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  • Writer's pictureJoel Shapiro

Traveling on Toddler Time

Updates to articles written during 2021. In previous posts, I shared ideas for Road Tripping to Navarre and steps you can take to protect your family during Covid.  But I have never before investigated the process with small children (under the age of 5).  To help prepare this article, I enlisted the help of a young family from Arkansas.  They are both working parents with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. The 3 yr old’s first trip to Navarre Beach was pre-pandemic when she was less than 3- months old, and this was the 1 yr old’s first vacation and beach trip. 

Traveling during a pandemic has been challenging with everyone making major adjustments. But traveling with small children requires some additional planning and preparations. I suggest doing an online search for helpful articles. Be specific if needing tips for traveling by plane or by car. I found a couple that I’ll share links to at the end of this article.

Toddler Time:

As a parent of small kids, gone are the days when you could load up the car and head to the beach not knowing when or where you would stop. You always knew the fast-food restaurants and convenience stores would be available for food and bathroom stops.  Since the pandemic and because of adjustments made during the pandemic, parents have changed their plans for stopping. Many parents prefer Parks, Rest-Stops, even just a nice shady spot to enjoy a snack.  But these additional stops (notice no gasoline available at parks or rest-stops) add time to the trip. 

The first thing to prepare for is the trip is going to take longer than your GPS tells you! If you looked up Little Rock, AR to Navarre, FL on Google Maps it will tell you the distance is 540 miles and just under 9 hours of drive time. The recommendation is to allow kids to be out of their car seats every 2 hours (a good reminder for adults also). When you add in stops every 2 hours and estimate the stop will take at least 30 minutes, you can see how a 9-hour road trip becomes 12 hours on Toddler Time!

Research the trip for the best places to stop from both directions. You may be able to leave your home super early and get a couple of hours down the road before you stop on your way to the beach. But when you leave the beach, you may not leave as early or you may have extra traffic depending on the day of the week you are traveling so knowing the different places to stop is just good planning.


Rest-Stops are a great option for both restroom breaks and food. (more ideas on what foods to pack later in the article). Typically, you’ll find clean restrooms with large trash cans for you to dispose of any items you may need to as well as long sidewalks to allow for stretching your legs. Some stops even have large maps outside or other interesting sites to explore during your break. If you are lucky and find one with picnic tables, you may want to take advantage and have a light meal during your stop.

Parks are great but may not have restroom facilities.

Gas Stations or Convenience Stores:  If possible, make these stops quick and only put gas in the car.  You’ll be better off if you can pay at the pump and get the gas quickly without going into the store.  If you must go in, be sure to use hand sanitizer when you return to the car (carry some for road trips even if you aren’t carrying it in your car anymore.)

TIP:  Buy several plastic tablecloths ($1) and cut them in half (Most cloths are 104 inches long. Unroll and find the middle, cut into 2 pieces. You don’t need it hanging down the sides as the picture shows).

Spread one out on the picnic table—no worries about bird droppings, dead bugs, or sticky, spilled unknown substances. Also if you have a small child that is still crawling, you can spread out on the ground to let crawl around a bit or at least to just change from being on back in the car seat.

TIP: Buy doggie poop bags (cheaper than diaper disposal bags) to tie up any dirty diapers in before putting them in wastebaskets. Your fellow travelers will appreciate this!

TIP: Get the Wiggles Out for 10 to 15 minutes—walk around and look at trees, flowers even clouds. Run, skip, or play a game of tag or chase. Take pictures of everything (you can delete any you don’t want later). Move. Stretch. Change drivers if needed.

Travel Games/Entertainment Ideas:

Many parents think they can pop in a CD or turn on their Ipad and drive without stopping. But 8 hours of screen time is much too long for toddlers. They will get restless and want some other activity to keep them happy and entertained. This young mother had some great tips:

  1. Create different activity bags (use the large gallon Ziplocks). This way you can pull out one at a time and put items back before getting out another.

  2. Purchase a 9×13 metal cake pan to use as the table or tray top.  Kids can play with magnetic shapes and letters while the sides of the pan keep things like colors, stickers, or legos from falling out and getting stuck under the seat. After a quick wipe, the pan can be used for snacks. 

CAUTION: Be sure that any games or pieces are not choking hazards (typically the kids are behind you in the car). You don’t want the smallest child to accidentally get something that an older sibling was playing with.

