American literature has long romanticized the road trip. If you’re someone with road trip experience, you already know why. There’s just you, any travel companions you have, and the open road. The possibilities are endless, and that creates feelings of invigoration and freedom. Many people are under the impression that once they have children, their road-tripping days are over for the foreseeable future. The belief is that they might be able to start road tripping again when their child is older but won’t be able to pull off the journey with a baby or smaller kid. This isn’t the case.
Some people might not even want to attempt a road trip with a baby but are forced to for personal or family reasons. Sometimes you need to get the whole family somewhere and, after a bit of deliberation, have decided that a car trip will be less stressful than a plane ride.
Almost always, this is true because any infant behavior that adults find troubling tends to come with embarrassment and the urge to quiet the child as fast as possible regardless of your personal views on sugary snacks. A moody baby on a drive impacts you and those you’re traveling with, but you don’t have the added pressure of other passengers glaring or sighing.
Whether you’re in love with road tripping or in need of moving your family for practical reasons, the following will explore a few things you might want to keep in mind if you’re going on a road trip with your baby. Of course, every child is different, and no one knows an infant child better than their parents. You know what your child needs and how to meet those needs, and that knowledge should always be part of your road trip planning process.
Divide And Conquer
If you have multiple people on the trip, one is, of course, driving, but one should be in the back with the baby. If moments of discomfort for your little one are addressed promptly, there is far less chance that things will escalate into a state of fussiness or distraught. One of the best ways to make a road trip with a baby smooth is to ensure that your child’s needs are met as soon as they arise.
Keep track of the time and your child’s typical schedule so that you’re not delaying meals when they’re hungry or naps when they’re tired. You probably have a sense of what times of day they need the most attention and stimulation and what times of day problems tend to arise. If you plan for these moments in advance and present your child with what they’re going to be needing in a minute, you can stave off a lot of struggle and unhappiness.
Bring New Toys Or Activities For Baby
Babies love new things and can stay occupied for longer than normal if they’re presented with them. You can use this to your advantage by bringing a few new things for your infant to enjoy that they haven’t encountered before. Consider a baby car mirror or a new plushie that has a velcro attachment to help keep it on the car seat. If the trip is particularly long, you might want to save some of the new things you’ve brought for later on in the drive.
Accept There Will Be More Stops
Because babies have small stomachs and small bladders, they need things more often than bigger people. That’s just how it is. If your baby is still breastfeeding, this almost certainly will require a stop each time they’re hungry, as it isn’t safe to take a baby out of his or her car seat to breastfeed while on the road. The same goes for diaper changes. Beyond this, toddlers have a need to move; this isn’t a want; it’s part of how their bodies develop and so can’t be ignored indefinitely. Be sure to acknowledge when a little one needs to stretch their legs and make stops for that as well.
In addition to all of the above, caring for a child (particularly if you’re breastfeeding) is energetically demanding, and this means that you might also need more stops than normal for food and drinks for the adults on board (hangry people are impatient with babies and this impatience can fuel misery in your infant since children are so fast at picking up other people’s emotions).
If you take a moment to adjust your expectations about how often you’ll stop, you can help reduce feelings of frustration when you pull over two or three times an hour. This can also help you more accurately estimate your travel time.
Road Bumps And Hiccups
Anyone who travels frequently will tell you that hiccups happen all the time. Trains are missed, coffee shops are all out of coffee, bags are lost, wrong turns are taken, gas stations that Google Maps said would be open are closed, etc. How you react to these inevitable road bumps will really impact your mental state and, therefore, the mental state of your baby and other travel companions.
Again, children are quick to become moody if their parents are in a mood (and yes, that can be incredibly difficult to deal with), but this means your emotional state is worth prioritizing. Attempt to let hiccups roll off your shoulders instead of weighing you down, and make sure your basic needs are met. If you’re hungry, tired, thirsty, hating the music on the radio, or in desperate need of a bathroom break and then something inconvenient happens, it’s going to be a lot harder to keep your cool.
Use The Main Roads
While backroads are a ton of fun and often reveal some under-appreciated sights when traveling with small children, the chances you’re going to stop and need something you hadn’t expected are much higher than if you were traveling with just adults. To work with this knowledge, stick to the main roads where amenities tend to be closer together. This will help ensure that when the baby gets grumpy because he or she needs something you don’t have, they won’t have to wait as long to get what they need.
It’s also worth noting that often, the main roads are the shorter route as well. This can help make the trip easier for everyone.
