Road Trip with Baby: How to Survive Long Car Rides

Our son logged more miles in the car his first few months of life than I can even begin to count.  I’ll thank our family and friends all over the eastern part of the United States for that! A road trip with baby requires a lot flexibility, especially given that the car ride can change so much during each stage of your baby’s life. A road trip with a newborn is MUCH different than a road trip with an 8 month old, for example.

With some advanced planning and trail and error, road trips with babies do get easier! Below is a rundown of our best tips and products for surviving those long car rides.

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Road Trip Tips for Long Car Rides with a Baby

We learned a lot of things about drives with a baby after all the miles we logged in that first year. (Some things were definitely learned the hard way!) Below are a handful of our best tips for long drives with a baby.

1. Accept long car rides with a baby are going to take you longer

I typically estimate about a 30 minute stop for every 2.5 hours of driving.  There have been times, however, that I stopped every 2 hours (or even more.) Given the differences in mobility and sleep, a road trip with a 6 week old baby is going to be very different than a road trip with a 6 month old baby. When my son was in that 6-12 month stage, road trips were more difficult and often required more stops to allow him to stretch out.

Bottom line, give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination safely and comfortably.

2. Pack as much in the car as you can the night before your road trip with a baby

Whether you’re leaving at 5am or 5pm, try to pack the car ahead of time to minimize stress the day you’re leaving for your trip. Ideally, I try to have everything in there but the diaper bag and cooler. The last thing you want to do is to have to jam a week’s worth of stuff into your car while trying to hold that sweet little babe. (Especially since there will be times when just walking out the door is a feat in itself!)

Long Car Ride with a Baby- Toddling Traveler

3. Try to sync up long drives with your baby’s sleeping schedule

When my son was only a few months old, it worked best for us to leave early in the morning. He was taking several naps and would fall back asleep in the car, making long car rides pretty easy. As our son got a little older and was taking two naps (and eventually one long one) being able to leave around his nap time was a lifesaver for us.  

For really long drives, splitting the drive up has also worked well. We would do half of the drive nap time and take a couple hour break for him to play and run around. We would then reconvene the drive around his bedtime (with PJs on and his Nittany lovey in hand) so he falls back asleep.  For those Moms or Dads to be, I don’t want to give you a false impression that every baby sleeps well in a car. We were lucky with our son, but keep in mind you might need try out different times to get this right.

4. Pack extra snacks and meals for road trips

Once babies are starting to get into the solids phase, you’re likely going to be bringing a lot of their food from home. For snacks that travel well, we love these teething wafers or these puffs. We also loved these snack catching cups as our son got older and started eating snacks more independently. They’re a lifesaver with preventing snacks from getting dumped all over the keep your car by your little ones!

While we liked fruit and veggie pouches easy on-the-go nutrition as well, I don’t recommend them for car rides since they can make a mess. (Especially as your little one is still trying to figure out how they work!)

Make sure you have more food and milk on hand than you think you need. You never know when you’ll get stuck in traffic or your drive will take longer than planned.

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5. Don’t forget to bring different forms of entertainment in the car, even for infants

Babies can easily get bored looking at the same thing for ours on end, and keeping them occupied definitely helps minimize the fussing. A few ideas include:

  • A sensory toy that’s multifaceted like this one.   It also has rings, a teether, a mirror, a rattle as well as multiple sounds and textures.  
  • The Wubbanub Pacifier is great, even if your baby doesn’t take a pacifier. It was a lifesaver on our road trip home from Omaha with a newborn when we weren’t able to stop and feed our son right away.  
  • A stuffed animal or lovey is great to give them comfort and something to grasp.
  • When they start teething, bring several options, both for back up when they drop them and to keep your baby entertained. Some of our favorite tethers are Nubby Chewy Rings since they’re easy and fun to grip in the car, the Chicken Wing Appeteether and the Banana Toothbrush Teether.
  • If another adult is able to be in the backseat, you can bring books to read to them. Check out our travel related reading inspiration page for more ideas.
  • As your baby gets closer to 1 year old, sticker books can also help pass the time with some adult assistance.

Related Post: 10 Baby and Toddler Toys for Travel Under $10

6. Make sure you can access an open seat in the car during road trips with a baby

When driving for long periods of time, I’ve found that the car often becomes ground zero for anything you need to do to take care of the baby.   I always try to leave the backseat next to my son open. If I need to put something there, I make sure it’s something that can be easily moved.   I can’t even count how many diaper blowouts our son had those first months of travel. The last thing I wanted to do was have to change myself too after getting dirty from carrying him inside.  (A lesson I learned the hard way when I was driving across the state solo and jammed the car so full of stuff I had to do just that.)  

