As a new mom, I feel like I’m constantly learning. Always tackling the next great adventure, blindly attempting to come out smiling on the other end. Our latest and greatest adventure was our first road trip with a 9-month-old. I’m not talking a quick 3-hour drive in the car. We tackled that bear at 1 month of age. I’m talking a good ole’ 13 hour trip to the beach. Naturally, I had my reservations about taking such a long trip with a young child. It just seems like a recipe for disaster…am I right? At first, I was insistent on the fact that we fly, however, I know people do this all the time. They pack all the right things, make all the right stops, and arrive at their destinations with smiling faces. If families of 5 can do it, this little of family of 3 can cross the hurdle! With determination and full speed ahead, I prepped, planned, stressed, and prepped some more. Here are the top ten things I’ve learned about taking a road trip with an infant!
Tip #1: Be flexible
I debated whether or not to put this tip at the beginning or the end. It is the MOST important thing I learned in my preparation and in our travels. You have to be willing to go with plan B. And I’m not just saying that! You really have to be ready to go with the flow.
I’m a type-A person to the CORE. I like predictability. I plan things months in advance. I’m not a fan of surprises, and I stick to a schedule. If there is one thing having a child has taught me, it is that sometimes you simply have to go with plan B. No questions asked. On this trip, there were several instances where we made decisions on the fly. We didn’t get to stop in all of the towns we wanted to, nor did we find specific restaurants or parks to hang out in. We simply allowed Ellianna and her nap schedule to dictate when we would stop. It worked out really well! Having a pleasant baby seriously outweighs everything else. Remember the end goal: make it to your final destination with the least amount of drama possible!
Tip #2: Give yourself plenty of time
I know sometimes it’s not in the cards, but if you can, give yourself the gift of time. It will make for a much more pleasant ride. We were originally supposed to leave on Wednesday morning for a 4:00 check in on Thursday. Our destination was 13.5 hours away. On Monday night we made the decision to leave on Tuesday instead. I was really stressed at first because I had so much to do and one less day to do it, but I’m SO glad we did. We were able to relax, stop when we needed to, take Ellianna out of the car for longer periods of time and still beat our family to the beach!!! If you are able to, take your time getting to your destination. Spread it out over the course of a day or two to save your sanity and the sanity of your kid’s.
Tip #3: Pack a variety of snacks
Variety is key here. An assortment of snacks saved us on more than one occasion. I know there is debate over whether or not to feed an infant in the car seat. If you are totally against this, then you may have to come up with another solution. I picked snacks that I knew she liked and were small enough to avoid choking… I regulated the size of the treats and how fast she was able to eat them. Some of our favorite options were: freeze-dried strawberries, Cheerios, baby food pouches, granola bars, and fruit and veggie melts. I chose these options because I didn’t want to have to worry about wrestling with a cooler on our numerous stops. If you are driving straight through, a cooler with fruits and veggies might be another great option!
Tip #4: Bring a movie
Yes, yes and more YES. Strap an old iPad to the back of your car’s headrest and download your child’s favorite movie or something with lots of sound, color, and music. Ellianna loves Disney’s Moana. We downloaded that and turned it on every time we could sense that she was on the verge of a breakdown. It saved us from listening to loads of screaming. I know some people don’t like allowing babies to have any screen time, but honestly, when you are on a really long trip I don’t think it can harm anything to allow your child to watch a movie or two. It’s better than a super grumpy car full of people!
Tip #5: Pack a variety of toys
Again, just like with the snacks, variety is KEY! Lots of different options. We brought some finger puppets, a few books, some stuffed animals, a couple of musical toys and some sensory bottles to keep her attention. When she got fussy with one toy, we would switch to the next. I kept a bin on the floor that was easy to access and it kept everything organized and all in one place. Grabbing one or two new toys wouldn’t be a bad idea either. We didn’t do this on the way there but found one or two little options for our ride home and it seemed to work really well!
Tip #6: Fill up on gas at every stop
Getting your baby to sleep and stay asleep is like gold. Once the baby is asleep it’s full speed ahead. We avoided any restroom stops, food stops, and even stop signs if we could! Ellianna seems to wake up the second the car comes to a halt and we wanted to avoid that at all costs. You do NOT want to find yourself in the unfortunate situation of an empty tank with a sleeping baby. To ensure this wouldn’t be an issue, we would fill up on gas every time we stopped. Even if we still had 3/4 of a tank left, we would still top it off. This allowed us to drive as far as we could while she was asleep without disrupting her.
Tip #7: Make sure diapers, wipes & bottles are easy to reach
While you are driving, and when you stop, there are several items you will want easy access to. Luckily I had previously created an infant car kit, so I had most of the essentials in there. Check out this post for more information on what to include.
In addition to the car kit, I also had a small freezer bag with pumped bottles available at all times. It’s super helpful in a pinch to be able to grab a bottle quickly. Having everything within reach saved us from having to rummage through tons of bags in the back seat.
If you don’t want to create an infant car kit, I would suggest keeping snacks, diapers/wipes, burp cloths, toys, and bottles all in close proximity.
Tip #8: Stop with intention
As I mentioned above, we weren’t able to stop at all to the places we had planned. We pretty much allowed Ellianna to dictate when and where we would stop based on her nap schedule and her moods. However, we always stopped with intention. We tried to find places that would allow us to walk her around, had baby changing facilities, and a good place to eat/refuel. We attempted to avoid stopping in random towns without all of the amenities. In addition, we also made an effort to keep her out of the car for a minimum of 30 minutes just to allow a change of scenery and some time outside of the car seat. Even though those extra minutes added time to our trip, I truly believe it ended up saving us from having to stop more frequently and minimized fussiness.
The New York Times put out a great article about some great apps to help you plan your pit stops in advance. Check it out for more details on what to download and when.
Tip #9: Pack deliberately
If you are going to be stopping to spend the night before your final destination I would highly suggest packing deliberately. This means making sure that your bags are easily accessible and the things you need are on the top. If you have enough room in your car, it might even be a nice idea to pack a small bag with just the essentials for one night! We didn’t have enough room in the car to do this so we had to take everything out each time we stopped. If I had to do it over again, I would probably try to pack a small bag and stuff it in somewhere. It would have made unpacking a bit easier. Even if you have to unpack your whole car, you can still pack with intention. Keep you pajamas, clothes for the next day and toiletries all on top. That way, you won’t have to unpack the entire bag just to get to your t-shirt!
Tip # 10: Have a positive attitude
Being a parent can be really trying at times. And REALLY exhausting. Taking a long road trip is no longer a relaxing adventure. It’s work. Lots of work. You need to be on your game, focus on entertaining your kids, time your pit-stops, prep well in advance, etc. The only way to finish your trip without being either disappointed, upset, or unwilling to travel ever again, is to go into it with a positive attitude. Be flexible, be patient and be on the same page as your significant other (or those traveling with you). Try to remember that although the traveling might be a little tiring, the memories you are going to make with your family are SO incredibly worth it. I would make the trip 100 times over if it meant I could continue sharing those special moments with my family.
Overall, I would say that our first long road trip was a huge success. What have you learned when it comes to road trips with infants? Do you have any additional tips and tricks to make it a little bit easier?
If you enjoyed reading this, check out this post about the 8 discoveries I made when flying with an infant.