How to plan succesful long drives traveling with an infant
The world of travel is slowly beginning to open up to families once more. While many people are eagerly booking flights and cruises, parents of newborns or very young babies may be hesitant to expose their infant to the wealth of germs that were present even before COVID-19. This may mean that the only option for visiting family and friends entails a family road trip and traveling long distances.
The prospect of a long car journey with a baby can fill even the most experienced travelling parents with anxiety. We know, we’ve been there! There are just so many extra items that are needed for baby car travel, and don’t forget those ill-timed diaper blowouts while you’re inconveniently between stops.
We’ve put our own travelling experiences to work for you by compiling 10 Tips for Road Tripping with a Baby to help make your journey as stress-free as possible. You’ll also find a helpful list of baby road-tripping gear at the end to make packing a breeze.
This post is part of our family road-tripping and best baby travel advice series
If your child is a little bit older, then pop on over and read all our best toddler road trip travel advice here.
10 Tips for road-tripping with a baby
Before we dive into traveling tips for baby’s first road trip, we’d like to emphasize the importance of having a suitable car seat for your baby. Please check to make sure it has not expired, and if you are travelling to another country, it’s best to look up child safety laws for the area you’re driving to.
1. Get as Much Practice as Possible
You may have heard horror stories of families embarking on a long car ride with baby only to turn around because their little one dissolved into hysterics. We have experienced a fair amount of crying while travelling ourselves, and the best solution we’ve found to this has simply been to get your baby used to being in their car seat.
We know that getting out and about with your baby is easier said than done, especially if you have more than one child. Even a few trips to pick up groceries or going to the park will help your little one realize that being in a car seat is not the end of the world.
Once that is going well, perhaps plan a day trip to a park or location an hour or two away. By increasing your baby’s time in their car seat incrementally, you’re decreasing the chances of constant crying when you’re committed for the long haul.
Get your baby used to smaller journeys in the car first before tackling a long road trip
2. Be Reasonable With Your Itinerary
If you’re the type of person who thrives on making out schedules and sticking to them, you’ll need to adjust your expectations when it comes to baby car travel. As tempting as it is to reach your destination as soon as possible, you’ll need to keep your baby’s needs in mind as well as your own sanity.
Even the most well-travelled infant can only take so many hours in a moving vehicle (and you shouldn’t leave a baby in their infant car seat for more than a couple of hours at a time). Build in plenty of rest stops for baby and for you when taking on a long car ride.
You also wanted to make sure that you are taking care of yourself and your partner. Sleepless nights and babies often go hand-in-hand. If you’re already running on fumes, avoid trying to drive for more than five-six hours a day or through the night. Your family’s safety is the most important thing.
We’ve always found it helps to time long stretches for what would be baby’s normal nap time – but “normal” doesn’t always apply when travelling with a baby! If you have older children to consider too, you may have multiple napping schedules to consider and there is no ‘best time’.
Whether you’re a breastfeeding mum or your baby is formula-fed, you’ll need to pack extra feeding supplies when on the road with infant. At the same time, you want to make sure that you still have room to move in the front seat of your vehicle.
In the event that you either aren’t able to pull over and nurse your baby or that they are sleeping soundly in their car seat at feeding time, you’ll probably want to bring a travel breast pump along with you. This can be one of the bulkiest items to pack, and you’ll need to remember to bring extra batteries or have a charging cord that plugs into your car’s adapter (naturally this is if you’re the passenger, not the driver!).
I can’t say enough good things about the Spectra breast pump, and the latest model even has a rechargeable battery. There is also a car adapter available for additional purchase. The Spectra is both powerful and easy to clean, both of which are pluses when travelling.
Additional recommended supplies for feeding on the move:
You can find our complete guide to breastfeeding on the go here, as well as our complete guide to bottle feeding on the go.
4. Car Seat Additions
In some ways, babies are both easier and more difficult to entertain than toddlers. Your newborn won’t be screaming because you took their tablet away from them, but they may scream because of a dirty diaper, they’re hungry, or they’re tired of being in their car seat. Yes, taking a baby on the road can be a different animal altogether.
Babies are sometimes easier in the sense that they can be distracted by much simpler items, such as favorite toys that rattle or make noise, or merely seeing their own reflection in a mirror. We suggest a toy strip that attaches to the handles of your baby’s car seat. This ensures they will have a variety of engaging travel toys that can’t be thrown on the floor (A toy tether is also an excellent way to avoid this scenario!).
We also recommend having a car seat mirror when you’re on a road trip with your baby so that you can keep tabs on how they’re doing. It’s always helpful to know when your baby is napping as this can help determine whether or not you can squeeze in another hour of driving. A mirror can also alert you to those unfortunate milk spit-ups that will more than likely result in an extra pit stop.
Some babies will go through phases of simply not settling in the back seat. Particularly if they are the only one in the back, a quick way to a happy baby may be simply having another adult sit with your infant to entertain them in their car seat.
5. Pack a Travel Bag
You’ll want to have some of the essentials within arm’s reach in your vehicle, which is why you’ll need an extra travel bag inside the car, aside from your suitcases in the trunk. Your regular diaper bag can be perfectly suitable for this, or you can simply pack an extra tote.
