I was never a road trip person prior to parenthood. So, for me, road trips with baby were unthinkable. But when my father in law died suddenly a few weeks before Christmas and flights x4 were unthinkably expensive, we did the drive to Florida. Only then did I realize how much travel we were missing out on by ruling out driving instead of flying.
Same as with flying, the younger the baby the easier to travel with (as difficult as that may be to believe as a first-time parent). In a previous article I share some basic road trip tips. But road trips with baby do come with their own issues and considerations, even more so than toddlers and younger children.
And also as with all aspects of traveling with a baby, you need to consider eating, sleeping, playing, and getting around.
Tips & Advice for Road Trips with Baby:
Road Trips with Baby: Eating
Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding
If baby is still on a solely liquid diet, you may be more on a schedule to plan your stops around. Certainly it’s possible to bottle feed while moving, but it’s not a great habit to get into. And never (please, never) unbuckle yourself to attempt to nurse while the car is moving.
Who wants to eat while strapped in a car seat facing backwards anyway? Planning stops to get up, stretch your legs, and properly feed or nurse will make for a more pleasant journey for everyone anyway.
Purees & Finger Foods
The foil pouches are handy for baby to self-feed, but babies are not exactly known for their table manners. Never mind the kind of goo a baby can create with a cracker or dry cereal. Mess aside, feeding baby while strapped in a car seat is a real choking hazard, expecially if baby is still rear-facing. Same as with nursing or bottle feeding, you’ll all be much happier if you accept that stops to eat are a part of your journey.
If you can tolerate the mess, the puffs that basically dissolve in baby’s mouth are probably fine. But eating in the car is probably a habit that’s put off for as long as possible.
What to Avoid:
Obviously this is not possible for those still nursing or bottle feeding, but avoiding dairy is a good idea while en route, especially if your baby is prone to motion sickness. Sometimes the only way to know this is your first trip and your first time covered in dairy-based vomit. Save the yogurt and cheese as a treat upon arrival, if you’re able to do so.
Anything that’s a major choking hazard is also best avoided. Eating while in a moving car is risky enough, never mind adding hot dogs or unsliced grapes into the mix.
Road Trips with Baby: Sleeping
If your baby sleeps well and soundly in a moving car, that sounds ideal, right? But consider a drive for several hours during the day where baby is out like a light. What happens at bedtime? I’ve heard “horror” stories where baby slept in the car all day and stayed up in the hotel all night. Not exactly the best start to your trip 🙂
Drive at Night
An ideal solution, depending on how long your drive is, is to drive at night. We did this for our drive to Florida and it really was a great way to keep the kids to their routines and minimize the impact of car travel on your time off. In a perfect world, one of you naps in the afternoon while the other preps for the trip, packs the car, etc. Go through your evening routine as usual, with dinner, bath, and pajamas. Then, instead of being popped in the crib, you pop them in their car seat and off you go.
Driver #1 is the person who napped. After heading off, Driver #2 naps (or attempts to) in the passenger seat. Driver #1 drives until they’re too tired to continue. Then, Driver #2 takes over. Repeat as necessary. This will only work if both of you promise to stop and get a room for the night if you’re simply too tired to continue.
We managed this for our first road trip and it worked out well. The first day of a trip is usually a write-off anyway so don’t make any (or many) plans.
Stick to Routines
If your drive is not too long, maybe try to work it into baby’s nap schedule, especially if they are good sleepers in the car. At least you may avoid the dreaded sleeping baby transfer and if the nap is a bit long or a bit short you can make it up with a busy evening.
Road Trips with Baby: Playing
Especially now that babies are rear-facing until minimum age two, can you imagine how boring and lonely it would be in the back seat for hours and hours? Yes, sleeping is the ideal situation but what if it isn’t and what if they won’t?
Think about taking turns sitting with baby in the back seat to keep them company. You can sing songs and tell stories and it may just cheer you up on a long drive as well.
The nice thing about driving with a young baby is you can pretty much stick to your own music, and podcasts and audiobooks can be your preferred subject matter as well.
Travel Toys for Babies?
When a baby is still really young and spending a lot of time facing backwards in the car, you might want to avoid anything too stimulating. There are mounts for iPads and screens for rear-facers, but beware of motion sickness. Soft books and fidget toys are good to help pass the time.
While road trips with baby definitely have their challenges, at this younger age, at least, you can keep travel toys to a minimum.
Road Trips with Baby: Getting Around
A bonus of a road trip is already having your car with you. So there’s no need to deal with car rentals or getting around using taxis or public transit (mostly). Baby is safely strapped into the car seat that they’re (hopefully) comfortable with and in, and there’s less concern over having a gigantic baby packing list when you can use your car as a giant suitcase.
Car Seats & Accessories
By the time you’re on a road trip, hopefully you’ve sorted out any car seat safety issues and have settled on a car seat that is safe and comfortable for your baby. Now that it’s the law for babies to rear face until the age of two, you want to get a seat that will last.
Ensure that the car seat you choose has a cover that’s washable (but follow those washing instructions carefully, since improper washing can affect the seat’s safety). Don’t attach anything to the car seat, and don’t place any kind of bundle bag or cover between your baby and the seat itself. And don’t place any kind of pad or liner under the seat where it rests on your car’s seat. All of these affect the safety and installation of your car seat.
Getting Around During Your Pit Stops…
If your baby is still in the infant “bucket” (as we called them), they may enjoy a break and a ride in a “big kid” stroller, rather than keeping them in their seat and using a Snap N Go (or similar). Bring whatever car seat or stroller alternative you want and know that baby will enjoy the break from the car as much as you do.
Road Trips with Baby: General Advice
Know that this kind of journey is not one that can be done with a reliable sense of speed. Know yourself… Will you get frustrated if a diaper blowout or motion sickness will require you to stop earlier than planned? Are you under pressure to arrive at a specific time and could be easily thrown off schedule?
A road trip with a baby requires you to go with the flow, literally. Using a reliable GPS or directions app (we love Waze!) may help for you to get a sense of traffic and the best route to take, but a baby always follows their own (often unpredictable) mandate. Expect the unexpected (both good and bad) and your road trip with baby will be a great way to start seeing the world together.
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- A Road Tripper Is Born – The Tale of Our Drive to Florida
- Travel Stories: An Eastern European Road Trip with Kids
- Our First Family Road Trip: We Did the Drive to Florida!
- Drive or Fly? Traveling on a Budget