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Articles > How to Prepare For a Road Trip With a Baby on Board
Baby looking through car window. Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva.

How to Prepare For a Road Trip With a Baby on Board

June 9, 2022

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Taking your first road trip with a baby can be exciting—and also terrifying enough to put any parent into preparation overload mode. While driving is an excellent way to take little ones on trips, it also requires advanced planning. To get ready for taking a road trip with a baby, keep reading for some tips, ideas, and advice.

Before You Leave

Prepare Yourself Mentally for the Trip

Your first road trip with your baby will likely be a diverse experience that swings between peaceful and fun moments to stressful and tear-filled ones. The best way to be prepared for any scenario is to prepare your mindset first. First, accept that even if you plan and prepare, the unexpected will happen. Your baby will cry or poop almost immediately after you've begun driving. You may take your stress out on your partner. But with patience and mindfulness, you can get through anything.

Prepare Your Vehicle

The number one goal of taking a road trip with a baby is to arrive safely at your destination. To do so, you need to make sure your vehicle is up for the journey. Make sure your car is up to date on any oil changes or scheduled maintenance. It's also a good idea to have a roadside emergency kit with first-aid necessities, a flashlight, flares, jumper cables, mechanical tools, and other useful items. For the interior of your vehicle, make sure that any items that could go flying during a sudden stop or accident are secured. If your vehicle has an open cargo area, consider purchasing a barrier that will keep loose items such as suitcases, camping gear, and travel cribs secured.

Consider Travel Insurance

Remember the first rule of taking a road trip with a baby: expect the unexpected. With that in mind, travel insurance can cover a wide range of contingencies, including trip cancellation, medical coverage, medical evacuation, travel delays, concierge service, and lost, stolen, delayed, or damaged luggage. Your major credit card may also offer a travel insurance component as well, so check to see if that's an option.

Do a Health Check

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, babies should be up to date with their vaccinations—including the flu shot—at least four weeks before your road trip. Vaccinating in advance allows time for the vaccines to take effect and side effects, such as redness or discomfort, to wear off. To keep your baby healthy and prepare for the unexpected, make sure you know how to access pediatric medical care at your destination before you leave.

Map Your Trip

Taking a road trip with a baby requires more preparation than other types of trips—especially when it comes to planning the route. It's important that your driving plan includes opportunities for ample breaks and rest stops. If you're driving during inclement weather, consider downloading the Highway Weather app to help you adjust your plan for rain, snow, and other conditions.

Check That Car Seat

If you're worried about how securely your car seat is installed, take advantage of car seat safety techs who may offer their services through your local fire department, ambulance service or hospital. You can also search on the National Child Passenger Safety website for someone in your area.

Go for a Trial Drive

Don't let a long road trip be the first time your baby spends an extended time in a car seat. One of the ways to get a baby ready for a long road trip is to take them for a drive. Once you know your car seat is safe and secure, start with short rides around town and work up to longer stretches to help your baby get used to the feeling of a car seat and harness.

Prepare the Car for Comfort

In addition to making sure that the car is safe and sound, it's also essential to make sure it's comfortable for all the passengers—especially babies. Think about adding shades on the windows nearest to the baby to protect them and create a darker, nap-inducing atmosphere. Installing a rear-view baby mirror can help you keep an eye on your baby while driving. Looking for a fun upgrade? Make your vehicle a traveling entertainment center for your baby with this tip from mommyconnections.ca. Use ribbon or yarn and safety pins or tape to hang an array of lightweight toys from the ceiling of the car to hang over your baby. You can also tape brightly colored pictures of toys on the back of the seat that your baby will be facing.

Entertainment for Baby

To keep your little one entertained during the drive, stock up on toys, books, and music ahead of time. For books, get some paperbacks at your local library that will be easier to bring than large board books. For music, download some baby-friendly music on your phone or audio player in advance. For toys, try to find some forgotten favorites and save them just for the trip. Keep a small basket of additional toys close to you, so that you can swap out new distractions with ease.

Snacks for All

Your baby probably won't be eating the typical road snacks that have fueled you during trips of the past. So, be sure to bring an assortment of snacks and drinks for your baby and remember to bring food for yourself, too. Having food and drinks in the car can allow you to be flexible with driving times. To improve the experience, bring a cooler for cold drinks and a portable bottle warmer if needed as well.

Brush up on Baby Massage Techniques

Just like adults, babies can become uncomfortable after sitting for hours in a seat. To help your baby feel more comfortable, if this happens, learn some infant massage techniques that you can use while driving if you're in the backseat and during stops.

Prep Your Tech

Before you hit the road, make sure to charge all your mobile devices, including phones and tablets. In the car, have a few chargers handy in case you need to power up multiple items at once.

