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 baby, for example.
With some advanced planning and trial 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 with baby.
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Road Trip Tips for Long Car Rides with a Baby
We learned a lot about drives with a baby after all the miles we logged in that first year. (And some things were definitely learned the hard way!) Below are a handful of our best tips for road trips with a baby.
1. Accept that a road trip with 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 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 a little 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 the car but the diaper bag and cooler well before our departure time. That usually means packing the car the night before for early departures.
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 the baby or wrangle older siblings. (Especially since there will be times when just walking out the door is a feat in itself.)
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 road trips with a 1 month old baby and up to about 4 months pretty easy. As our son got a little older and was more mobile, he was the most active early in the morning. That meant we had to adjust our approach and leave a little later to coordinate drives with his nap schedule. (Or just be super effective at keeping him entertained first thing in the morning!)
For really long drives, splitting the drive up also works well. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stay overnight. Just stopping for an hour or two to stretch and get a change of scenery works well too. Especially when babies start to become mobile and need to get those wiggles out.
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 in that he always slept in the car at some point during the drive, but you might need try out different approaches 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 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 like fruit and veggie pouches for easy on-the-go nutrition, I don’t recommend them for car rides. Speaking from experience, they can make a mess unless you have someone in the backseat to help.
Be sure to also have more food and milk/formula 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.
5. Bring different forms of entertainment for the car
Babies can easily get bored looking at the same thing for ours on end. (And so can adults, for that matter!) Regardless of their age, proactively keeping your baby entertained in the car definitely helps minimize the fussing.
Screen time is one form of entertainment many parents use in the car with babies or toddlers. We don’t typically use iPads or Kindles at home, so they’ve always been a special treat for long drives or flights. Our favorite device for kids is the Kindle Fire along with a Kindle Fire tablet case for kids. We also have this tablet holder for car that hooks onto the headrest and can be used for a rear or front facing car seat. If you’re planning to use screen time in the car with baby, I recommend using other forms of entertainment first and keep the tablet for when they get really restless.
A few of our favorite toys for a road trip with baby are below.
- 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 your baby starts teething, bring several teether options. Both for back up when they drop them and to switch it up with something new. Some of our favorite tethers are Nubby Chewy Rings, 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 page on travel books for children for more ideas.
- As your baby gets closer to 1 year old, sticker books are a great toddler road trip activity with 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
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. For this reason, it definitely helps if you leave the backseat next to your baby open. (This gets a little tougher when you have other kids in the car but is helpful for new parents trying to navigate everything.) Whether you need to go back and check on the baby or quickly change a dirty diaper, that extra space is key!
As a breastfeeding mom, I also felt more comfortable nursing from my car with it parked in the corner of the parking lot versus trying to manage it inside a rest stop. (Which can be less than clean.) This is totally a matter of personal preference, and I admire anyone who can can breastfeed anywhere!
7. Know where the rest stops are for those frequent stops
If you have a navigation or app that shows where the rest stops are, use it! Knowing how many miles away the rest stops are is super helpful when trying to time out feedings and diaper changes in the car.
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 especially helpful when I was driving by myself. There were quite a few times that my son became 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. Sitting in a car that long is hard enough for adults, much less babies who just want to move and don’t understand why they can’t.
8. Try to bring reinforcements when you’re tackling a long car ride with 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. You can actually check on the baby without hanging to pull over. And rest stops are easier to tackle since you can split up getting guess, using the restroom and taking care of the baby.
9. Ziplock bags are your friend
I never leave the house without ziplock bags when traveling with a baby- whether I’m road tripping or not! You can use Ziplock bags for dirty clothes and diapers, snacks, other trash that you don’t want stinking up the car.
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. It’s much better and safer than trying to do it all from the driver’s seat.
5 Must Have Products for a Car Ride with a Baby
In addition to the items mentioned above, below are some items we swear by to include in your road trip with baby packing list. (Regardless of your baby’s age.) For any moms-to-be out there, I definitely recommend planning ahead and considering these items for your baby registry.
1. Baby Mirror
A baby car 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 makes it much 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 this backseat car mirror. I love that it’s big enough to see the baby’s entire body, and it’s easy to install and adjust when needed.
2. Car Sun Shades
Our son HATES the sun in his eyes, especially in the car. While our newer car came with sun shades, our prior car when we first had our son did not. We used these white hot car safety shades. Not only do they have an indicator that shows if the car is too hot, but they also retract easily. Every car is different, so make sure you measure your car windows to ensure you’re getting adequate coverage for your window size. I’d recommend avoiding the stick on car shades that fold up, since they easily fall off.
3. Small Cooler
A cooler is critical for any road trip, but especially with a baby when you can’t easily get drinks and snacks for them at a rest stop.
We bought this freezable lunch bag cooler after it was recommended by a friend. The bag itself freezes, and it can keep the contents cold without a separate freezer pack It also 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. And it’s also great for milk on a plane ride with a baby or traveling without baby while breastfeeding.
Looking for a larger cooler for car rides? This soft-sided cooler is large enough for several drinks and food. Plus, it’s foldable and easy to pack away when not using it.
4. Hands-free diaper bag
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 that I wear like a cross body diaper bag. (Although sadly the champagne color I have is discontinued.) I also have this diaper bag backpack that we use periodically.
In addition to the multiple pockets, a changing pad that comes out separately and velcroes shut is also a necessity. You will definitely want something that can easily be washed after multiple uses on those dirty roadside changing tables.
5. Light blanket
Whether in the car or just pushing the stroller, we almost always had a thin muslin blanket on our son’s lap. Not only does it help make sure baby is warm enough in the car, but it also gives them something to grab onto for comfort. We love these muslin baby blankets because they serve a number of purposes and are light, breathable and easy to pack.
Target also sells a similar, less expensive set of muslin baby blankets that we’ve used as well.
Please share in the comments if you have any additional tips for long car rides with a baby. Good luck and safe travels!
Children’s Book Inspiration: On the Go by Tad Carpenter
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