Before we had our daughter, road trips were something my husband and I looked forward to– we’d use that time to catch up and think through big decisions.
But road tripping with a baby? Now that’s a whole different ball game.
I’ve lived through quite a few road trips and picked up a lot of strategies for taming the craziness, so from one mom to another, here are my foolproof methods for going on a road trip with a baby (without losing your mind).
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Remember when I said I used to love road trips before baby? Well one of the reasons I loved roadtrips is because I could rush home on a Friday from work, throw some stuff in a suitcase and be out the door 30 minutes later.
But if you’ve ever attempted to pack and be out the door in 30 minutes with a baby in toe, you know that’s darn near impossible.
Create a packing list
I love lists, so this step is right up my alley. Ever since I had my daughter it seems like I can’t remember all the million bazillion little details, and I’ve found that making lists helps so much.
Think about everything your baby will need during the day to keep occupied, for meals/snacks, bath time and for sleeping.
Mom tip: Look for ways to save space in your suitcase; for example, Emma loves her sound machine (link) but it’s just another item taking up space, so while we’re traveling I’ll just use my white noise app– works like a charm!
Pack a separate car bag
In the beginning when I was young and naive I thought my diaper bag could just double as E’s car bag. Oh, how wrong I was!
I will never cease to be amazed with just how much “stuff” babies require. And car trips are no exception.
Here’s what I typically pack in the car bag:
- Wallet, phone, keys (much easier than lugging your purse; I’ll usually just pack a simple purse in my suitcase)
- 2 changes of clothes for baby + 1 extra shirt for me (just in case)
- Diapers (1 for every 2 hours of trip + 2 spare)
- Changing mat
- Hand sanitizer
- Plastic bags (for dirty clothes)
- Healthy snacks for you (especially if you’re breastfeeding– you’ll be super hungry and gas stations don’t have the best snack items)
- Water bottles (Bonus: After you wipe the water bottle down, this doubles as a toy that entertains Emma for a while!)
- Snacks for baby (Make sure to pack snacks that don’t have a choking risk to them– think packets, dissolvable teething crackers, etc. If you make your own baby food, these reusable pouches are great for on the go!
Mom tip: On longer car trips I’ve used a diaper tote, rather than packing diapers in my car bag. I’ll put diapers, wipes and diaper cream in the tote and it works really well.
Related: How to fly with a baby
Plan to stop, a lot
Remember pre-baby when stops on road trips were about every 3 to 4 hours? With a baby, it’s not about “making good time,” but rather about merely surviving the trip without going insane.
You can count on it– your baby will have a blow out minutes after you pull out of a rest area. Or they’ll get crabby and the only way to cheer them up will be to let the get out of their car seat.
Even if you have a baby that’s pretty content to sit in their car seat it’s wise to take breaks about every two hours. We always found Emma did better when we planned to stop and let her stretch/play for a little bit every couple of hours.
Introduce old “new” toys
I accidentally discovered the lure of old “new” toys when I’d randomly finally look through the bottom of some of Emma’s toy bins and pull out a toy that had been in hiding for months.
To her, the toy was brand new and she was occupied for a good bit of time. This strategy works well for car trips, too.
A couple weeks before the trip, put away some of your baby’s toys and go ahead and pack them up in your car bag. When baby starts getting fussy on the road, pull out an old “new” toy, and voila, you just bought yourself five minutes.
Sit in back with your baby
Emma let me know pretty early on during our second road trip that she wasn’t going to make it sitting in the back by herself.
Once we pulled over and I hopped in the back, all was right again. Since then, every car trip we take one of us is always in the back and we alternate who sits in the back each time we stop. We always make it a point to nap in the baby when she naps, too.
Sitting in the back with your baby allows you to cater to their every whim– helping them not to have a meltdown and keeping your sanity in check.
You’re able to give them a bottle, play peek-a-boo and hand them a new toy every 2 minutes without breaking your back by reaching around the front seat.