Packing for a Road Trip With a Baby

There are many aspects to consider when packing for a road trip with a baby. Here are three primary considerations to take before packing.

What to Pack

To start packing, think about your baby's daily routine and what items they (and you) can't live without? Some things you may want to pack include:

  • Baby carrier
  • Baby food if appropriate
  • Baby's blanket
  • Bibs and burping cloths
  • Car seat pillow or head support
  • Empty plastic bags for leftovers and trash
  • Enough diapers, wipes, and milk or formula for the entire trip and a few days buffer.
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Microwave bags for sanitizing bottles, pump parts, teething toys, and more while on the road.
  • Pacifier if baby uses one, and an extra one (or seven)
  • Pee pads for the car seat
  • Sipper cups
  • Two extra sets of clothes for the baby and the grownups for emergency changes on the road. Think about packing them in gallon-sized plastic bags and placing them somewhere easy to grab.
  • Wipes, diaper cream, a changing pad, and bags for dirty diapers.

When in doubt, bring extras of the most critical items. But also remember that if you forget something, you'll likely be able to buy it at your destination or while on the road.

When to Pack

Approach your packing in two stages and begin at least a week before the trip. First, prepare a list of all the items you'll need and collect them into a central area. You may want to pack when your baby is playing and distracted so that you can focus on packing and not worry about disturbing their rest. Once you have all the items together and packed into their appropriate carrying gear, it's time to put everything in the car. To minimize stress and create some buffer, plan on packing up the night before. That way, you'll have time to remember anything you've forgotten and be ready to leave first thing in the morning.

Where to Pack

The most important rule of packing when taking a road trip with your baby: keep essential items that you'll need quickly close at hand. A trunk is an excellent place for a stroller and other bulky necessities. But, keep essentials such as toys, bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, snacks, and other times in the car and easy to reach.

On the Journey

Once you're on the road, you may encounter some questions and challenging situations. Here's how to handle a few of them.

Taming Tantrums

While your baby may sleep on the drive, traveling can be very stimulating for little minds—maybe too stimulating sometimes. If your baby gets fussy, try distracting them with toys. Snacks can also help!

How to Change a Diaper in the Car

When you gotta go, you gotta go—even if you're on the go. If your baby needs a diaper change during the trip, you can either take care of it in the car or at a rest stop. At a rest stop, you may find a real changing table and the right amount of space. But, sometimes, that might not be an option. If you need to change baby in the car, try to fold down a seat to get a flat area, and lay out all the supplies you'll need before you get started.

When Is the Best Time to Drive With a Baby?

The answer to this question depends on the infant. Many experts recommend driving when your baby usually sleeps, to take advantage of that quiet time. This may mean driving for longer stretches at night. If that's the case, take a short test night drive with your baby before the trip to see how they responded. In general, try to avoid traffic and stop-and-go conditions. Babies tend to travel better when the car is continually moving.

Breastfeeding Tips While on a Road Trip

If you plan on breastfeeding during your road trip, make sure to stay hydrated and be patient. Also, allow for extra time on your journey for stops to feed and use the restroom. To make it easier to breastfeed, wear nursing tops, or bring a nursing cover if it makes you feel more comfortable. As always, practice good nursing hygiene and habits. The last place you want to end up with an infection or breast issue is on a road trip. Wash your hands routinely or use hand sanitizer.

Determine Your Driving Schedule and Setup

If you're traveling with a partner, then you can switch off the roles of driver and caretaker. While one person is driving, the other person can sit in the back with the baby and prepare bottles, clean up, or cure boredom. This can also be a great time to bond with your baby.

What to Do If Things Get Tense

The reality is that any number of things can go wrong on a road trip without a baby—from mechanical issues to lousy weather. But adding a baby, potentially a screaming baby, can also add more complexities. So, accept the truth of Murphy's Law: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Try to stay patient, take breaks when you need to and have a sense of humor about the situation. Here's a great suggestion from tripsavvy.com: put together Baby Road Trip BINGO cards where spaces are filled in with potential disasters, such as "blow out in the car seat," or tiny victories, such as "finished a whole podcast." A game can transform a losing situation into a winning one.

Be Realistic About Driving Time

While you might be able to go six hours without using the bathroom or needing to eat, your baby can't. Plan for stops every one to three hours during the day and three to six hours at night to change diapers, stretch legs, eat and change sweaty or spit-up ridden clothes as needed. If you have quite a long distance to drive, try to break the journey into manageable segments with stops for playing, eating, and sleeping.

Taking your first road trip with a baby can be a memorable experience, even if it comes with challenges. Make the best of it with these tips and ideas.

Did we miss one of your favorite tricks for taking a road trip with a baby? Let us know on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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