Travelling with Toddlers 1 - 4 Years

This article provides checklists and tips for travelling with kids from age 1- 4.

General Toddler Information

Children of this age are typically extremely easy to travel with. At home, you may normally find the constant running near cars etc quite tiring but in the great outdoors this will not even be a factor of concern (provided you have no other convoy vehicles to worry about). By giving your child a total free reign at camp you may find she'll never stray more than 30m away and never head off out of sight. Most kids have a natural caution and there is merit in letting your child find their natural limitations in such a unique situation. Your concerns are of cause warranted if your child sees their first dingo and runs towards it saying "dog!".

The wide open spaces and soft sands of the desert make it the most ideal playground for toddlers. We usually combine photo stops or sightseeing with snack stops to make each stop a worthwhile play stop too. Concerns about wildlife dangers are not terribly realistic in the desert where most wildlife is nocturnal.

Fun Jobs

We found that by giving kids a special job to do when arriving at camp gives them something to look forward to and alleviates any concerns about them wandering aimlessly whilst parents frantically erect the tent. If the kids have been couped up in the car for hours, it's only obvious that they will need some physical activity and a chance to explore their new surrounds.

Surprisingly, even a child as young as 19 months old will love to "help" collect the firewood and to construct the fire place. Your child might even like the responsibility for a special tent pole at every camp setup - kids love routine, and at this age they are very eager to be involved in adult jobs. Whatever you do, make the journey fun and create your own memories to share as bedtime stories for many years to come.

Personal Hygiene

I tend not to bathe my children in water tubs every night. For remote area trips, water must be conserved for drinking so you need to limit bathing. To clean up just before bed you can boil the billy for coffee and spare the surplus water for soaking a facecloth. You can make a nice bedtime routine by taking your toddler quietly into the tent/camper/van and laying her on a towel on a bed. You can then give your child a full warm sponge down, apply sorbolene, clean nappy, and a beanie before putting on fresh pjs and socks then snuggle down together for bedtime story - sounds just like home doesn't it, and why not? Also, consider a first aid kit for those unforeseen little mishaps. Please read our First Aid article for more information.

Having a small table of their own is ideal for a toddler as it gives a solid surface for drawing and playdough cutting. Playdough can be kept in an airtight container and although it will eventually get a bit dirty and dry it will probably remain useful for the duration of the trip.

Overall, this age group love exploring and learning, and it is easy to keep them occupied. You may be surprised to see how interested your child will be in fossicking around ruins, or collecting shells along a beach. Best of all, many young children will sleep when driving and may even slot back into 2 daytime naps like a baby, even they have only 1 at home. If this happens, simply adjust your daily driving routine.

Packing for Toddlers

Packing for a child of this age should be much easier than for taking a baby (see my list for Travelling with Babies). Much fewer clothes, certainly much fewer sterile concerns but more emphasis on toys/activities.
These are the items that you might consider necessary to take with you. Most items are small and can be grouped into little carry bags.
  • 0-4 year car seat
  • "Window sox" on car windows
  • Portable cot
  • 2 drink bottles/cups, one plate, one open cup and one set of metal cutlery (spoons/forks)
  • Small plastic table with 4 removable legs and a small collapsible kids camp chair
  • One toy bag (containing books, crayons, pencils, 1 wooden puzzle with < 6 pieces, playdough and cutters, 3 favourite soft toys)
  • Music (nursery rhymes/classical music/stories)
  • 1 x 5L plastic jerry can with cooled boiled water for emergencies
  • One clothes bag - emphasis on fresh socks lots of nappies, wipes, and toweling wash cloths
  • A "shared" toiletry bag - like a ladies makeup case, easily accessible at all times

Clothing for Toddlers

The most difficult trips to plan clothing for are during winter desert conditions which means very cold - freezing nights with mild - very warm days. A gender neutral suggested clothing list for these types of conditions are:
  • Denim overalls
  • denim skirt and/or shorts
  • 3 long sleeve skivvy tops
  • 3 short sleeve tops
  • 1 sleeveless top
  • 2 coloured singlets
  • 1 parka with hood
  • 1 pull over jumper
  • 1 pair fleecy tracksuit
  • 2 stretch pants
  • 2 pairs fleecy pjs
  • 1 pair flannelette pjs
  • 2 pairs boots (town boots and bush boots)
  • 7 pairs socks (toddlers will usually dirty 2 pairs per day)
  • No cossie or swim nappies - just 1 pair quick-dry boardshorts
Of course, you will have your own idea of any other clothing to suit the circumstances of your own trip but do try not to pack too much. A good rule of thumb for packing clothing is to lay out everything you think you'll need - then halve it.

Food for Toddlers

Car Snacks

This can include: cheese sticks, apples and pears (sliced and peeled with a knife as needed). If you child enjoys a cup of milk after lunch you may find that at this age, car sickness is more likely! Consider lots of apple juice diluted with water as an alternative.


Includes cereal and milk, toast, boiled eggs, jaffles etc.


A great suggestion for kids of this age, and an option that is easy to prepare from the vehicle tucker box, is a smorgasbord of cheese cubes, sliced fruit, sultanas, dry biscuits etc. Occasionally, offer 3 minute noodles prepared in the billy on a single burner on a gas bottle; or yoghurt with fruit; or sandwich for variation on longer trips.


Lots of parents know the advantage of saving a portion from the evening meal to serve to your child the following night. To reheat, the stainless steel bowl with lid that comes with many billies is a good way to reheat food over just a few coals - use a little water to steam it and avoid burning/sticking.

2½ yr old Toddlers

Children of this age, may possibly be already toilet trained so perhaps you'll not have to take nappies or pull ups. If so, that makes travelling a whole lot simpler. For ongoing daily driving with overnight stops, sleeping in swags is a great option but don't attempt this with young toddlers until they are confidently toilet trained. Booster seats can normally be used in place of the larger, 0-4 car seat however for long driving trips the added comfort, padding and support particularly for sleeping is a good reason to keep using it a little longer. Your child will also enjoy the higher sitting position in the vehicle, so stick with it at this age if you can.

In the lead up to a big trip, start collecting special things for your young child that will be a novelty (new books, a whistle, a torch), and allow one favourite teddy for the trip. Talking is this age groups favourite pastime so car time will probably be spent talking, answering endless questions and playing simple car games. Toys, games and activities can be kept in a box for use only at camp.
No parent has all the answers, but if you put in the ground work your child will naturally love the whole camping and travelling experience so fingers crossed for a enjoyable trip.

Interesting User Experiences

Below is a list of related submissions from various site users.
  • Each child has a day bag filled with small, quiet past-times e.g. crayons, cards, squish-balls and books. They pack this themselves and keep it by them on the journey

  • You can't let the kids out of your sight when stopped, so give them a special job to perform immediately when the car stops to setup camp, rather than letting them running off wildly to explore just when you need to get the tent setup. As soon as the camp is setup, take them on a walk to explore the area and carefully explain the boundaries of where they can go

  • This age group prefers minimum travelling and maximum playing so try to plan a trip with a single destination

  • Hanging things in the car eg. soft toys and balloons by running an elasticised strap or cord across the car with suitable things hanging off it. Other ideas: barrels of monkeys, PEZ toy dispensers with a hook, magnadoodles with hooks. Carry spares and rotate every few days

  • Bags for hanging off backs of seats full of colouring stuff, magazines to cut up, glue and scissors, felt pens and each day one special treat: eg. chuppa cup

  • If you have metal door linings exposed use them for sticking up magnetic shapes and letters etc. Provides kids with hours of amusement

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Created: June 2008
Revised: March 2016
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