My first baby was four weeks old on her first road trip. It was for a family reunion in Washington State where we would be spending most nights in a rustic cabin or sharing a house with my in-laws. We drove about 1,000 miles each way.
It was an ambitious road trip for new parents, and parts of it were rough. But there were plenty of good moments too. I'm glad we did it, and our now-teenage daughter is a great traveler today.
Having survived that trip, we took another road trip to the same reunion when our second child was five months old. These were my kids' only opportunities to meet their great-grandfather. This is one of many reasons that these trips were worth the effort.
If you love to travel, there is no reason you can't plan a road trip with your baby. Here are my top tips for success.
Plan Extra Travel Time
We found that we needed to stop a lot more often on a road trip with a baby. A four-week-old needs frequent feeding and changing. I was breast feeding exclusively and we didn't have the pump or bottle feeding figured out, so we stopped to feed her every couple of hours. It added hours to our drive time.
The good news is that our drive times got better from there. Our baby grew and we became more experienced at traveling with her. You will always need to stop more often when you are traveling with kids, but it shouldn't be nearly as much time as on our first trip with a baby.
Bring Another Adult
It's a lot easier to travel with a baby when you have two adults. On this trip, it was me and my husband. You could also recruit a grandparent or friend.
Two adults can share driving and baby care responsibilities. Make sure that one of you gets enough sleep to drive safely. Plus, it's nice to have another adult to talk to along the way.
Of course you can take a road trip with your baby on your own. I took a quick road trip – about 4 hours each way – with my second child when he was 7 months old. It was not his first road trip and the drive was uneventful.
If you travel on your own with your baby, place the car seat behind the passenger seat so that it is easier to see and reach your baby if needed. Expect to stop more often to attend to the baby's needs.
Sit with Your Baby
Before I had kids, I imagined that my baby would cheerfully nap or quietly entertain herself in her car seat or play pen. Maybe some kids are like this, but not mine. Whether at home or on the road, my newborn resisted naps and wanted my attention all the time.
On that trip – and most long drives until she switched to a front-facing car seat – I sat in the back seat next to the baby. I was able to give her all the attention she wanted and calm her when she was fussy. I sat on the passenger side so that I could still see and carry on a conversation with my husband.
When we had two young children and a minivan, I sat in the middle passenger seat next to the baby. My preschooler's car seat was on the back bench behind the baby. Both kids were on the driver's side and I was on the passenger side with easy access and sight lines to both kids and my husband.
Related: 10 Great Travel Toys for Kids
Stick to Your Baby's Schedule
Nap schedules were very important to me and my babies. When they got a good nap, they slept better at night. Then I got more sleep. Everyone was happy.
So, we structured our road trips so that our babies would get their naps on schedule. My babies slept well in the car, so nap time was the perfect opportunity to put a lot of miles behind us.
When we arrived at our destination, we planned our activities around nap time so the schedule would not be disrupted. It wasn't always fun, but it was worth it to us.
Here is my list of must-have gear for a road trip with a baby.
- car seat
- portable crib
- sun shade
- feeding supplies
- diaper changing supplies
- extra clothing
Ensure that your car seat is installed correctly and that your baby is safely strapped in.
Most hotels can loan you a portable crib if it's impractical to bring your own. You will probably want to wipe it down before you use it. I always brought my own bedding as well. You can buy sheets to fit a Pack-n-Play at Amazon.com.
Related: Tips for Picking a Travel Stroller
If you love to travel, there is no reason that you can't travel with your baby. Our babies grew into teenagers who love family road trips – even the long driving days – because they've been doing it their whole lives.
I hope these tips help you plan a great road trip with your baby.