddler takes some serious planning. 

I failed… a lot. There were tears from both mama and son at times. This trip was one of the hardest things we’ve done as a family. But we all survived, and we have some great memories to boot. We saw some beautiful parts of the country that we probably never would have flown to see. There were some giant smiles from all of us, and that priceless look of wonder on a child’s face discovering something for the first time. So if you are looking to travel (safely), a road trip may be a great way to explore!

1. Bring toys and snacks — both old and new. 

A no-brainer, I’m sure, but this point was driven home for me in a major way this trip.  Purchase a few new little toys and books that will spark that sense of newness and wonder when you break them out. But don’t forget the one thing you can’t forget — all you mamas know what that is! For us, it’s a stuffed bear in pajamas. And I suppose never underestimate the power of a water bottle with rocks in it at this age… ha!

Same with snacks. Pack a few tried-and-true favorites, but also splurge a little on a few new things they will get a kick out of (preferably something you can eat in the event you have a picky one as I do!). Trader Joe’s is probably the best place to scope out for new and exciting snacks for the whole family!

A few easy Amazon toys that did the trick for us in the car:

2. Travel at your kiddo’s best time of day.

Whether you are looking to travel two hours or six, getting through that with a toddler unscathed is a challenge. Think about when your child is at his or her best (or when their longest nap is), and do your “hardest” drives during that time. It may take some give and take on the parents’ end, but it will be worth it when you can arrive at your destination with time to spare. For us, that was maximizing the 7 am-noon time frame. We would drive as far as we could during that morning time and then take it a little slower in the afternoons.

3. Just go with the flow!

Easier said than done. I’ll quote my favorite San Diego podcast mamas, The Mom Minutes, by saying that you definitely have to have a bit of “breezy” in you! There are just so many things that can arise on the trip that you didn’t plan for, and it’s how you handle the hiccups that matters. Whether it is a later-than-normal bedtime, a hotel or campsite that no longer has room, or some less-than-healthy meal options — just think, this is temporary. At some point soon, you will be home again and get back into your normal routine. Try to enjoy the ride, make the memories, and embrace the mess!


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