With life at a standstill in many ways these days, you may find yourself daydreaming about just hitting the road and getting away from the mundane of the every day. (Or at least the laundry, am I right or am I right?) If you’re thinking about taking a road trip with baby in tow, you’re not alone—according to stats, Americans are taking more road trips than ever and there’s no sign of that slowing down anytime soon.
Some families may prefer taking road trips over flying right now, as they can control more of the risks involved, like being exposed to less people, some may prefer driving because they can pack all of their kids’ stuff with them, and still more may be just going all-out and choosing the RV life.
You may not be ready to take the plunge into living in an RV full-time, but maybe you’re just considering taking a socially-distanced road trip with baby to get some fresh scenery. With virtual school and remote work, it’s a very real possibility these days, so if you’re hitting the blacktop anytime soon, we’ve got some tips for surviving a road trip with the whole family along for the ride.
Is a Road Trip with Baby Possible?
My husband, two-and-a-half-year-old, four-month-old, and dog recently made the 18-hour drive to visit my parents in Ohio. Does it sound like torture? Yes. But it actually was one of the best trips we’ve had in awhile.
This epic road trip had the potential to be disastrous, but it actually proved to be some great family bonding time and even, dare I say, fun. Here are our tips for making a road trip with an infant and a toddler seamless and stress-free.
Tips for Road Tripping with a Baby-in-Tow
In a word, yes. But there are several factors we considered before hitting the road that I felt made our trip much more successful:
- Safety. We waited until to take a road trip with our toddler until he had received his first full round of vaccines before we felt comfortable traveling with him. Since his immune system is still developing, I wanted him to have that extra layer of protection before being exposed to others outside our nuclear family. That may not be the right choice for every family, but it’s what we felt comfortable with.
- Timing. We set out on our journey in the wee hours of the morning. That meant that the baby slept a good chunk of the first leg, and when he woke up, he wasn’t immediately crabby since mornings are usually his happiest time.
- Space. Say it with me: Rent a minivan. They are the best, at least for traveling with small children. In our rental minivan, I was able to sit in the third row. That means I had easy access to both the toddler and infant to dole out snacks, pick up a dropped iPad, even play peek-a-boo, or sing some Raffi.
How Long Can Babies Ride in the Car?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends planning stops every two hours on a road trip with an infant in tow. This coincided nicely with my baby’s feeding schedule, so it wasn’t a big deal to stop every two hours.
Just be sure to plan for those extra stops when calculating the timeline for your trip. The drive from our home to my parents’ usually takes about 11 hours, but when traveling with an infant, toddler, and oh yeah, a dog, that trip took more like 18 hours. This also meant we had to plan an overnight stop. Also, be sure to bring lots of changes of clothing. For whatever reason, babies love to have blowouts more frequently on long road trips.
We ended up staying with some friends about halfway through our journey. Pro tip: Try to stay with family or friends who have children, since they will likely have all or some of the baby gear you’ll need. It will save you the effort of having to completely unpack and repack your car halfway through your road trip.
How Do I Keep My Baby Happy in a Car Seat?
Keeping a baby happy in the car seat on any length of road trip is a legitimate concern for any parent. Here’s how we made it work:
- Adjust your car seat. First, make sure the car seat’s recline is adjusted properly. Most car seats have a recommended range of recline settings for babies under 3 months old and those over 3 months old. Be sure the chest straps are adjusted tight enough — but not too tight! — and that the chest clip is in the proper position. When your baby is sleeping, his or her head should not slump forward. That means their recline isn’t set properly.
- Make sure you’re in plain sight. I found that sitting in a seat where my baby could see my face during the ride helped immensely. It kept my baby happier and ensured I was in arms-reach to dole out toys and entertainment.
- Take a test drive (literally). Preparation is also key. We took several long car rides in the weeks leading up to our road trip so both our kids were used to riding in the car for extended periods of time.
- Have car-specific toys. To keep everyone busy in the car, we introduced several new toys. For the baby, it was one or two new, dangling car seat toys. For the toddler, we doled out smaller items like Playdoh, Matchbox cars, or Water Wow books. I even wrapped the latter to make it more exciting. Since they were new toys, the novelty bought us more mileage, pun intended, than the toys we already had lying around the house.
- Use white noise. Bring a portable white noise machine that you can set up near or on the baby’s car seat. This can help your car naps last a bit longer, especially with a rambunctious toddler that loves to yell “Truck!” at every passing semi.
How to Take a Road Trip if You’re Breastfeeding
If you’re a breastfeeding parent, it can be downright torturous to try to endure a road trip with a screaming baby when you know all you have to do to calm that child down is to whip out a boob or two. But as tempting as it may be to keep on keepin’ on to your destination while feeding your baby, breastfeeding in the car is definitely a no-no.
