Road trips with a baby can be a daunting idea. When my husband and I decided to take a two month cross-country road trip with our then 7-month-old, I wondered if we were crazy. For us, it turned out to be one the best trips we’ve ever had. Here are my lessons, tips and tricks to make your road trip with a baby a little smoother.
1. Before Your Trip Do a Trial Drive
If you are planning on taking a long road trip with your baby, it is helpful to first do a short day trip or weekend trip first. Prior to embarking on our cross-country road trip, we did a day trip to a nearby town. It was three hours each way, so gave us a sense of what it would be like. This might be a good indicator of whether or not your little one can handle being in the car that long.
Initially, we wanted to camp during our road trip, so we tested out camping about a couple hours from our house. It went horribly. We were hopeful though and tried again on our trip, but had already figured out where the closest hotels were if we needed to bail.
2. Plan to Drive a Reasonable Amount Per Day
Before we had our son, we could easily drive 15 hours in a day. When planning a long road trip with a baby, the first thing we accepted is the pace will be very slow. There will be more breaks and fewer hours driven.
We did a maximum of 8 hours a day, but tried to do much less (6 hours was ideal). We also tried not to have two long drive days in a row. All in all, it took us two weeks to get cross-country at this pace.
At the time our 7-month-old was on three naps a day, and not eating many solids, which meant in the morning we got out the door quickly with just nursing him and he napped a lot in the car.
3. Be Creative and Intentional with Pit Stops
Pre-baby, we would stop at a gas station and get back on the road as soon as possible. But, in taking a road trip with a baby, we needed to stop and take longer breaks. Here are some of the places we stopped to give our little guy a break:
- Parks: Most small towns have a park or playground. We had a picnic blanket and would have our lunch packed. It was wonderful to get fresh air.
- Grocery Stores: This might not be ideal for all ages, but for our 7-month-old, he loved sitting in a shopping cart. Also, you can pick up any needed items.
- Lowes, Home Depot, Ace Hardware: For my 7-month-old baby, hardware stores were heaven. He loved ceiling fans, touching all the rug samples, and looking at all the paint sample cards. We had our dog with us, so it was an added bonus that most of these stores allow dogs so we could bring her inside with us.
- Cabelas, Gander Mountain, Bass Pro: Often times they have large fish tanks, which our course my baby loved. And again, a lot of these stores allow dogs.
4. Pick Locations with the Best Set Up for Sleep
If you have a baby that sleeps well, I am eternally jealous! That was NOT my baby, but we were able to survive our road trip by being intentional with his sleeping environment. Here is what worked for our little sensitive sleeper:
- No Shared Walls: We mostly booked AirBnBs (or stayed with family and friends). Whenever possible, we booked places that gave us more privacy so that we did not share walls with anyone else. That made it so we didn’t feel bad if he cried in the middle of the night that we might be disturbing others.
- Create a Barrier: Our baby didn’t sleep as well if he could see us – he just got too excited. For that reason, we tried to book places that allowed him to have his own room. Sometimes this meant he got the bedroom, and my husband and I slept on a pull-out couch.
- Noise Machines: We brought a noise machine on the trip, and we also had an older cell phone we could play white noise on. This has been our all time favorite noise machine.
5. Minimize How Much Stuff You Bring
One thing that amazed me during the trip was how much stuff we brought with us that we didn’t need (let alone all the stuff we left at home for two months). I found if needed there were so many things I could pick up while on the trip. If I were to do it again, I’d leave even more at home.
6. Plan for Blowouts
If you have a baby, it’s just going to happen. Have extra clothes, wipes, paper towels and small trash bags available. You can also buy disposable changing pads and put them under them in the car seat to protect it from blowouts.
7. Have a Bailout Plan and Be Flexible
For us it worked to have a plan in case the trip just wasn’t working. Our bailout plan was for me to fly home with our baby, and for my husband to drive on his own if needed. On our route home, we decided it would be quicker (and even cheaper) for me to fly home from Colorado to California.
We also planned on camping at half of our overnight stops – but that just didn’t fly for our little sensitive sleeper. We went into it knowing it might not work and we’d need to adjust, and we even found a hotel near our first campsite (and we did in fact end up needing to bail).
Our trip ended up being amazing – it felt liberating and bonding to see the county with my husband and son, even with all the hard work that went into planning it. We were able to see so much – the Grand Canyon, the Ozarks, Asheville NC, and so many family and friends. It wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t made a road trip out of it all.
What are your road trip tips for traveling with a baby? Or a toddler? Let us know!