My husband and I love to travel and we’ve actually done most of our travels after having kids. Our first trip together as a family was actually our 2 week honeymoon to Hawaii – It was 5 months after our wedding and I was pregnant with our first baby.
We recently went on a cross-country road trip and drove from Massachusetts to Miami with our two year old and six-month-old in tow. We stopped along the way in the D.C. area to visit friends and family there for a few nights. The first leg of the trip (Mass to D.C.) took 7 hours. The second leg was from D.C. to Miami and that took 18 hours. The way back was similar. In total, we drove over 50 hours in three weeks. There were definitely difficult moments but overall the trip was smooth and easy. We definitely learned some things along the way. Here are my 9 tips for how to successfully take a long road trip with a baby. Have no fear, it can be done!
Pack the Car Early
Packing always takes longer than I initially expect it will. Packing a car with luggage for a family of four is like a puzzle and can take some time. First, I should mention, we always try to pack just the essentials (for a three-week trip we put all of our clothing in a shared medium-size bag). Then we loaded up the car with plenty of time before the trip (you can do this the night before) so that when it was time to go all we had to do was get into the car and go. This made our departure more stress-free.
Drive At Night
I would encourage everyone to at least give driving at night a try. It really is a great setup – you avoid traffic and since the baby is already used to sleeping at night they will hopefully sleep through the whole drive. That being said, I know this isn’t for everyone. We have friends who have tried it and would never do it again because they could barely stay awake. Thankfully, my husband is not only an amazing driver, but he drives really well through the night too. He can drive for 12 hours straight at night and really enjoy the experience (I know, he’s unique). If you’re going to go for it make sure to get a lot of good sleep before the drive so you’re really well rested before the all-nighter. Make sure you have time to recover the next day too.
Use A Super Comfortable Car Seat
This is KEY! Who wants to sleep on a hard piece of car seat plastic for several hours? My baby’s first car seat was inexpensive and very, very uncomfortable. She cried in it every single time. We upgraded to a Chicco Nextfit Convertible Car Seat and things totally turned around. We tested several car seats and the Chicco Nextfit was by far the most cushiony one we found. It’s expensive, but the peace is worth the price, and it’s the only car seat your child will ever need. The same thing happened with my toddler too.
Bring a Companion
I considered driving from Mass to D.C. (about 7 hours) by myself with the kids so that I could go ahead of my husband and spend extra time there. Thankfully, my husband really discouraged me from doing this! I didn’t realize it at first, but it would have been so hard to go alone. It’s good to have someone who can sit in the back and entertain and feed the baby or put the pacifier back in every time baby looses it! Stopping for even just 15 minutes here and there really ends up taking a lot of time. We were able to save so much time by stopping only when we needed to refuel. My husband drove most of the time while I sat in the back as needed and attended to our 6 month old.
My first baby couldn’t stand being swaddled, but our second baby won’t sleep if she isn’t swaddled. I thought the movement and natural white noise from the car ride would put her to sleep naturally but she actually didn’t fall asleep until I swaddled her in her car seat. And sleep she did – all through the night. This is the swaddle we use which has a harness slit which works with most restraints on car seats. Side note: Make sure your baby gets a really good feeding right before you swaddle them and get on the road so that they sleep for as long as possible.
One of the best things we did before this big road trip was upgrade from our small sedan to a large wagon. I could barely fit in the back between the two car seats in our sedan. But the wagon was very spacious and had a comfortable third row. On the way south each of our kids had their own row so that I was able to sit comfortably in the back row with baby, as needed. Having the extra space made the long hours in the car much more pleasant.
Bring Music & Toys
Pack some familiar toys that your baby will recognize as well as a few new toys that will be novel and exciting to play with. I found that instrumentals and classical music as well as other slow soothing music was very effective at calming down and putting our toddler and baby to sleep.
Keep Essentials At Hand
The key to making good time on a long drive is only pulling over only when absolutely necessary. You shouldn’t have to pull over to find wipes, toys, personal care items, snacks, socks, blankets, a pacifier, etc. Pack all these essentials you know you will need in a bag that you keep nearby. You also don’t want to have to pull over while the baby is sleeping and it’s your time to eat. So pack plenty of healthy road trip snacks for the adults too.
Reality is, there will probably be some (if not many) tears shed. I know it’s not easy to remain calm and patient in a stressful situation. Just do the best you can, make sure baby is fed and as comfortable as possible, and eventually baby will sleep. As long as you arrive safely, that’s what matters most. In our experience, the joy of traveling is worth it.
Are you planning a road trip or have you been on one with kids? Please add your tips and ideas in the comments below.