If You’re In An RV: Babyproofing
If you’re making the trip in an RV, you might want to babyproof the space. Things that are within reach of your child, like drawers, items, and foldouts, need to be secured (they often come with security latches). Sharp corners or edges can have soft sides or other features applied to reduce bumps and bruises. Treat the RV just like a home—what would you leave accessible for your child, and what would you put away?
Depending on yourself and the other travelers who can drive, you might want to think about altering your sleep schedule before the trip and driving at night. This can ensure that your baby will spend a greater portion of the trip sleeping, and this means there will be less time than they’re awake and demanding food, changes, or stimulation. Night driving can result in longer stretches driven without breaks.
Some parents even find that leaving right at the time their child normally goes to sleep can work wonders. They go through their child’s entire night routine with a bath, soft baby pajamas, a storybook, or whatever else they do before their infant goes to sleep and simply put the child in the car seat instead of their bed. This can allow parents a nice long stretch of driving before the baby wakes and their progress begins to slow.
It’s vital that if you plan for night driving, you take proper steps to ensure that whoever is driving is alert. Drowsy driving is dangerous for everyone within your vehicle and everyone outside of it.
If the road trip is on the longer side and your child is bottle-fed or of age where he or she has snacks, it’s easy for the vehicle to become comically messy. You might want to lay a seat cover (or even an old blanket or towel) down to help protect the seats. The blanket can be taken out, shaken off, and thrown in the washing machine once the drive is done. This can help ensure your vehicle stays (relatively) clean.
While you’re probably used to packing a baby bag before you head out, a long road trip might require more packing than you’re used to. Figure out how many diapers you’re going to need based on the length of the journey, and then add a few more to be on the safe side. If you use cloth diapers, you might need to purchase some disposable ones for the trip if there are not going to be washing options along the way.
Extra clothes, an extra blanket, comfort items for your child, any hygiene products you use like wipes, and anything else that’s part of your childcare routine can be included. Then add some bags you can use for garbage, soiled diapers, or anything else you want to keep separate, like a onesie that has vomited on it. You’ll want to keep your baby bag somewhere that you can easily access while on the road. If you’re strapped for space, consider putting the things adults might need, like phone chargers, maps, and spare socks, in the same bag.
Learn About Baby Massage
Just like adults, babies can get uncomfortable or stiff if they’ve been sitting in one position for a long time. Baby seats are even worse than adult seats in this regard as they often dramatically restrict movement. Just think about being strapped into one position for an entire road trip; infant massage can be done during stops to help mitigate some of this discomfort. It can also calm babies and help them feel confident and safe even though they’re experiencing something new.
Make Sure Your Vehicle Is Well Stocked And Maintained
Any road trip needs a sturdy vehicle. You want to be sure that you have an emergency car pack containing a flare, an emergency blanket, a booster kit, a first aid kit, and other supplies like a spare tire, car jack, and tire iron. Beyond this, you want to make sure that all your maintenance requirements are met. You don’t want to be stuck driving around in a town you don’t know, trying to find a place to change your oil.
Children’s Music Considerations
While children’s music can leave the baby happy, you need to balance the baby’s happiness with your own sanity. If the driver is stressed and worried about being lost while a high-pitched repetitive song is making them feel like they’re slowly going insane, it’s time to turn the music off. It can be easy to get into the habit of putting a baby’s needs first, but it’s important to remember that drivers have needs, too, and safely maneuvering a vehicle requires that these needs be met. You might want to craft a few playlists that contain songs everyone seems to like.
Have Motel Rental Backup Money
Before embarking on a road trip, you want to be sure you have the money necessary to book a motel on the road if it turns out you need it. Motels tend to accept bookings at any point throughout the day or night, making it relatively easy to find one even if you haven’t booked in advance. If you or the other drivers present are falling asleep or can’t handle another minute in the car without snapping, you need to be prepared to admit defeat and find a motel. It’s too risky to drive while exhausted, and pushing through intense stress with everyone packed into a tiny vehicle can be a recipe for relationship difficulties and regrets about things said.
Whether the trip was an absolute blast or a terror-filled with a screaming baby that you know you’re going to laugh about five years from now, you’re going to want to capture some of the journey. Take a few photos when you stop so that you can look back on the memories being formed. Your baby might not remember this part of the journey, but you almost certainly will.
The above information should help you get prepared for a road trip with your baby. Again, every child is different, and it can be hard to accept the many stops required to make sure these needs are met, but stopping is vital if you want everyone in a pleasant mood as you travel.