6 Tips for a Successful Road Trip with Toddlers and Dogs


A family sitting in the back of their car on a road trip with toddlers and dogs.

As many mamas here know, there is an art to surviving a road trip with a toddler, especially with his best bud tagging (or wagging!) along! My family has gone on several dozen long-haul road trips over the past two years, so you could say that we’ve covered a lot of ground – or, road. My advice for the best strategy to a successful road trip with toddlers and dogs is to anticipate, and integrate, their needs into the trip itself. Here’s how:

Tips for a Road Trip with Toddlers and Dogs

1. Gear up for your kiddo and pup!

Road-tripping is like camping, only done in a car. With kiddos and pups in tow, you’ll need lots of gear. Whittling it down to the absolute necessities and repackaging items into smaller, portable sizes is key. I bring a folding umbrella stroller and a small backpack that can double as a travel diaper bag. I also bring a small suitcase with clothes and one for toys. Convenience and space-saving techniques are a must!

For the pup, I have a dog car seat cover that I pad with his travel dog bed. Since the bed is thin and lightweight, it can be removed for use in the hotel room, too. I also have a dog seat belt that connects with his harness. I’ll bring his travel dog bowls and food storage containers with kibble and treats as well as his wide-mouthed water bottle. I usually bring a few small dog toys, like a tennis ball, a durable nylon bone, and a couple of chew toys. Also, if your pup is averse to long car rides, it might be wise to check in with your vet beforehand.

2. Plan ahead and know your stops.

As moms, we’re pretty good at planning and juggling multiple schedules and needs. Applying this expertise to road-tripping is a key to success. One piece of travel advice I’ve adopted early on is to keep the same routines that we do at home, regardless of where our journey takes us. This applies when on the road as well, so we like to keep nap times and feedings consistent.

We make a plan to stop every two hours for potty breaks, diaper changes, and dog walks. Gas stations are convenient but less desirable, so we opt instead for interesting rest areas with clean facilities, picnic tables, and lots of green space.

Another great idea for restroom breaks? Small towns. We love exploring historic small towns to break up long road trips and have found some charming parks, playgrounds, museums, and other amenities that you wouldn’t typically see at an interstate rest stop. If time permits, we also like to stop at National Parks. They’re not only recreational but educational too!

A quaint town on a road trip stop.

3. Bring lots of activities!

I like to keep the activities constructive (as best as possible) but also manageable while traveling in our small SUV. Think smaller but chunkier toys and those that are relatively self-contained. If you have a second driver, bringing books and flashcards is not a bad idea to keep the kiddos entertained while the other partner drives.

Road trip games like “I Spy” also come in handy for keeping toddlers involved while on the road. My son loves trucks of all kinds, so we frequently call them out and practice our colors and numbers. We also practice our counting in French and Spanish as well.

Electronics are my last choice, but sometimes it must be done. I’ll put on educational videos for my son to watch sparingly while on the road. He likes toddler shows in French and Spanish, and other educational-type programming. When it is nearing nap time, I’ll put on French lullabies or a jazz playlist I made — and that usually helps put him to sleep.

4. Pack healthy snacks.

Okay, so obviously you need to pack a lot of snacks but keeping them healthy is a bit of a chore. Healthy snacks that I’ve found travel well include popcorn, whole grain Goldfish, chopped pitted olives, gherkins, blueberries, cut fruit and vegetables, and squeezable purée packs. I always travel with my son’s four-compartment snack box and let him select the four snacks he wants me to put in the box, which gets him involved in snack time/mealtime. Another great idea is to bring snacks that are also dog-friendly so you can feed both at the same time.

Staying hydrated while on a road trip is very important. To keep from having to buy beverages in single-use containers, I’ll load a small cooler with ice packs and put reusable bottles filled with purified water, juices, lemonade, and iced tea (or sweet tea if you prefer!) in it. Then I’ll bring everyone’s individual water bottles and replenish them as needed.

5. Scope out pet-friendly accommodations.

On long-haul trips, we overnight at a pet-friendly hotel or rental. I use Expedia mostly, but you can use Bring Fido, Airbnb, Vrbo, or any travel app you wish. Just be sure to set your filter for pet-friendly and check the fine print for any weight limits or restrictions.

It’s always good to look well in advance, especially during hurricane season as pet-friendly hotels book up fast! Expect to pay a nightly pet fee, which can range anywhere from $25 on up.

A couple of budget-friendly chains that we’ve tried are Quality Inn Hotels, Sonesta ES Suites, Microtel, Days Inn, and LaQuinta. Another great option is pet-friendly rentals or cabins. We’ve stayed in some truly unique places that were destinations in their own right. Depending on how much time you have on your itinerary, alternatives to a basic hotel room might work better for your family.

Pet-friendly cabin the author stayed at on a road trip with toddlers and dogs.

6. Keep to your self-care routine.

Last but not least, even when you’re on the road, you don’t want to lose sight of your own self-care rituals and routine. Keep a calm-down kit on hand with all your beauty and self-care essentials to ground you at a moment’s notice. You can even make a kid-friendly and dog-friendly one too. It’s important to continue your self-care routine and incorporate self-soothing techniques while traveling, especially over long distances. Another great idea is to bring your yoga mat to stretch out on after being seated for so long.

What are your tips for a successful road trip with toddlers and dogs? We’d love to hear your favorites in the comments below!

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Dena J. DiOrio
Dena is a writer and a loving mother to her very busy toddler son and rescue dog. Although her favorite job is being a mom to her two awesome boys, she also has a penchant for experiential travel, eclectic cuisine, and all things spa. Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Dena moved to the Lowcountry from New York City where she worked for international hoteliers and at some of the city's top restaurants. She recently received a Masters in Professional Writing from New York University. An avid yogi and snowboarder, Dena enjoys playing at the beach with her son, teaching him how to snowboard, and going on family road trips with both her boys.