A day trip with a toddler and a preschooler can be both exciting and stressful. Figuring out what to pack for a day trip and coming up with a day trip packing list of essentials can feel like it takes longer than the trip itself. This is everything you need for a day trip with little kids, so no more worrying about forgetting diapers and wipes.
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Recently my family and I took a day trip to the zoo with my 4-year-old and 1-year-old. We live at the coast of South Carolina, and the zoo is in the midlands, which is about a 2 and a half hour drive each way. While this is certainly easier than an overnight trip, getting prepared for an almost 6 hours drive and all the activities of the day can be a lot.
Start with Day Trip Activities to Kickstart Your Packing Plan
What is going to be the focus of your day trip? Will be a trip to the zoo or the aquarium, a visit to the grandparents, a day at the beach, or a morning going into the city for shopping needs?
Start by listing out the main places you want to go that day. For us, the zoo was the main focus of our trip. Maybe for you it is a full morning at the beach and then stopping by your favorite ice cream shop in the afternoon before heading back home.
This will be helpful for knowing what to pack for your day trip both in your diaper bag and in the car. For example, if your day involves water activities, you know this will require swimsuits and towels.
Determine Time to Leave to Help Pack for Day Trip
If you are going to a place that has certain hours of operation, figuring out when you want to get there and how long you plan to stay is going to be important for determining what you need to pack. I looked up the zoo hours and their hours of operation are 9:00am-5:00pm. Because of the summer heat and humidity in South Carolina, we knew we wanted to get to the zoo as soon as they opened.
Figuring in food and bathroom breaks, we knew our 2 and a half drive would be more like 3 hours. However, you may need to plan for longer. I swear there were times when we had an infant that we said it took twice the amount of time to get there.
Working backward, that meant we needed to hit the road by 6:00am if our goal was to be there at 9:00am.
Set a Flexible Plan for When to Head Back Home on Day Trip
After deciding when you need to leave, you will also want a ballpark idea of when you will get back home. This will be important for knowing how much to pack for your day trip.
For us, we knew we would not stay longer than the zoo was open, so 5:00pm was our cutoff time for starting the drive back home. Based on the distance away, we expected to be home around 8:00pm.
Why is all this important? The number one reason for us is food. For some reason my kids want to eat at all hours, so I needed to know how many snacks they could potentially go through during the day. No one wants a toddler melting down because you ran out of fruit snacks and cheddar bunnies halfway through the day trip.
The second most important reason is diapers and wipes. The only thing that could be worse than running out of fruit snacks is running out of diapers. Running into the first CVS you can find and paying a small mortgage for a couple extra diapers is no fun. Ask me how I know.
Identify Extra Free Time During Your Day Trip
In addition to packing the day trip essentials like towels and snacks, you will want to think about whether you have pockets of free time that the kids will need to be entertained.
One of the biggest challenges for us is going out to eat. Everything starts great but then one kid melts down right as the food is coming out. Thinking ahead and packing a few items to keep little ones entertained during free time can be a lifesaver. This is when we pull out Melissa and Doug Water WOW! books for the toddler and activity book pages for the preschooler. No mess and hopefully peace for a few minutes!
If your day trip is going on a monthly shopping trip to buy household essentials, you may want to think about ways to keep kids entertained in shopping carts or while waiting in the car.
What to Pack to Entertain a Toddler and Preschooler While Driving
People will have different opinions, but for us, long car trips is when we pull out the screens. Our car has built-in screens for the middle row, and we take full advantage when we know we have a long drive.
The trick to this is not letting them watch screens all the time when we are just riding around town. It then loses its appeal for when you need it on longer trips. I learned this the hard way when my 4-year-old daughter was younger.
We keep a stock of DVDs that will make both our toddler and preschooler happy just for these day trips or for overnight travel.
For some, they do not want their kids watching screens and there are certainly other options. If you feel this way, you will just want to plan ahead. Will they use coloring books, activity pages, listen to audiobooks, or play their favorite music? The point is to have a plan so you are not scrambling to figure it out when a toddler starts loudly fussing because they have been in the car seat for too long.
Determine What To Pack for Day Trip Early
Now that you have your overall plans for the day and can predict when you may run into problems, now you can start making an actual list of what to pack on a day trip.
For me, I like to create a new list on my Notes app in my phone. That way when I am running around packing at the last minute, I have my phone with me and can easily check things off.
The key to this is not waiting until the night before. I have definitely made the mistake of not getting my list together until the night before and then realizing most of the things I need are in the rooms of my sleeping kids. Start your list a couple days before or at least the morning of so you can grab the things you need out of their rooms before bedtime.
Creating Your Day Trip Packing List
As an example, I will use the packing list for our trip to the zoo. What to pack for your day trip will need to be adapted as needed for the different things you know you will be doing.
A stroller is a must-have for any day trip that requires a lot of walking. For us, we still pack a double stroller for day trips like the zoo in case our 4-year-old gets tired. Other times we pack the single stroller.
Helpful hint: Pack the stroller in the car first. It takes up the most room and then you can pack around it. Just make sure you can get it out when you get to your destination.
We use a backpack diaper bag for our days out, as it is easy for both me and my husband to carry. We also added hooks to our stroller so it can be attached and we do not have to carry all day.
In the diaper bag, this is where a lot of the day trip essentials will go. For a toddler and preschooler, this will look something like:
- Diapers – a good rule of thumb is 1 diaper for every 2 hours you will be gone + a couple extra
- Baby wipes
- Antibacterial wipes (they will touch all the things)
- Diaper rash cream (hot days can make this more likely)
- Bug spray
- Extra change of clothes for both kids (tops, bottoms, socks, underwear if that applies)
- Activities for that extra free time (Water WOW! books, fun mats, flash cards, Brain Quest cards)
- All the snacks! For day trips we keep the snacks in the diaper bag because we know we will have that with us. Items like cheddar bunnies, fruit snacks and bars, and puffs and pouches for the toddler are always big hits.
Cooler for Drinks and Snacks
We like to pack a cooler of drinks for our day trips. This keeps us from having to stop just for a drink, which never seems to line up with when our 4-year-old needs to use the bathroom. Then we have to stop again 10 minutes later to use the bathroom, everyone wants to buy snacks, and it becomes a whole thing. And the cycle continues.
For us, we pack items in the cooler such as:
- Bottled water
- Flavored water for the kids
- A low sugar juice (especially when it is hot outside)
- Travel milk containers for the toddler
- Snacks such as yogurt pouches, cheese cubes, or bars
Extra Bags for Your Specific Day Trip
If your day trip involves water, you will want an extra bag just for that. I love my Bogg bag for this reason! The zoo in our state has added a new water area with splash pads, so I knew we needed to pack all the water items for our day trip.
For a trip involving water, this could include:
- Swim diapers (pack 2 or 3 just in case)
- Swimmies if they do not know how to swim
- A bag to put wet clothes
- Extra clothes to change into after (we did this in addition to the extra clothes in the diaper bag)
If you want your kids to do activities instead of screens during the drive, make sure to have a bag of those items in an easy to reach spot in the car.
I still take my purse on day trips, as it holds my everyday items. It is something that you can easily forget when you are thinking about everything else you need.
Enjoy Your Day Trip!
While figuring out what to pack for a day trip can seem stressful before, having a plan and a list will make it so much easier. It is no fun to be exhausted and over it before you have even pulled out of the driveway.
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Going on a day trip with a toddler and preschooler can be fun by using these packing tips and strategies. Comment below and let me know where your favorite place is to go on a day trip with your littles.