Once you have a baby, traveling will not be the same as it used to be; but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun! With some time and thought, you can plan a car trip with your baby that is enjoyable for everyone.
Make Things Happen
When getting ready for a long car trip, it can be easy to let things happen instead of making things happen. Once you have a baby, it is better to be proactive in making trip decisions and consider the following questions:
- Do you need to make the trip all at once, or can you break up the trip with a few well-timed stops. Babies often become fussy after too much time strapped into their car seat, and it is easier on everyone to be able to take some breaks.
- If your baby sleeps well in the car, you can plan your trip to coincide with nap or bedtime. If they do not sleep well in the car, then plan to leave immediately after they wake up in the morning or after a nap. Your baby will not suddenly change their car behavior because it is a longer trip so make decisions based on how your baby has done in the past.
- Car trips with a baby can be filled with unexpected surprises. There could be a diaper explosion that requires a full change of clothes, or an inconsolable baby that requires a half hour break from the car. Make sure that you allow for extra time to accommodate your baby’s needs.
Prep the Car
Take the time to plan out how things will be packed into the car, including where everyone will sit and what will be within arm’s reach. If there are two adults traveling then you can plan on having one person sit in the backseat with the baby. If you are traveling alone, you will need to be a little more creative and plan for more frequent stops.
Here are a few tips for making the car a traveling entertainment center for your baby:
- Tape brightly colored pictures on the back of the seat that your baby will be facing.
- Bring books on tape or quiet music for the adults for times when your baby is sleeping. The voice on tape may help keep your baby relaxed, and it will be something you can enjoy.
- If no one will be sitting next to your baby and your child is old enough to reach for toys, set up a box next to the car seat with soft, safe toys that your baby can reach for by himself.
- If you plan to have someone sitting next to baby, then provide that person with a gigantic box of toys with which to entertain the little one ⎯ distraction works wonders to keep a baby happy in the car. One of the best activities for long car rides is book reading. Check your library’s early reading section; it typically features a large collection of baby-pleasing titles in paperback that are easier to tote along than board books.
- Bring along an assortment of snacks and drinks for your older baby who’s regularly eating solids, and remember to bring food for yourself, too. Even if you plan to stop for meals, you may decide to drive on through if your baby is sleeping or content ⎯ saving the stops for fussy times.
- If you’ll be traveling in the dark, bring along a battery-operated nightlight or flashlight.
Car travel checklist
- Well-stocked diaper bag
- Baby’s blanket
- Car seat head support
- Window shades (sun screens)
- Change of clothes for your baby
- Enormous box of soft, safe toys and books (Nothing hard that can become a projectile in a quick stop.)
- Music or audio books
- Baby food, snacks, and drinks for your baby
- Sippy cups
- Snacks and drinks for the adults
- Wet washcloths in bags, or moist towelettes
- Empty plastic bags for leftovers and trash
- Bottle warmer
- Baby’s regular sleep music or white noise (if needed, bring extra batteries)
- First aid kit/prescriptions/medications
- Jumper cables & other car emergency items
- Medical and insurance information/emergency phone numbers
- Maps/driving directions
- Baby carrier/sling/stroller
Throughout Your Trip
By the time you start your car trip with your baby, you should be well-prepared. Here are a few more things to consider as you set out on the road:
- Be flexible. When traveling with a baby, even the best-laid plans can be disrupted. Try to stay relaxed, accept changes, and go with the flow.
- Stop when you need to. Trying to push “just a little farther” with a crying baby in the car can be dangerous, as you’re distracted and nervous. Take the time to stop and calm your baby. Never, ever try to tend to your fussy baby while you are driving – that kind of distraction can lead to an accident.
- Put safety first. Make sure that you keep your baby in his car seat. Many nursing mothers breastfeed their babies during trips. This can be dangerous in a moving car, even if you are both securely belted: You can’t foresee an accident, and your body could slam forcefully into your baby. Instead, pull over! You can even try to nurse your baby while he’s still in his car seat. That way, when he falls asleep, you won’t wake him up moving him back into his seat.
- Remember: Never, ever leave your baby alone in the car ⎯ not even for a minute.
The Trip Back Home
Unfortunately, when the trip is over, you will still need to travel back home and be just as prepared as you were for the trip to your destination.
Make sure that all of your supplies are replenished a few days before you need to head back home, and plan out the best time to leave. You will also want to think about what you could do differently. What do you wish that you had? What didn’t you need at all? What would have done differently? It is a learning process for everyone, and your trip back home can be pleasant and relaxed with some planning and foresight.
For tips on napping when on the road check out The No-Cry Nap Solution.