If you are planning a road trip with a baby, you might feel a little overwhelmed and nervous – but don’t be! Traveling with a baby is often much easier than with bigger kids.
You need to make sure you are prepared, but babies sleep a lot and that makes driving long distances easier than when you have a toddler who won’t sleep and wants you to sing “Wheels on the bus” over and over and over and over…
If you are preparing for a road trip with a toddler in tow, we have you covered as well! The packing list will be different, but we have some awesome tips on how to make the best of a family road trip no matter the age of your kids.
We’ve done our first week-long road trip to when Dylan was just 4 weeks olds – to Puglia in Italy. Holden went on his first multi-day road trip at 4 weeks as well, but he embarked on adventures around the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. We later continued road-tripping with the kids when they were 6 months old when we went to explore Pacific Northwest, we took Dylan around Utah when he was a toddler, and many other shorter or longer escapades.
First things first… Be Reasonable With Your Itinerary!
If you’re the type of parent who lives on schedules, you’ll need to adjust your expectations when it comes to baby car travel. It’s safe to say that even if you can drive across the country in a day or two, your baby will not do it.
Infants can only take so many hours in a moving vehicle no matter how calm, and even if they would you shouldn’t leave a baby in their infant car seat for more than a couple of hours at a time – I explained it further in this post.
You might need more frequent stops to reach your destination and sometimes things go wrong. When both kids were freaking out in a car for over an hour being done with driving we decided to pull over to a roadside motel and give them a break instead of letting them scream for 2 more hours to our final stop.
Some places are more kid-friendly for a road trip than others. For example, we had no issues driving in France or Switzerland, because every single rest stop had a small playground where kids could burn some energy off. In the US, these don’t exist almost at all so we had to scroll Google Maps and find some playgrounds in the nearest towns where we could pull over.
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.
In our case, we know the absolute maximum driving time a day is 5 hours.
Go for a trial drive
What is the longest drive you have done with your child? Before heading out on a long road trip I would recommend going on a shorter, trial run with your child.
My younger son went through a phase as a newborn where he would scream in the car nonstop. We needed two people to put him into his car seat… And this wasn’t even the worst, because I know of babies who would scream to the point of throwing up.
Going on a road trip during this phase would have been a disaster, so just because your mom-friends might think road trips are a great idea it might not work for you at a given stage!
You are going to feel more confident and will be much better prepared if you have some idea of how your child travels in the car for longer than a grocery run.
Leave during nap/sleeping times
When you schedule your departure time, consider what time you will arrive and when your child usually takes their nap/s and goes to bed.
If you are only driving for a couple of hours, plan to leave right before a nap. You can load the car and have everything ready, feed your baby and they will hopefully sleep the entire drive or most of it.
With older children, this still works. I have a four-year-old who I know will undoubtedly crash if he is in the car long enough. We always plan to leave late morning/early afternoon so that by the time he gets tired of driving and falls asleep, he wakes up no later than 2:00pm so she will sleep at night. If I were to leave late in the afternoon, he would sleep until 5:00 or 6:00pm and getting her to bed would be a complete nightmare.
Conversely, when we have gone on long road trips, we have left later in the evening so the kids spend a couple of hours awake, happily playing with their special car toys or reading car books and when they start to get over being in the car they fall asleep and sleep the rest of the trip. When we arrive at our destination, we carry them to their waiting beds where they usually transfer without issue.
Regardless of whether you plan on driving at night or during the day, get the removable window shades. Otherwise, your child might be screaming that the sun is in their face.
This only works if you can do so safely. Driving through the night can be hard and your family’s safety is always of the utmost importance. Always use your judgment and knowledge of your family when making these kinds of choices.
And for your own sake – get yourself a binky leash. You won’t want to look under the seats for pacifiers or toys that your baby threw all the time.
Get in the backseat for playtime with baby
While this tip goes out of the window if you have twins, or two kiddos, with just one baby it’s a good idea for an adult to sit in the backseat.
When traveling with another adult, it helps if one grown-up can ride in the backseat for at least a portion of the trip. Use your time on the road to bond with your baby and entertain them. We used to drive with Dylan around the Dolomites that way all the time!
And speaking of traveling with multiple kids: separate the kids!
If you happen to take a road trip with two toddlers, baby and toddler, separate the kids. Ever seen those photos of parents putting cardboard in between the seats? It’s for a good reason!
One of the biggest challenges is fighting kids in the back seat and sometimes when you’re on a highway you can’t just stop! Sti them as far away from each other as you can or separate them with a bag in between.
Stock Up on Necessities
One item I would never leave on any car trip without is a mirror that allows you to see your baby. This is not only extremely convenient but also a matter of safety for me. If you’re feeling extra fancy, now they also sell monitors vs mirrors.