Bring breast pump and bottles
The first couple road trips we took whenever E needed to eat we’d just find a rest area so I could feed her.
After we got a couple longer car trips under our belt I wised up and brought my pump and gave her a bottle en route. This worked great and saved us tons of time. A couple tips for doing this successfully:
Don’t forget the car adapter, battery pack for your pump, and nursing cover (unless of course, you don’t mind strange looks!). Bring enough pump supplies to not have to sanitize in a rest area or use these super handy Medela sanitizing wipes.
Note: Don’t lean over the car seat and nurse your baby. It’s way too risky to be out of your seat belt and the weight of your body could crush your baby in the event of a wreck. If your baby won’t take a bottle, it’s worth pulling over at a rest area to safely feed your baby. Here’s a map of all rest areas in the US!
Ever since E was a little baby, music was a cure all. We accidentally discovered this phenomenon one evening during the witching hour and have used music’s magical baby-soothing powers ever since.
For a while she loved any music we were listening to, but sometime around 6ish months she started responding the best to music sung by little kids. There’s a Baby Einstein Radio on Pandora that we like or Spotify/Amazon Prime music has some great music for babies, too.
Classical music is also great to relax her around times when she normally naps at home.
Relax the rules
At home, I rarely let Emma around the TV and I don’t let her use my phone as a toy, but on the road? I bend the rules.
When music, toys, my singing, and peek-a-boo just won’t cut it, it’s time to break out the ipad or phone and let her just chill out to a show.
She loves the Little Baby Bum series so I just make sure to download a bunch of those to my Netflix app.
Adjust your expectations
Let me just state up front that I haaaate adjusting my expectations. Having a baby rocked my world in the worst way when it came to this idea. However, after a few bad experiences and several tears later, I learned the hard way that you better adjust your expectations early on.
This means if you’d like to be on the road by 9 am, barring you’re not some sort of miracle worker, you’re not going to make the 9 am start time.
This means if you’re planning on getting to your destination at a certain time so you can make it to xyz, you might not arrive exactly on time. Your kid will vomit, have a blowout, be uncharacteristically hungry, etc.
It’s not that you can’t make plans– because you totally can– your plans just need to be fluid!
There will be tears– be prepared
10 tips for dealing with a crying infant during a car trip:
- Songs: Make a playlist now so you don’t drain your data.
- Books: Bring a variety of brightly-colored books and sit in the back with your baby to read
- Puppet show: I love these little finger puppets and E does, too. As long as I use interesting voices and introduce new characters frequently, she’s content and very amused.
- Ordinary objects: Emma loves water bottles and it keeps her occupied forever. Just make sure to clean “ordinary objects” off before giving to baby.
- Toys: Try the “old” new toys trick or buy a few new trinkets for the road trip.
- Ipad: Bend the rules and allow baby to chill out with a show. We love the Little Baby Bum series around here.
- Give baby a travel mirror: Putting E in front of a mirror at home instantly stops her crying so when I stumbled across this travel mirror I didn’t hesitate to add it to my cart. She loves it! I try to only give this mirror to her when she’s cranky so she doesn’t get bored with it.
- Make frequent stops: If baby is fed, diaper is clean and they’ve recently napped maybe it’s just time to get out of the car seat and change their surroundings for a bit. Here’s a list of all rest areas to plan your stop.
- Snacks: Once your baby starts eating finger foods giving them snacks really helps pass the time. Sit in back with baby and make sure to only give snacks that don’t have a choking risk. Puffs, teething crackers(dissolvable) and pouches are great.
- Check the sun: Sometimes draping a blanket around Emma’s car seat (make sure to choose a breathable blanket and leave an opening for airflow) will calm her down instantly.
Mom tip: If you’ve tried all of the above the car seat may be bugging your baby. Try adjusting the angle of the car seat (the seat could be too upright or too reclined for baby’s comfort) and double check to make sure the harness is snug but not pinching baby’s skin or too tight.
Now that you’re a road trip pro, try flying with a baby!