The comfort of one’s own home becomes even more wonderful once a baby makes three. Everything a momma needs is right there. It’s clean, it’s cozy, and there are set places to easily change a diaper, put the baby down for a nap, wash your hands, nurse, and so many other things moms do throughout each day.
Even going out to the grocery store or park can seem like somewhat of an ordeal at first. It’s a learning curve, I think.
You learn what you need to have with you in that diaper bag each time and how to have it always ready, how to roll with the various challenges of being out in the world with a little baby, and generally how to incorporate your little one more seamlessly into your day.
And tackling car travel with a baby is like a challenge on a whole new level.
Sometimes it goes better than you expected, sometimes you wish you’d never dared to leave your house as your little one screams at you for half an hour straight from the back seat.
As a mom of two little ones, I’ve been forced to learn certain key strategies to make even short road trips possible, and I’ll share them with you here today: 20 ways to get through a road trip with a baby.
20 Schedule It Around Sleeping
I seriously can’t even go back and write in detail about the first real car journey we went on with my first baby.
It involved a lot of high-pitched crying, all of us functioning on barely any sleep from the night before… And I really do have to stop there because I think I was a little traumatized by it.
But I will say that I think one of the key problems that led to this horrific experience was that we were not ultra-careful to be getting on the road at a time that our baby would normally be ready to take a nap.
If they’re tired, many babies will happily doze off as that sweet, soothing motion of the car ride relaxes them.
If it’s not sleepy time, they can be, well, let’s just say annoyed that they are strapped in, confined, and not in your arms.
19 Big Bag Of Tricks
Thank goodness I figured this one out right around the time that my second baby was about to be born.
After the above horrific experience attempting some travel by car with my first baby, I – kid you not – really did not attempt to go anywhere.
I would make only very short journeys, and my terms for these journeys were that I had to be in absolute control of the departure time (because of the whole sleep schedule issue mentioned above…).
Well, I had to make our longest journey yet with a baby for us all to be in a wedding party, when I was heavily pregnant with our second, and I started to strategize. And it worked.
I brought a huge tote bag filled with all sorts of different and interesting toys and books.
Our car was way too small to have yet another big piece of luggage, but it didn’t matter. We needed it.
I had to sit in the front, where I, well, still fit (and didn’t feel sick), and every time my babe got cranky after tiring of one toy, I’d just hand back another, buying me precious time without someone crying and screaming right over my shoulder in a small and confined space.
18 So. Many. Snacks.
If your first time traveling any significant distance by car with your baby is when they are only a few months old, they, of course, won’t be eating solid foods yet, only milk or formula.
But if your first long journey in the ole automobile comes when your little one is around 6 months or older, it will mean needing to be prepared with something that holds great power, both to satiate and to entertain: snacks.
I have one little one just leaving behind babyhood for toddlerhood and one deep into toddler territory, and they often power through everything edible I have in the diaper bag within something like 15 - 30 minutes of setting out in the car.
I think part of it is that there’s just not a whole lot else they can do in there. They are finally (necessarily) stationary and looking for something to do. It’s the perfect time to realize how hungry you are.
Having a WIDE variety of healthy and safe options can be key in keeping a baby happy in the car – I know from experience.
Those Mum-mum rice crackers are common first snacks for even young babies and provide many minutes of occupation.
(Use common sense and seek pro advice as needed for safety tips on feeding your babe, well, anywhere.)
17 High-Tech Toys
Okay, so even though I really didn’t have all that much experience with babies and toddlers when I became pregnant with my first, I had been around enough of them to realize one crucial thing: Those toys that light up and make sound can be really ANNOYING.
I mean, I like music. I enjoy a good party.
But I also like quiet sometimes. I need silence for my brain to function.
And little kids are noisy enough as it is… If they are awake, they are talking (or singing, or crying).
So I made the (I think VERY smart) decision to very carefully limit how many of these battery-powered, noise-producing toys I had around for my own baby. Basically, I bought none, and so the only ones we own were gifted to us.
There is one time I make a huge exception to this key (for me) parenting strategy: when we’re going on a longer trip in the car.
