Car travel with toddlers
Taking a car trip with your toddler can be challenging, especially if it’s a long journey. But if you follow a few guidelines before setting off, you will ensure your car trip is as safe and comfortable as possible.
Before your car trip, ensure you are using a child car seat that is right for your toddler's height and weight. The seat needs to be approved, properly fastened and correctly adjusted for use.
If your toddler is aged under 4 years, they need to be in a rearward-facing or forward-facing child restraint with an inbuilt harness. Children aged from 4 to 7 years must travel in a forward-facing child restraint, also with an inbuilt harness, or a booster seat with a seatbelt or child safety harness. Toddlers must not travel in the front seat of a vehicle with 2 or more rows.
Start driving only after everyone is buckled up properly.
Preparing for the journey
When to travel
Some people find travelling at certain times of the day easier than at other times. It depends on a few things, including your child and their routine.
Some people like leaving early in the morning to beat the traffic, and to drive as far as possible before their toddler gets restless. Families with a toddler who sleeps well in the car may prefer starting their trip around or just before naptime. Other families even travel around the toddler's bedtime so that their toddler sleeps for most of the way.
If you need to be at a certain place by a certain time, allow yourself plenty of time to get there. You may want to check real-time information on traffic jams, road conditions and closures so you know how long the trip is likely to take. This information can help you estimate how long your car trip would take.
Government traffic information is available on the following numbers:
- New South Wales (132 701)
- Northern Territory (1800 246 199)
- Queensland (13 19 40)
- South Australia (1300 361 033)
- Victoria (13 11 70)
- Western Australia (138 138)
Young children usually find it hard to remain in their seats for long. Plan regular stops (about 1 break every 2 hours) to avoid your toddler becoming too restless. Stopping at the occasional park or playground allows your toddler to burn off some energy. Breaks also help the driver to avoid fatigue.
What to pack
Writing a checklist can help to reduce any worries about your preparations for the car trip.
Here's what you may want to have on hand in the car:
- non-messy, healthy snacks (that are not choking risks)
- your toddler's water bottle
- toys, books, talking books, or music
- crayons for colouring in
- your toddler's favourite soft toy
- a tablet or portable DVD player for limited screen time
- wipes, nappies (if not toilet trained), and a spare change of clothes
Singing and playing simple games can also help to pass the time.
If you travel during the day, seat your child on the shady side of the car. You can also use a sunshade on their car window.
Avoiding or managing car sickness
If your toddler gets car sickness, have spare clothes, wipes and a plastic bucket on hand in case they vomit. Consider getting advice from your doctor or pharmacist before travelling.
During the trip, offer small serves of food regularly instead of a large meal. Help avoid car sickness by getting your toddler to look out at the horizon or distract them with singing or games.
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Last reviewed: April 2021