Here are some helpful items to stock your car baby bag with:
Travel changing padDiaper wipesExtra diapersDiaper CreamHealthy SnacksHand sanitiserWet wipesBurp clothsPlastic grocery bags (for dirty diapers)1-2 bibsA change of clothes (baby AND you!)Ziploc bags or wash bags (for dirty clothes)Extra pacifiers (if needed)First Aid Kit
We’ve found that it’s always useful to have a small selection of baby’s favorite toys for when we would have to stop and eat while travelling. These could be brought into the restaurant and swapped out, and sanitising wipes certainly came in handy when those toys inevitably hit the floor. Bibs also became a necessity, as they helped protect our baby’s clothes from spit-ups in the car.
6. Expect a Few Diaper Blowouts
Ah, diaper blowouts. These are a fact of parenting life, and travelling with a newborn by car practically guarantees that a few will occur between Point A and Point B – we’ve learnt the hard way! While there’s nothing you can do to prevent blowouts, you can minimize the cleanup, thereby reducing your own stress in these situations.
We absolutely recommend a car seat liner. Many are universal, but you should also be able to find one that fits your specific car seat. Car seat liners can be wiped clean and are machine washable, and they prevent anything from soaking into the actual car seat (you’ll use these right through the toilet training stage up to pre-school years).
Baby car travel also dictates the necessity of packing backup clothing, and onesies are extremely convenient. We advise packing 2-3 onesies in your travel bag to cover all of your bases – it’ll save you needing to dig them out of suitcases on the side of the road for those emergency diaper changes.
7. Prepare for Frequent Stops
Taking baby on the road goes hand-in-hand with stopping. Frequently. It’s just a fact of life, and if you accept it at the onset of your road trip, this will probably reduce the chances you’ll be cranky about it later.
Road tripping with a baby plane to make frequent rest stops
Babies simply require extra handling, whether it be an unanticipated nursing or feeding stop, a milk spit up fiasco or the dreaded diaper blowout. It’s best to just buck up, pull over, and take care of business.
It’s also a good idea to bring along your stroller. This really is an essential road-tripping item, as you’ll need to stretch your legs as well as transport your baby to and from your hotel room or take in some trails during a rest stop.
8. For Mom – Take Care of YOU
This article may be about a road trip with baby, but we’re going to take a moment and focus on you, Mom. It can be tempting to put your needs last, as it so often seems to be a part of being a mother. However, your own well-being is directly linked to the health and happiness of your little one, and it’s important to remember this.
For one, don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re exhausted. Letting your partner or spouse take the wheel while you’re on the road is an excellent way to catch up on any sleep you may have missed the night before. Even a half-hour of added sleep can do wonders, as we’re sure you know!
If you’re a nursing mom, you’ll also want to make sure that you’re staying hydrated. You’ve already adopted the mindset that stops will be more frequent, so if that means a few extra trips to the bathroom, so be it. Don’t sacrifice your own health because it may be temporarily inconvenient for others.
9. Pack A Few Travel Dining Essentials
Car travel with a baby means that you’ll be stopping along the way to eat, which means you’ll need to pack a few travel dining essentials. If your baby can sit up with support, a travel high chair can make indoor dining much easier. These fold up when not in use and can easily be stored in the trunk of your vehicle.
As we’ve mentioned before, it’s best to pack several bibs in your travel bag for easy access while travelling. We’re big fans of these silicone bibs, as they can be easily wiped clean for repeated use on your journey. Don’t forget surface wipes before sitting at a table and for wiping little hands that will want to touch EVERYTHING before serving up baby food!
10. Prepare for Hotel Stays
Staying in a hotel with your baby usually means that you’ll get much less sleep than normal, but we have some tips to make these experiences less tiring for everyone involved.
Ask for a corner room. These are often quieter and farther away from elevators. Many hotels will work to accommodate families with infants, and you should not be afraid to speak up. The worst they can tell you is that they don’t have any available.
If financially possible, spring for a suite room. These generally have a separate space (such as a common living room area) where you can place your baby’s travel cot.
Bring a baby travel bassinet, not a pack n’ play. While useful, pack n’ plays are bulky and can take up space in your vehicle that you’ll need for other items. Most hotels offer some sort of crib, but that doesn’t guarantee that the mattress will be lined or as thick as your baby is used to. A travel bassinet can be placed in the crib and provide all that your baby needs for a restful night’s sleep.
Essential Gear for Road Tripping with Baby
We’ve mentioned several pieces of essential gear to prepare for a road trip with your infant or baby, so here is a convenient list for your reference (you can also head straight to our Amazon store where we set out all our favourite baby travel essential items)
What about when you arrive at your destination? Download our complete baby packing list when you sign up for our newsletter here – never forget an essential item again traveling with a baby!
Final thoughts on taking baby on the road
Remember, it’s all about setting realistic expectations. Give yourself plenty of time, pack well, rest frequently and go easy on yourself if things don’t go exactly to plan!
More Baby Travel Tips
Before you leave home with a baby in tow, firstly pop over to our Best Baby Travel Advice homepage. We cover a huge range of baby travel topics here including:
Hiking with a Baby – babies can make great travel companions in the early days – here’s how to get yourself set up for a successful baby hike.
Essentials Camping with a Baby – undoubtedly tots do come with a lot of stuff! Here are the essential baby items we always recommend you take on a baby camping trip & hitting the trails.
Bringing Baby to the Beach – Top tips for when you’re out in the sun and the surf to keep baby safe and make sure its a fun day for all of you.
You can find all of our family travel product reviews here
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