Our firstborn was 6 months old when we made our first 12-hour road trip.
Since he typically slept about 12-hours at night and slept really well in his infant car seat, it made sense for us to drive overnight.
It was a risk, but it was wildly successful. We arrived at our beach rental (5 minutes from my parent’s house) and my parents were readily available and willing to scoop up their grandson so we could nap.
Since then, we have made many, many road trips.
We’ve experimented with driving both overnight and during the day. Some trips have been wildly successful; others have not. We also added twins to our family, so we have experience with multiple children.
A family road trip can be tricky and it can make or break your vacation, just being real.
When traveling with little kids, is it better to drive overnight or during the day? It all depends on several things, so I’ll break it down for you, along with tips for a road trip with toddlers.
Driving overnight with toddlers is drastically different than driving overnight with a baby.
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Benefits of Driving Overnight With Kids
Sleep Schedules Aren’t Disrupted
When driving overnight with a baby or toddlers, they won’t have the issue of sleeping all day in the car and then being up all night long ready to party.
This is my favorite part of driving overnight. My kids don’t fuss about being bored because they are SLEEPING.
Not only do we hit less traffic, but fewer stops are required. Since we typically don’t eat meals in the middle of the night, there is no need to stop and eat.
Driving overnight sounds great, doesn’t it? It doesn’t always work though. Here are some things to consider.
Want to fly instead of drive? Read –> Tips for Flying With Toddlers
You Should Drive Overnight If:
Someone Can Watch Your Children When You Arrive
If the answer to this is no, then you shouldn’t even consider it, unless you can enjoy your vacation on zero sleep.
My husband and I take turns napping in the car and then take a 4-5 hour nap around 6:00 AM when we arrive.
We then are refreshed enough to enjoy the afternoon, go to bed early, and we are good to go! This has worked for us because when we travel we are visiting family.
Your Children Sleep in the Car
This is a tricky one because sometimes you just don’t know if your kids will sleep in the car or not.
Our most recent trip, our twins were 2 and Theo was 4. They will usually fall asleep in the car if they’re absolutely exhausted, so we thought it wouldn’t be a problem.
They would eventually fall asleep. Well, we have a DVD player in our van that we had never used.
Josie and Margo were 2 (and 4 months) and had been rear-facing in their car seats. We thought it would be a good idea to turn them around so they could watch movies before they fell asleep.
That. Was. A. Terrible. Idea.
Forward-facing car seats aren’t as reclined as rear-facing ones, plus it was a completely new thing to them. They did NOT want to fall asleep.
Around midnight (MIDNIGHT!!!) they were both screaming so loud, I thought I was going to go insane.
Theo was crying because they were being so loud, and we pulled over and turned their stinking car seats back around. After that, they fell asleep fairly quickly.
Age and Personality of Children
I really think that personality and age have a factor in your children sleeping in the car.
We made the trip when Theo was 2.5 and the twins were 6 months old, and Theo slept like a champ.
When we did it when the girls were 2.5, it was our most disastrous trip ever.
They are much less easy-going than Theo is and did their best to boycott sleep.
They traveled just fine for our big move when they were 20 months old, so I think it’s a mix of personality and age.
Tips for Driving Overnight
- Wear your kids out that day! Have them skip nap time and veg in front of the T.V. if they’re too cranky. On our last trip, I would have done that except that my husband had to work until the afternoon and we needed naptime to pack up our van.
- Have an early dinner and then hit the road.
- Stop to use the bathroom and change diapers/into pajamas right around bedtime. We pack pajamas in our diaper bag so they’re all ready to go.
- Turn on a travel sound machine (a white noise app on your phone will also work, but then you can’t use your phone.) You want to keep the white noise going the entire night. It will cover up the difference in lack of road noise when you stop and any talking in the front seat.
- Make sure to turn the interior lights of your vehicle off. They will turn on when you open your door at gas station stops and wake your children up!
- Take breaks between you and your driving partner and if you feel like you can sleep, then SLEEP. My husband and I always get tired and want to sleep at the exact same time.
Tips for Driving During the Day
My kids honestly aren’t entertained by any sort of in-car activity.
Coloring books are OK but don’t keep them entertained for too long. They drop their crayons and then whine for me to get them and mama just cannot handle it.
We basically just feed them and let them watch movies. I do try to hold them off with movies as long as possible. Usually, I will see if they take a nap and play movies after. There’s a little bit of whining that way, but then it’s quiet while they sleep!
- Give them all the snacks
- Movies or tablets
- Bring coloring books (these are great for toddlers and younger children (these are great for toddlers and younger children) and books
- Bring a travel potty if your toddlers are potty training or recently potty trained
- Have them wear shoes that are easy to get on and off so they can take them off in the car
- New toys: If your children like to play with little character figures, it’s a good time to bust out a new toy
- Separate them: This goes for day OR night time travel. We usually have our kids 3 across in our Honda Odyssey. When we take road trips, we put Theo in the back and leave a space between Josie and Margo. This way they can’t grab snacks or books or bother each other.
The Number One Most Important Tip For Road Tripping With Kids, Either During the Day or Overnight:
Don’t make the mistake that we did.
Have a puke bucket readily available.
On our last trip, for the return drive, we decided to leave around naptime and get home around 1:00 AM.
We could nap when the kids napped the next day and not be total zombies from driving overnight.
An hour into our trip, the kids were all sound asleep and Ben and I made the mistake of high-fiving each other over how great our plan was.
Then, Josie started throwing up in her sleep.
Yep. That happened.
Theo got sick next and we ended up having to stop at a hotel for the night, only about 4 hours into our 12-hour drive.
Let me tell you. The worst possible scenario when traveling with a little one is for them to throw-up in your vehicle. I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but IT WAS TERRIBLE.
I hope this gives you a bit of an idea of whether you should drive overnight or during the day with your children with tips for each way. Happy traveling!
The ladies of the Babywise Friendly Blogging Network are all blogging today on different topics of travel! Check out each post via the link below.
Chronicles of a Babywise Mom: Four Best Tips for Traveling with Four Kids
The Journey of Parenthood: How to Successfully Travel with an Infant
Team Cartwright: How To Teach Your Kids About the World Without Leaving Home
Mama’s Organized Chaos: Practice These Everyday and Your Child Will Travel With Ease
Christine Keys: How To Help Toddlers That Get Car Sick