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! Below is a rundown of our favorite tips and products that helped us survive long car rides with a baby.
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Road Trip Tips for Long Car Rides with a Baby
Tip #1: Accept that each car trip with a baby is 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 more when my son was in that 6-12 month stage and made road trips pretty difficult. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination safely and on time.
Tip #2: Pack as much in the car as you can the night before your road trip with a baby.
Whether I’m 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 time when just walking out the door is a feat in itself!)
Tip #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.
Tip #4: Stay focused on the road.
It’s easy to get distracted when you’re battling traffic or a thunderstorm (or let’s face it, even a quiet and empty road) when you have a baby in the back that’s crying, whining or dropped his toy for the hundred millionth time. 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.
Tip #5 Make sure you can access an open seat in the car during long drives 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, or 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 he had those first months of travel, and the last thing I wanted to do was have to change myself as well after getting dirty from carrying him inside. (A lesson I learn 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 former breastfeeding Momma, I also felt more comfortable nursing from my car with it parked in the corner of the parking lot versus finding a corner inside. My son also ate like a velociraptor from the day he was born, so breastfeeding in public was pretty much out of the question for us. This is totally a matter of personal preference, and I admire anyone who can do it!
Tip #6: Know where the rest stops are for those frequent stops on a long car ride 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. And if there isn’t a rest stop near by and you have to stop, many toll roads and major highways have emergency rest stops. I found these to be super helpful when I was driving by myself and my little guy was hysterical so I had to stop to check on him so either comfort him, feed him or change his diaper (hence, why the prior tip on leaving an open car seat comes in handy!)
Tip #7: Try to bring reinforcements when you’re tackling a long car ride with a baby, and drive with another adult if you can.
While I’ve probably done as many road trips with my son solo as I have with someone else, for the obvious reasons it’s easier to have back up to split up at rest stops if needed and check on the baby periodically if you’re both in the front seat. If driving with someone else, stops are much easier so you can split up to use the restroom, grab something to eat, etc. I’ve probably taken as many road trips solo as I have with someone else, so for this reason I like doing as much as I can in the car as mentioned above.
Tip #8 Ziplock bags are your friend.
Use them for soiled close, snacks, trash that you don’t want stinking up the car. I never leave the house without them whether I’m road tripping or not!
5 Must Have Products for Any 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 for your baby registry. (Click on the images below to view each product on Amazon.com.)
A baby mirror is critical for safety and peace of mind for car rides of any length so you can still clearly see your baby while he or she is rear facing. I rely on the mirror the most when I’m driving solo on long car trips with my son, so I can check to see if he’s sleeping, crying or throwing his toy for the millionth time without having 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, we also have the Brica 2 Piece White Hot Safety Shade and like that they retract easily and fit my 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 both the Skip Hop Chelsea Downtown Satchel Diaper Bag (although sadly the champagne color I have is discontinued) and Skip Hop Diaper Bag Backpack. 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.)
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 Starbucks 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 conjured 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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