By age 3, your child is becoming an active participant in your travel adventure. During the planning stage, spend time with him to explain where you're going and why, and ask his opinion and advice about some of your choices. Show him photos of your destination and spark his imagination so he'll look forward to the trip.
Beginning around age 3, children begin to grasp the concept of simple games. An outing by car can become a free-spirited family affair. Sing a silly song. Play "I Spy." Make up a story together.
A trip offers a great chance for your toddler to interact with other children his own age, especially if you're heading to a family resort or a nature camp. Social interaction is important at this age, so give him some space to approach and play with some new friends.
Health and safety
- ID your child: Make a small information card with your names and contact information and put it in your child's backpack or pocket.
- Pack doctor-recommended pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever or Mylicon drops for gas.
- Bring hats and sunscreen.
- Bring blankets and pillows for napping (if traveling by car).
- Get a removable car-shade screen for the car's windows to shield your child's skin and eyes from the sun.
- See our First Aid Kit Checklist to make sure you have the supplies you need for dealing with minor medical problems while traveling. And before you leave, print and fill out our Emergency Checklist for Traveling With Your Child.
Food and comfort
Carry finger foods such as dried fruit, bananas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — whatever your child likes to snack on.
Tip: Stash some medium-size resealable plastic bags in your car trunk or carrying bag. They're handy for holding messy items like bibs, diapers, wet bathing suits, and all the treasures kids love to collect.
Games and diversions
Some favorite diversions of 3-year-olds: vinyl stickers or suction-cup toys that adhere to car windows without leaving marks, books, containers and wand for blowing bubbles, miniature cars or trains, action figures, crayons and coloring books, hand puppets, plastic cutouts. Be sure to wrap some toys or books as surprise presents to dispense along the way.
Plan on frequent rest stops so your child can run off extra energy. Bring along a ball for a game of catch at a park or playground along the way.
On a long car trip, the whole family can play counting games. Count the birds passing by for the next three minutes or count how many cows or trucks you spot for the next five miles. Find Three Things is another favorite. Each of you decides to look for three of something: three red cars or three fences (avoid things like sheep or horses or your game could be over with one sighting). It's not a competition because everyone looks for all the objects.
Well-traveled parents find the following equipment indispensable on route to their destination.
- A lightweight stroller that stashes away in your car trunk or a plane's overhead bin (you can also drop off your stroller at the departure gate and have it waiting for you on arrival)
- A diaper bag or backpack for supplies
- A car seat
- A potty seat that fits onto an adult toilet and is easy to carry
- An extra change of clothes for your child and an extra clean shirt for you