Learning pad that plays songs and makes sound effects? Sure. Plush dog that sings the same three songs over and over again? Love it.
If it keeps my baby or toddler from crying, it is coming along for the ride.
16 Kiddie Tunes On Standby
In the same way that noisy electronic toys can be really overwhelming and annoying, especially when there are multiple ones going off at one time, “kiddie” music can be, well, just awful.
There’s just not much interesting going on there. There’s no discord. The rhythms are sing-songy and predictable, and each track is so short that you wind up listening to hundreds of them in no time, or the same album over and over and over again if it’s an actual CD in the car.
So I absolutely do NOT start out the trip with the “children’s” music playing.
Oh, no. I save it for later – for that key moment when all of my other tricks have failed. My bag of toys has become empty. Snacks just won’t do the trick anymore. My babe has already woken up from a nap, or maybe is just having trouble realizing the level of tiredness that has been reached…
That’s when the Disney CD goes on.
The longer I’ve delayed needing to use it, the fewer times I’ll have to hear the thing.
15 The Chauffeur System
I suspect that this one may come sort of naturally, but it can become even more crucial once the young family is hitting the open road for the very first time.
Sure, a mom may prefer to ride in the back, right next to her newborn baby, so that they both feel at ease and secure for early trips (such as home from the hospital or to the first doctor’s appointment).
And the thing is, as long as a mom doesn’t have trouble with feeling car sick when she’s not riding shotgun (up front next to the driver), in back next to the babe may be a great place to be stationed while tackling longer trips as well.
Newborns may be comforted by being able to see and smell their mommas. I know after having had two of them so far.
Moms can sing, provide snacks, and generally be front and center keeping a little one happy, whether the child is a newborn or an older baby. It was a long time before I ever rode up front, actually.
Dad might of course tackle this duty, as well.
14 Sitting Elsewhere For Sleepy Time
This point is a necessary one to include, having just mentioned (above) how much calmer and quieter it can be for everyone when one parent sits in back right next to the baby’s car seat…
Sometimes, I’ve found, the back seat is not the place to be.
A baby may resist falling asleep longer because you are sitting right there beside them.
If they do get upset, it can feel like they are screaming right in your face and be super overwhelming and difficult to just let it ride for a minute until they drift off or change their focus to something else.
I would say just keep an open mind.
If it’s not going well with you sitting right back there with them, maybe try hopping up front for a bit.
13 Plan For Park Pitstops
During the second of two road trips I’ve taken with a baby or two along (trips that were longer than just an hour or two), we actually had a little one who was two years old as well as a baby who had just barely passed the half-year mark, I believe.
I was a little intimidated.
But we came up with a few key strategies before we ever even dared tackle it, and we also came up with a few on the fly as we went.
One of these, which went really well, was to keep an eye out for (or use your iPhone to scope out) parks.
My kiddos tend to eat better picnic style, then, say, confined in an unfamiliar restaurant, for one.
Plus, the fresh air calms everyone down. Older babies and children can stretch their legs and shake their sillies out. Small babies can nurse and stretch out or roll and crawl around a bit.
Budget these stops into your travel time before you leave so you feel on track rather than like you’re running late.
12 A Portable Potty To Avoid Ghastly Gas Stations
We tackled one of our longest trips as parents yet when we, as I mentioned above, had a little one who was two years old and a baby.
I don’t even want to think about what it would have been like to try to convince my potty-training toddler to use a gas station bathroom while also holding or wrangling my baby.
And so I am very glad that I simply packed her favorite little plastic potty from home in the car.
Sure, it took up a decent amount of room in our already too-small sedan, which was loaded with people and luggage.
But it was as convenient as could be to pull it out and set it down when we made a pitstop. And then I had it along for use in the hotel, as well!
If your car is big enough, have a constantly set up towel / area for diaper changes, with supplies right there at the ready.
If it’s not, pack a convenient and comfortable pad to use on the grass or a seat of the car (and maybe an extra one, as well…)
11 Time To Tint
So many of our early trips in the car with my first baby were spent with me on blanket duty.
