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Your First Road Trip with a Baby
Planning to take a road trip with a baby can feel overwhelming. And if this is your first time traveling with your new baby you may be extra nervous about what is ahead. You are not alone! Every parent has to make their first road trip with a baby, and we’ve all survived. But there are lots of things I’ve learned along the journey of parenting and travel with a baby. Do you want to find out how to make the road trip more bearable for you and your baby?
Push through to overcome your initial fears of traveling with a baby. It is actually easier to travel with an infant before they start crawling or walking. So plan to take that first road trip with a baby sooner rather than later. Planning, being prepared, and giving yourself some grace if not everything is “perfect” will help you take on this new challenge.
Being flexible and having a sense of humor will help when you take a road trip with a baby. The special memories you make, and the family time together, far outweighs any extra effort it will take to travel with a baby.
In this post about surviving a road trip with a baby, we will cover when to travel, what to pack, how to check your baby car seat, nursing on a road trip. Plus road trip snacks, how to avoid motion sickness, what to include in a car clean-up kit, changing a diaper in the car, the best baby travel toys, and more. To learn practical tips about how to survive your road trip with a baby then keep reading.
Top 15 Tips to Survive a Road Trip with a Baby
Traveling with a baby requires flexibility. Be prepared for unexpected surprises along the way. You never know when you may get stuck in traffic, or have to deal with baby puke or poop during your road trip. Try to handle any unexpected changes with grace and a sense of humor. Your baby can sense how you’re feeling. The calmer you can remain, the better this is for everyone!
From my many years of travelling with little ones, these are my top tips to help you survive a road trip with a baby.
1. Avoid travel on peak days
If you are traveling with a baby to visit family around the holidays then avoid driving before and after a holiday, when the road is busier. Many people prefer to be at their destination to enjoy the holiday and want to avoid traveling on an actual holiday. Peak travel days in the US include the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, December 23rd and January 2nd. Consider driving on an actual holiday, or at night, when the roads will be quieter. Since your baby won’t know what day it is you may want to postpone your celebration with the family to a different day and take advantage of being on the road with less traffic. Trust me, there’s no much worse than being stuck in stand-still traffic with a screaming baby!
2. Give yourself extra time and plan regular breaks
Everything with a baby takes longer than expected. Give yourself a buffer and allow for extra time in your journey. Plan to take regular breaks so you can get baby out of the car seat and give him/her time to move and stretch out. If the weather is warm and dry then bring a large picnic blanket and find a spot to spread it out on the grass. This allows the baby to crawl or layout in a soft, clean area.
You will need to stop to nurse or feed the baby and change a diaper every few hours. Plus, you never know when your baby is going to spit up or have a blow out that needs to be dealt with right away. All these things take time, so roll with it and don’t try to rush and stick to a deadline. You will feel more relaxed when you’re not pressed for time. Certainly, when Mama is more relaxed then Baby feels more relaxed too!
3. Travel while baby sleeps
Babies will typically sleep a lot. This is good news for traveling parents and one of the benefits of taking a road trip with a baby before they get older and are more active. Plan to do as much driving as possible while your baby is asleep. Then take breaks when your baby is scheduled to eat or will need a diaper change.
4. Dress comfortably for a Road Trip with a Baby
When traveling you and your baby want to be as comfortable as possible. I always opt for jeggings or yoga pants. And I bring coordinating changes of clothes for baby, so that if she only messes up the pants then I don’t always need to change the whole outfit. Remember to bring pajamas for your baby in the diaper bag, then if you’re going to arrive at night then you can have baby dressed and ready for bed. For more comfy clothing ideas for the whole family check out our post about how to Simplify a Road Trip with Kids.
5. Pack light and only bring the essentials
The only essentials you really need when you take a road trip with a baby
- a diaper bag with diapers (one diaper for every 2 hours of travel, and buy more at your destination)
- baby wipes, a changing mat, and tissues
- burp cloths, blankets, and bibs (which are easier to change than a whole outfit)
- changes of clothes for you and baby, including pajamas
- pacifier with clip, and teethers
- baby carrier (I love the Ergobaby Carrier 360 or BABYBJORN Baby Carrier Free) so your hands are free during rest stops and at your destination
- a light-weight travel stroller
- car seat
- formula/bottles/sippy cups
- a nursing cover
- diaper cream (3oz or less, if flying, use just in case you can’t change baby right away)
- plastic bags (to carry wet/messy items)
- snacks (e.g. cheerios in a snack catcher cup, rice cakes etc.)