When you are at home you have all the essentials at your fingertips to handle diaper blowouts and spit-ups galore. However, when you are on the road you won’t have a sink, washer and dryer and endless clothes to replace the soiled ones.
I would recommend buying a car seat cover. It comes with two which I appreciate. Hopefully, you won’t need two – but you just never know what your child will throw at you! It might be a diaper blowout or a freshly potty-trained toddler who isn’t able to fully hold.
There are so many things to bring when in the car a huge step for a successful trip is staying organized. This is my absolute favorite way to stay organized in the car. The pockets are so thoughtfully made that they can be used in different ways. I love that the top pocket can be used to hold a tablet.
I also love this collapsible organizer. It collapses which is very convenient. I like the pockets on the outside and the dividers inside. I like to use it to bring all the essentials I know I will need – breast pump and parts, food for the drive, extra clothes and blankets, bottles, etc. it keeps everything in one place and I can easily take everything in and out of the car.
I also keep a trash can in the car to hold all the trash that inevitably accumulates on a road trip. It also helps keep clutter minimalized so you can find the things you need in a pinch.
Feeding while Driving
Make sure when planning your drive, you account for the feeding of your baby. You want to ensure if you will have to stop to feed your baby there is a safe and convenient place to stop along your route.
If you are breastfeeding, make sure to pack a portable breast pump and that you have a converter so you can charge it in the car.
It can be easier to bottle feed on road trips, so make sure to have enough bottles to last the drive and then pump to replace what my baby has had to drink.
I love this cooler to keep bottles of milk in. It has an ice pack that perfectly holds bottles so can keep milk cold and safe from spills. I also absolutely love this formula holder for the on-the-go. You can fill it with a formula for 3 bottles to make making bottles a breeze. I fill multiple bottles up with very warm water so by the time I need them I have filtered, fresh warm water all ready to go with the addition of the formula.
You’ll also want to make sure and bring a sippy cup for the car ride. This Munchkin sippy cup is my favorite because it is no spill and has a lid to keep the straw sanitary when not in use. The weighted straw also enables the child to be able to drink from any angle.
If you’re a baby or toddler eat, snacks are essential. Pack pieces of fruits, crunchies, rice waffles, or anything that is portable and can’t melt, makes stains, or requires refrigerating.
Entertainment on the Drive for Babies
Now for the fun part! Keeping your children entertained.
I had one of these colorful and fun toys on my babies’ car seats and strollers all the time. An attachable clip is a must! They are so fun for babies to look at and try and grab.
My absolute favorite things to have in the car for my kids are books! I will usually buy books for my kids before a car trip, so they are new and exciting.
My favorite road trip books are board books with flaps and sounds. These entertain my kids better than anything else.
Entertainment on the Drive for Toddlers
Toddlers need much more than babies, because their brains can’t stop spinning. They want to be entertained all the time. A baby might be able to occupy themselves with a book for a few hours, but your toddler most likely won’t.
We love Seek and Find books for car trips.
Another favorite are these Water WOW! Coloring books. They are fun to color on, but they aren’t messy and there aren’t a bunch of crayons/markers to keep track of.
Drawing is a fun car ride activity, but it can get really overwhelming trying to bring coloring books, paper and markers/crayons, which is why I like this option best. Even with a tray things fall off and then you have a yelling child who must use green crayon now no matter what.
I also love Melissa and Doug products for car trips! This wooden animal board puzzle is one of my absolute favorites for cars. I love how the pieces have homes behind doors for storage, so there aren’t a bunch of parts I am trying to keep track of. I also love this locks and latches board to keep young inquisitive minds busy.
While toys are fun in the car, I have found they take up more room, get dropped, and are easily lost which is why for road trips I prefer books and tablets.
Even if you don’t allow your children to watch television or movies at home, you may want to consider bending the rules for road trips with toddlers for your own sanity.
You can also let your child play on a tablet or watch a movie on a tablet as long as it has a good protective case.
For Rest Stops…
As we’ve mentioned before, it’s best to pack several bibs in your travel bag for easy access while traveling. Not the material one, something you can just rinse in the water like Munchkin.
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.
One item I like to bring when traveling is child-sized cutlery. Most places do not have child cutlery and if you’ve ever given a toddler a regular fork you will understand why this is on my list.
If you will be staying at a hotel, make sure you call the hotel and let them know you have an infant/child. They will usually put you in a more isolated part of the hotel which is really helpful if your baby is screaming in the middle of the night, and you are concerned about bothering other guests.
You will also want to ask if they have a pack n play for you to use. Most hotels do, which is nice to have one less thing to pack. If they do not – you will want to bring your own.
While the prospect of a road trip with your little one may be overwhelming – it really can be amazing! I have learned these tips the hard way over the years and many, many road trips. My family has made the best memories going on trips together and I know you can too!