Instead of breastfeeding in the car, build in specific stops as best you can to let your baby nurse while you stretch your legs or load up on supplies. And if your baby will take a bottle, you might want to consider packing a battery-powered pump or a wireless pump like the Elvie so you can pump in the car and feed your baby in their car seat without having to stop. Some breast pump companies even offer breast pump rentals, so it may be worth checking out if you need a breast pump for only a short amount of time.
Is it Best to Drive at Night?
This is completely a personal decision. Some parents swear being extra tired is worth the peace of mind of having their little ones sleep while they drive, while others just can’t deal with driving while drowsy. My advice is to know your own limits and put your own health and safety in mind first, since you are the ones driving. And when in doubt, if you try it and it doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to book a hotel for the night if you need a break. Sleep deprivation is no joke for new parents and you have to be safe on the road.
Be Prepared With This Tip
And speaking of safety, I highly recommend that you consider downloading and setting up some kind of telehealth app if you’re heading away from home, just in case your baby gets sick while you’re gone. That way, you know exactly what to do and who to call if your baby starts showing any worrisome symptoms. It can be especially hard if you’re away from home and out of your normal provider coverage to know where to go, so having an app with access to a provider ready-to-go can be invaluable.
A Road Trip with Baby Packing List
- Plastic, disposable cups. One of the best tips I ever got from a mom of five before my family took our first road trip was to pack a huge bag of plastic, disposable cups. And while not exactly earth-friendly (and feel free to swap with reusable cups, if you’d like), the tip was enormously helpful–you can use regular cups to hold anything and everything during a road trip with kids. We’re talking snacks, crayons, drinks, chicken nuggets from the drive-thru, toys, etc. And you know the cup will fit in the cupholder, so it helps keep things more organized. The woman was a genius.
- A cooler. Good for prepared bottles, breast milk if you’re pumping, baby food, and of course, your own snacks and food.
- Extra masks. Because you never know when you might need to run in somewhere!
- Baby carrier and/or hiking backpack.
- Hand sanitizer. We love Hilary Duff’s Happy Little Camper’s hand sanitizer for a clean, non-toxic option!
- Diaper changing supplies. This includes more wipes than you can count, diaper rash cream (because long hours in the car seat = more sore bums), and diapers, diapers, and more diapers.
- Extra clothes. (For you and baby!)
- Garbage bags. Useful for cleaning out the car and for those inevitably epic diaper changes.
- Microwave sterilizing bags. You can throw anything in these bad boys–toys, bottles, pacifiers, toothbrushes–you name it. So helpful for keeping things clean on the road.
- Car sun shade. For all those car time naps.
- Car mirror. Or you could, you know, just sit in the back with your kiddo. Sometimes, you have to do it.
- Back-of-the-seat organizer. If your child is old enough, it might also be helpful to consider a rear-facing screen holder so you can turn on a video. Educational, of course.
- Some kind of trash receptacle set-up. Trash bag, small bin, or even a rubbermaid container–just make it work.
- Easy snacks. Think baby food pouches, oatmeal-in-a-bag, granola bars for you, bananas, baby puffs and lots of bottled water.
Keep Expectations Low
Traveling with an infant and a toddler wasn’t the least stressful trip I’ve ever taken. We had to reconfigure stops, our timeline, and — if I’m truly being honest — cope with some fussiness along the way. But the truth is, road-tripping with a baby or a toddler (or both!) isn’t exactly about the fun, adventurous road trips of our youth, filled with laughter and junk food and a sense of freedom. Instead, road tripping with a baby means learning to be flexible, adapt, and keep expectations low.
You might have to turn on your headphones or play some music for a little bit so you don’t go crazy hearing your baby cry; you might have to ride totally in the backseat so your baby doesn’t freak out when he can’t see you, leaving your partner to navigate all alone for 12 hours; or you might have to just give into the fact that you’re never going to get that smashed banana stain out of your van’s floor.
It is what it is. But road tripping as a family is about making some great memories along the way and enjoying the destination once you arrive–no matter how long it takes to get there.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can babies go on road trips?
Babies can absolutely on road trips, though there are a few factors you should consider first, like your baby’s age, vaccination status, the length of your trip, plus where you’re staying once you arrive.
How long should you drive with a newborn?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends planning stops every two hours on a road trip with an infant in tow, so be sure to factor that in when planning your arrival time and stops along the way.
How do I keep my baby happy in the car seat?
First, make sure your baby’s car seat is adjusted properly and that your baby is fed and has a dry diaper before you hit the road. Once you’re in the car, try introducing new toys to keep your little one happy. It also might help to sit where your baby can see you.
What to Pack in Your Diaper Bag
Make diaper bags great again.