- comfort item or toy for sleeping
- books/small toys (see baby travel toys for more details)
- ID for you and baby if you’re driving across borders (check out our post about how to apply for your child’s passport)
I also recommend bringing a baby travel kit to keep in your diaper bag which includes: a thermometer, Tylenol (for fever), Ibuprofen (for pain), band-aids, and any prescription medication.
For a detailed list of all the items you may consider taking check out our Road Trip With A Baby Packing List which you can DOWNLOAD our FREE Road Trip Survival Bundle.
6. Rent or borrow baby gear at your destination
On a road trip with a baby it’s not always possible, or worth the hassle, to drag all that baby gear with you. If you’re tight on space in the car then you may consider renting or borrowing bulky baby gear at your destination. These items include a crib or pack and play, highchair, Bumbo seat, play mat, baby swing or bouncy seat.
When you’re visiting family then keep in mind that you might be able to borrow baby gear from your sister, cousin, or even Grandma may keep baby items at her house.
If you’re visiting a new location then research a local company where you can rent baby gear by the day or by the week.
If you’re traveling within the US then check out BabyQuip or Baby’s Away, which both offer baby supply rentals. And keep in mind that you can buy diapers when you arrive at your destination. You don’t need to carry a week’s worth of diapers in your car (unless you have space)!
7. How to check your baby car seat
Before taking a road trip with a baby check that you have installed the car seat correctly. For any new parent installation of the infant car seat can be a real headache. Most parents worry about whether it’s done right. My advice – take advantage of a car seat safety technician. Check with your local fire department, ambulance service, or hospital to see if there is a car seat tech on staff.
You can also use the National Child Passenger Safety website to search for a technician in your area. You can feel more confident going on your first road trip with a baby if you know that your car seat is installed correctly in your vehicle.
Parenting Tip: Before embarking on a long road trip with a baby for the first time get your child used to the car seat. Strap your baby into the 5-point harness and take some shorter local rides in the car. This will help get the baby used to the car seat and the motion of riding in the car.
8. Nursing during a road trip with a baby
If you are breastfeeding your baby then save time by pumping while driving. A breast pump car adapter in the lighter plug-in is ideal for nursing mothers while traveling on a road trip with a baby. Remember to bring a breastmilk cooler bag and ice packs to store your pumped breastmilk.
It is important to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated while you are nursing, especially during travel. Being hydrated will positively affect your overall mood and energy level on a road trip. Practice good nursing habits to avoid mastitis. Don’t go too long between feedings, or pumping, just to get in the miles. A road trip with a baby is the last place you want to end up with an infection or breast issue.
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9. Consider riding in the back seat
If you are taking a road trip with a baby and traveling as the passenger, then be prepared to ride in the back seat. When you are on the road there is only so much you can do turned around and trying to reach your baby from the passenger seat.
It will depend if you have other children in the car and if there is a spare seat available for you next to your baby. But consider riding in the back seat so you can easily reach and tend to your baby’s needs. Whether it’s entertaining your baby, picking up dropped toys or a pacifier, or giving your child a snack. Sometimes being able to see or touch you will help your baby to be calm. And they will ride better in the car.
10. Bring snacks for the whole family
If your baby is 6 months or older and starting to each solid foods then considering bringing plenty of snacks. My all-time favorite is this snack catcher cup. I would fill with cheerios or rice cakes, so my baby could hold it and feed themselves. Also, bring road trip snacks for the rest of the family for when someone gets hungry. Therefore if the baby is sleeping then you can press on and not have to stop immediately for food. Keep the road trip snacks easily accessible in your car.
Click here to download our Family Road Trip Survival Bundle with a printable Road Trip Snacks List. This will give you ideas of the best kid-friendly snacks to pack. These are our family favorites which we know your kids will love.
11. How to avoid motion sickness in the car
Before and during a road trip pay attention to what your baby is eating. Keep food and drinks bland to prevent motion sickness. If motion sickness becomes a regular occurrence for your child (like it did for mine), then be aware of how your child was acting before they got sick. With a baby, it is hard to teach them to recognize the signs of motion sickness. Therefore, help create mental cues for you by making a note of any unusual behavior that occurs before they get sick.
