Planning a road trip can be fun—or it can be stressful. Unfortunately, once you have a baby to bring along it’s easy to let all the fun get left behind at home while you drive away. No one yells, “Road trip!” or “I call shotgun!” when they are struggling to leave the house with a baby and armloads of baby gear in tow.
It’s especially difficult if it’s your first time on the road with a baby for a long drive to Grandma’s house, or to a vacation destination. Chances are, you will be up in the middle of the night on the night before your trip, double-checking your packing list in your mind because, you know, babies need a ton of stuff. And then there are a slew of questions: What if there’s a diaper blowout? How will I breastfeed? What if he cries the entire time?
While these are all valid questions and concerns, practiced parents tell us that it is possible to bring your baby along on a road trip and still have a great time. But how?
Experienced family travellers tell us that the absolute most important tip for a fun road trip with your baby is all in your mind. The best way to enjoy your road trip is to accept, before you leave your front door, that there will very likely be moments when your baby is screaming in the car seat. But, you will all survive it. Accept that your baby is likely to choose to have a big diaper blowout when you are stuck in a traffic jam, or on a highway with 50 miles until the next rest area. Accept that your baby, who typically takes a long nap in the middle of the day, will choose one particular day to be sleepless.
Once you’ve accepted that some—or all—of these possibilities are very likely, then when they actually happen, your mind is already prepared for them and you will have far less stress. And if you are fortunate enough to escape all of these possibilities, then you should immediately go buy a lottery ticket, because Lady Luck is your new best friend.
When these baby travel-trials do occur, the best mindset to have is to consider how you will tell this story in the future and laugh about it. Or better yet, one day you will be the experienced parent telling a baby-travel beginner how to handle these situations with dignity and grace—while up to your elbows in something that could have come out of either end of your baby on the side of a major highway.
One key element of a successful road trip with a baby is to have a backup plan for every possibility. Don’t try to travel on a tight schedule. Make sure that Grandma knows that you are going to take plenty of time to get there because you are allowing for a lot of scheduled stops, and many unscheduled stops. Take the time to plan for such events as extra diaper changes, breast or bottle-feeding sessions, and baby breaks that allow time for holding, cuddling, and walking around a rest stop to give your baby a break from the car seat.
Be prepared with tummy-taming drops, acetaminophen drops, or any other medications your baby might need while on the road so a sudden sickness doesn’t slow you down.
If you don’t want to lengthen your trip by planning for a lot of stops, then your best option is to plan to drive at night. Night driving means that your baby will spend most of the trip asleep so you will need less stops. If you are someone who can function effectively on limited sleep, then night driving may be the best option for traveling with a baby.
While larger baby items such as your best baby stroller and portable crib should be packed in the trunk of your car with your suitcases, be sure to keep everything that meets your baby’s immediate needs near at hand and as organized as possible. Not only is it stressful to have to pull over to drag something out of a suitcase in the back, it is also highly irritating to have to spend a lot of time on the road scrambling around trying to find diapers and wipes, or shuffling through a messy, overloaded diaper bag searching for a pacifier. Keeping everything your baby needs for the trip organized and within easy reach is crucial for smooth sailing along that river of highway.
Traveling with an older baby or toddler means that your baby might sleep less on the trip, but on the other hand she will be easier to keep entertained. A baby who can sit up and play with travel games and books in a good convertible car seat is much less likely to spend the entire trip crying.
A great tip for toddler travel is to keep a couple of special travel toys, such as colorform sets, magnet puzzles, magnetic doodle boards, or dressy dolls, and only let your child play with these particular toys during travel. This means that your child isn’t overly familiar with these toys. The fact that they are special travel toys, and your child is only allowed to play with them on long car rides, means your toddler will actually be in a hurry to get in the car and get going so she can play with her special toys.
A long road trip is not the time to worry about screen time limits with your toddler. While, ideally, you will spend some of the trip encouraging your child to play with travel games, coloring, solving puzzles, and reading together, a tablet or iPad with some of their favorite shows downloaded will be a sanity-saver on your road trip. This is especially helpful to pull out of your bag of trip-tricks during serious traffic when the driver needs to avoid distractions and focus on driving. If you happen to be one of those parents who seriously limit or restrict screen time, then the novelty of being allowed to watch will keep your toddler content and entertained during much of the trip.
No matter the destination, the road trip itself can be an important part of the trip, and can even be a big part of the fun. Make sure to allow enough time for plenty of stops, and share the new sights and sounds with your baby along the way.
Remember, someday you will look back on these early road trips with your rose-colored glasses firmly in place, and the good times will be all that you remember. So remember to include some good times!