Basically, I would hold or drape a baby blanket just so to keep the sun out of my little one’s face, but out of the way enough that our baby still felt happy and could see what was going on.
Life changed for the better once we went ahead and got our car’s windows tinted.
Rather than obsessing over blanket or sunshield positioning (and slathering on sunscreen before ever even leaving the house, each time…), we could trust that the dark tinting over the back windows would keep our little one cooler, more comfortable, and more protected from harmful rays than otherwise.
For extended journeys in the car, this can really make all the difference.
10 A Full Stomach
Basically, in my experience, you want to do everything you can to ensure that your little one is as comfortable and happy as possible before you ever even get in the car to begin your journey.
A big part of this for babies and toddlers is often not being hungry or thirsty.
A great side effect of nursing or giving a bottle right before setting off is that not only will a little one be satiated, but he or she will also likely be more ready to drift off to dreamland for the first leg of your journey.
That means a good amount of calm and quiet time for both the driver and any other passengers who happen to be along for the ride.
9 Ice, Ice Baby
For longer journeys in the car, my standard crackers, toast, and so on in the diaper bag simply will not cut it.
It’s time to get a little more serious about snacking, as I’ve already mentioned, and so one of my favorite current mom tools, as a mother of two babies, is my insulated cooler bag.
Throw an ice pack or two in there, and you can bring all those proteins and dairy products from home that your little ones currently favor.
Avoid stopping at restaurants and spending extra time and money – and not knowing if your babies or toddlers will even agree to eat the unfamiliar foods offered there.
String cheese is a good one, or small sandwiches. Throw a little tub of hummus in there, some applesauce, or even some sliced turkey.
If you keep it adequately cold, it can mean a happy tot with a full meal of choices – and you can possibly even then make use of your hotel fridge for evenings before packing up again the next day.
8 Playing To Petite Preferences
So, you know how sometimes flying for a long time, or any amount of time, is a total bummer because it’s just not comfortable?
Maybe the seat feels too small or at the wrong angle, your feet are tingly from sitting still too long, it seems stuffy, too hot, or too cold... You get the picture.
Travel is more bearable — whether you are 4 months old or 35 — when you are nice and comfy.
After observing the experienced parents around me in my own life and doing a couple car trips with babies of my own, I’ve realized that it can make a big difference to simply consider as many of those little things as possible that you might do to help your little one feel well.
Maybe they prefer having their shoes off, wearing socks, having the window cracked (or having it up), for example.
A dry diaper and happy tummy are of course the basics.
7 Mobile Library
Some parents will need to be cautious about motion sickness, but every baby I know loves to have books to “read” while traveling in the car.
The good news is that through your local library, thrift store, hand-me-downs, or preferred retailer, books are really pretty easy and affordable to come by. Yay! It’s a reading rainbow of possibilities out there.
And so, in my bag of toys and tricks for any longer jaunt, and also just in the back pockets of the seats in my car at all times (and in my diaper bag), I keep a couple small books
For younger babies, fabric books or those ones with crinkly stuff inside are AMAZING. They make ones that are “indestructible” and withstand being crumbled, spilled on, and even chewed.
When baby gets bored with looking at (or being shown) one, simply pull out another, and keep the rotation going.
6 Making Movie Exceptions
Especially with my first baby, we were very, very careful about limiting TV time (and “screen” time in general).
After riding with kids in cars with and without DVD players, I now understand why many parents I know allow their kids to watch DVDs or use iPads during long car (or plane!) rides.
It’s a special circumstance.
They are just not used to being so confined for so long.
Normally, if they are awake, they are movin’ and groovin’. I have two tiny tots, so believe me: I know.
When all else has failed — when they’ve lost interest in all the toys, they’re not hungry for snacks or milk, you’ve done everything you can to make them comfortable, and they still seem impossible to pacify — what a crazy modern convenience to be able to offer an age-appropriate movie, show, or game for them to make it through the trip.
(I’d say, as with all things childcare, check with your own family’s pediatrician for what habits and exceptions will be best for you and your kids.)
5 Always Pack A Picnic Blanket
Maybe it’s an old towel – that would probably work just fine. Perhaps it’s a moisture-resistant and attractive picnic blanket that folds up conveniently into a Velcroed bundle with a handle at the top for easy carrying. And old quilt or throw would also surely do.