Our youngest daughter has struggled with motion sickness since she was a baby. I started to notice how she would begin to whine uncharacteristically when she started feeling sick. Read this post where I share everything I have learned about avoiding motion sickness in the car.
12. Be prepared to clean up messes
Whether it’s pee, poop, blood or puke, or just snacks that get spilled. It’s inevitable that there will be a mess in the car when you take a family road trip with a baby. From many miles of road trips with kids, I have developed the Essential Car Clean-up Kit. I ALWAYS keep these supplies within easy reach in the car. Don’t get caught off guard. You will be incredibly thankful you have these items if you need them. When you’re pulled over on the side of the highway trying to clean-up your baby, then being prepared to clean up messes will help ease a stressful situation.
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The Essential Car Clean-up Kit for a road trip with a baby includes:
- Paper Towels
- Baby Wipes
- Hand Sanitizer
- Kleenex Tissues
- Towels (hand towel and bath towel size)
- Disinfecting Spray / Wipes
- Kids ‘N’ Pets Odor Remover Spray
- Trash Bags
- Travel First Aid Kit
13. How to change a diaper in the car
It is inevitable that you will need to change a diaper during a road trip with a baby. If this is your first road trip with a baby then mastering diaper changes on-the-go can feel overwhelming. You have two options for diaper changes on a road trip. Firstly, going into a rest area, gas station, restaurant, or store. Secondly, consider bringing a changing mat and changing the diaper in your car.
There are pros and cons to each option. For the most part, I am weary of all the germs in public restrooms, especially on the baby changing tables. I often preferred to change my babies in the car where it felt more “clean”. Our typical road trip routine was to stop and nurse the baby while Daddy took a break from driving, went to the bathroom, and stretched his legs. I’d use a waterproof changing mat to do the diaper change in the front passenger seat of the car. Then hand off the baby to Daddy while I headed inside to dispose of the dirty diaper, use the bathroom, and wash my hands.
Make sure to keep a fresh diaper and wipes within easy reach. And have a disposable diaper bag dispenser as a place to put the dirty diaper. Consider using a diaper rash cream or ointment to seal out wetness and protect your baby’s bottom from diaper rash as they sit in the car seat for an extended amount of time.
14. The best travel toys for a baby road trip
A baby’s attention span is short. It’s a good idea to pack a selection of travel toys for a baby (see also, ‘How to Pack Formula For Air Travel‘). Having different travel activities for your child to switch between will make the family road trip more bearable for you and your child! It’s important to adjust your expectation of what will happen during a road trip with a baby. It will be quite different than traveling before you had kids. If your baby is awake then the job of a new parent is to entertain that tiny human until you reach your destination!
What are the best travel toys for a baby? Bring a selection of small hardback baby books and interactive books for your road trip with a baby. Other great travel activities for a baby include toys that are multi-sensory, stacking rings, link rings, an activity cube, rattles, and clips. Our most favorite baby travel toy is Sophie la giraffe, have you seen her? Bring a surprise toy or something new and exciting that you can introduce mid-journey. See our review of the best travel toys for a baby or go here to purchase baby travel toys.
15. Break up your journey with an overnight stop
Depending on the distance of your road trip, and the length of time you have available to travel, you may consider breaking up your journey with an overnight stop. Taking a road trip with a baby can be exhausting for the entire family! That includes parents and the baby!
If you break up your journey with an overnight stop at a hotel, then make sure you take an overnight bag. Bring changes of clothes for the whole family, plus toothbrushes and basic toiletries. Pack the bag in a place that is easy to access in the trunk. It is far simpler to unload one small bag for the night than to unpack the entire vehicle with everyone’s suitcases. We love to book a hotel with a swimming pool. If so, don’t forget the swimsuits, baby swim float, and swim diapers.
Before your next Road Trip with a Baby
Download our Family Road Trip Survival Bundle. It includes our popular Road Trip With A Baby Packing List, Family Road Trip Checklist, and Road Trip Snacks List. These will help simplify your family road trip.
I hope these practical tips will help you survive your road trip with a baby. At the end of the day being prepared will help you feel more confident, but traveling with a baby requires flexibility. I know you can do it!
And remember, let’s BE Family so you can enjoy the journey.
Until next time,
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