As a breastfeeding mom, I also felt more comfortable nursing from my car with it parked in the corner of the parking lot versus finding a corner inside.  This is totally a matter of personal preference, and I admire anyone who can can breastfeed in public!

Long Car Ride with a Baby- Toddling Traveler

7. Know where the rest stops are for those frequent stops on your long car rides with a baby

If you have a navigation or app that shows where the rest stops are, use it! This is super helpful to know if you should make that stop along the road or wait it out for the next one.  Have to stop when there’s no rest stop near you? Many toll roads and major highways have emergency rest stops.  I found these to be super helpful when I was driving by myself. There were quite a few times that my son become hysterical and I had to stop either comfort him, feed him or change his diaper. (Hence, why the prior tip on leaving an open car seat comes in handy!)

If your child is just starting to become more mobile, try to use rest stops to help them stretch out and move around as well. This is easier once they’re walking or balancing on their legs more. If they’re in the rolling or crawling stage, you can also bring a blanket with you to let them stretch out on the floor. Or even better, find a grassy area or park if you’re driving with a baby on a nice day.

8. Try to bring reinforcements when you’re tackling a long car ride with a baby

I’ve probably done as many road trips with my son solo as I have with someone else in the car. For obvious reasons, it’s much easier to get through the long drive with a baby when you have someone to help you. If you’re driving with someone else, rest stops are much easier so you can split up to use the restroom, grab something to eat, get gas, etc.  And you can actually check on the baby without having to pull over!

9. Ziplock bags are your friend

Use them for soiled close, snacks, diapers and other trash that you don’t want stinking up the car.  I never leave the house without ziplock bags when traveling with a baby- whether I’m road tripping or not!

10. Stay focused on the road when you have a baby on board

This one may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get distracted when driving with a baby. As a multi-tasker at heart, it’s tough for me not to feel like I’m super woman and can focus on the road while simultaneously singing to my son and picking up that sippy cup I swear he tried to throw at me. I’m constantly having to remind myself of this and will often stop to pull over in a safe spot if I need to check on something for peace of mind, versus trying to do it all from the driver’s seat.

5 Must Have Products for a Car Ride with a Baby

Regardless of your baby’s age, here are some items we swear by for surviving those long drives.  For any moms-to-be out there, I definitely recommend planning ahead and considering these items for your baby registry.  

Baby Mirror

A baby mirror was critical for us for both safety and peace of mind for car rides of any length. We relied pretty heavily on these to see our son when he was rear facing. The mirror especially comes in handy if you’re doing a solo road trip with a baby. It certainly makes it easier to check if they’re sleeping, crying or throwing their toy for the millionth time when you don’t have a co-pilot to help.   We have the Baby & Mom Backseat Car Mirror and love that it’s big enough to see the baby’s entire body, and it’s easy to install and adjust when needed.

Car sun shades 

Our son HATES the sun in his eyes so this is critical for us. While our newer car came with sun shades, our prior car when we first had our son did not. We used the Brica 2 Piece White Hot Safety Shade and like that they retract easily and fit our specific car windows very well. Every car is different, so make sure you check the dimensions to ensure you’re getting adequate coverage for your window size.

Small cooler for bottles and/or snacks

We bought the PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag after it was recommended by a friend and have brought it everywhere with us ever since.  It freezes and can keep the contents cold without a separate freezer pack, and it easily folds up when you’re not using it.  It’s the perfect size to keep a couple bottles and snacks cold for that long car ride.

Hands-free diaper bag with changing pad  

This probably seems too obvious, but the hands free part is key when making those pit stops while juggling a baby. I  have this Skip Hop Chelsea Downtown Satchel Diaper Bag. (Although sadly the champagne color I have is discontinued.) I also have the this diaper bag backpack.  that we often use periodically. In addition to the multiple pockets, the changing pads they come with easily velcro shut. (They can be easily washed after multiple uses on those dirty roadside changing tables.)

Light blanket

Whether in the car or just pushing the stroller, we almost always had a thin muslin blanket on our son’s lap to make sure he was comfortable and also had something to grab onto for comfort.  Having something to hold on to especially helped to calm our son down when he was upset about those extra long car rides.   We love the Aiden and Ainis Muslin Blankets because they serve so many purposes and are light, breathable and easy to pack.  Target also sells a similar, less expensive, version by Cloud Island that we’ve used as well.

Like most things when it comes to raising a baby, a little trial and error, a lot of coffee and a ton of patience will go a long way when doing a long road trip with a baby.  For a while there we were the family that loved to go everywhere with a baby that seemed to hate the car, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.   I still get nervous doing long drives by myself with my son to this day, but we always seem to get through it with a lot more ease than anything I could have made up in my head.

Please share in the comments if you have any additional tips for long car rides with a baby!


Children’s Book Inspiration: On the Go by Tad Carpenter

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How to Survive Long Car Rides with a Baby

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