But it doesn’t take up much space at all in the trunk, and that’s why, in my vehicle, it simply lives there.
Having a blanket or something to toss out onto grass, sand, or whatever can be a lifesaver when traveling with babies and young kids.
Even infants can then get their tummy time in after long stretches in the car.
It’s a convenient place to change a diaper, either spread out or folded up for extra padding.
It’s way easier to eat picnic-style on the ground, maybe with your baby sitting in your own lap, than it is to try to make other stuff work while on the road.
Pack that picnic blanket, and you’ll always have a relatively clean place to eat, stretch out, or just crawl a bit.
4 Buy A Bigger Car
I have a lifelong history of being very frugal and very practical when it comes to cars, which was imposed on me by my own family from a very young age.
You keep a car until it dies. You make what you have work.
Now that I have two little babes of my own, I’ve been forced to adopt a somewhat different philosophy, upsizing from the coupe I wound up in at the end of college, to a sedan, to part-time with an old beater station wagon, to — you guessed it — a used minivan.
Try breastfeeding, diaper changing, and transporting diaper bags, luggage, groceries, and gear with two babies for a couple years, and I’m thinking you’ll begin to understand.
Even daily life with a smaller car can really be a struggle. I’m not saying it’s impossible – I did it for a long time.
But if you plan on taking some road trips with your little one, I’d say (based on my own experience) that you might really want to consider whether it might make sense to go ahead and get a larger or somehow more practical car.
Throw a stroller in the trunk of a midsize car, and your storage is pretty much done, for example…
3 Tantalizing Toys
Here’s a special point for parents of younger babies to consider.
You know those toys with little clips that let you add or remove them to an infant carrier / car seat or stroller bar?
They can be amazing.
Having something to gaze at or eventually even grab at – that won’t slip down or be dropped and cause epic and immediate frustration – is awesome.
But the other key point that I wanted to make is that part of the reason these stroller toys are amazing is that they are removeable.
If your little one seems really upset, you might try taking off that crinkly and colorful thing that’s been dancing in front of his face for the better part of the last hour. You know, change it up!
2 Just Put ’Em In PJs
It’s not always possible to have your tot safely back at home or to the hotel room by the time she normally goes to bed when you’re on the road, whether it’s for a day trip to visit relatives or a longer excursion.
And so I’m really quite proud of myself for thinking of this one over the holidays this last year.
If you’re going to be embarking for a leg of your journey near to the time that your little one would normally hit the hay, as they say, why not just go ahead and do your bedtime routine (including putting them in their PJs) before you ever load up into the car?
Some kids transfer well from the car seat to the crib or bed, and others don’t, but if they are already in their clothes for sleeping, it’s one less thing you have to do before they can actually settle down wherever it is that they will be sleeping for the night.
1 Front-Seat Feeding
An absolutely huge part of traveling by car with a baby can be (for some moms) the need to breastfeed in the car.
You’ll do it while the car is not actually in motion, of course.
I know from years of experience that it’s not always easy to get comfortable or have a good feeding session within your vehicle – especially if it’s packed full of luggage and other gear, such as during a road trip.
I think it gets easier the more that you do it. Although a baby gets bigger, potentially making it more difficult to fit comfortably in a nursing position, moms can find creative ways to make it work.
I’ve been yelled at for having my car door open a moment too long while breastfeeding, while someone was trying to park in an adjacent spot. But then I’ve also had understanding people wait patiently, or even have an entire conversation through glances with me to ascertain that they could feel free to nudge my door closed a bit to get by and then open it again.
The tips I can come up with for ya include sitting in the front seat rather than the back if it’s hard to fit back there alongside the baby’s car seat.
There’s also, of course, seeking a shady and secluded place to park, or even just spreading out that picnic blanket I mentioned earlier and sitting cross-legged there.
I have even gone to the driver’s seat and slid it back as far as it would go to be able to fit my nursing baby without the steering wheel being in the way (again, while parked, of course).
All my best, and bon voyage!