  1. Introduce 1 NEW item at a time but always have a favorite handy! This also works while on vacation—plan 1 special activity for the day so that can fully enjoy it without rushing to the next activity. If your child really likes to swim in the pool, you may want to offer that every day you will swim in the pool and that you will also play at the beach on a specific day or go to the turtle center.

  2. A couple of this 3 year old’s favorites include: Magna Tiles, Sculpting Sticks, and Stickers/Dots (different colored ones and different sizes for matching games. More ideas at Busy Toddler)

Items to pack in the car:

Sturdy Laundry Basket: Use to carry paper towels, toilet paper, Kleenex, Baby Wipes (for hands, faces, and diaper changes), and Lysol Wipes (to wipe off changing station, metal pan after meals/snacks, carts at beach condo for unloading car). When stopped for meals, you can toss in food or drinks and carry it all to the picnic area. At your vacation rental unit, the basket can be a toy box or a drop spot for beach toys to keep sand from getting everywhere in the house or condo.

Beach towels for blankets: I saw this idea in one of the articles and thought it was a great idea. You are going to need beach towels anyway unless your child has a favorite/security blanket, plan to use the towels if you need a little extra warmth in the car or even to block the light under doors or as a black-out curtain in your vacation rental unit.

First Aid Kit:  Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.  Bandaids, Neosporin, Benadryl and Children’s Tylenol—all the typical things you have at home, bring with you just in case. 

Cooler: Drinks—water is the best option (doesn’t spoil, doesn’t stain, isn’t sticky). Food—the less messy the better. Small snack size Ziplocks might be a good way to portion out snacks. Pack them ahead of time instead of trying to pour cereal into a bag while riding in the car.

I recently found this updated article Master List of Healthy Snack Ideas and love it (for kids of all ages)

Some items you may want to consider packing: cooked pasta (kids love pasta even cold). Small pieces of meat and cheese—again, think about choking hazards. Fruit and Vegetables—fresh, frozen, dried and canned. Dry Cereal like Cheerios or Corn Pops (avoid super high sugar ones). Rice cakes or Breakfast Bars.

Snacks to pack: (easy, not too messy, don’t turn brown)

  1. Berries and Grapes (wash, cut if necessary and remove stems/tops)

  2. Clementines (leave whole, peel as needed-place any leftover in a small snack size ziplock)

  3. Dried fruit (raisins, dried apples, mango, apricots, cranberries) Frozen/Thawed peas or edamame

  4. Cucumbers (sliced or diced)

  5. Carrots (thinly sliced or shredded)

  6. Small pieces Meat (ham, turkey, chicken)

  7. Cheese sticks, cubes

  8. Cereal (Cheerios, Chex, Puffs)

  9. NutriGrain Bars

Change of Clothes (for everyone):  Easy to get to—not have to unpack the entire car if you need to change.  Travel day clothes need to be comfortable and something that you don’t mind if it gets stained because they probably will. 


When you arrive, unpack the car (use wipes to wipe down carts just like you do at the grocery store).  Once you have everything inside your vacation rental unit, I suggest everyone get a bath and change clothes.  Place all the dirty clothes and used beach towels in the washing machine.  If not a full load, you can wait until the next day but keep them separate from clean clothes.  Allow the kids to explore their new surroundings.  Tip:  Painters Tape is great for covering electrical outlets, or taping cabinet doors closed (after you have placed anything breakable inside and away from children).  You can remove it when you are checking out and know it will not cause any damage. 

Depending on the time you arrive, it may be bedtime soon. Follow your normal routine with the kids—brush teeth, read a book, say your prayers. A travel day is hard, and everyone needs to recoup a little.

The last thing you are going to want to do at this point is to go grocery shopping—and with Grocery Concierge you don’t have to if staying on Navarre Beach or Pensacola Beach.  Send us your list at least 3 days in advance, including diapers, or other baby needs, and we will shop, deliver and stock everything BEFORE you arrive so that you can finally start your vacation and enjoy it more.

And for more convenience, contact our partner Becky at Gulf Coast Travel Lite for cribs, strollers, wagons, high chairs and more.

For more tips on what to do to keep your family safe, check out my article Travel Tips-Covid 19.

And check out these articles written by other young mothers:

5 Things You Must Know Before a Road Trip with Baby or Toddler
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