Traveling with a baby seems like a nightmare (and it can be). This is especially true if you have no idea if they will love car trips (and spend most of the time sleeping) or if your little one loathes it (wherein you endure hours of "i'm going to die" screams).
But you can survive your first road trip with baby. All you need is a good plan and some preparation. Here are some tips on how to do just that:
1. Do a trial run.
You never want your first road trip with baby to be a 12 hour drive. Especially if you have no idea how they will do with being in the car for that long. It will be hell if by hour 4 your baby is still screaming and you realize you still have 8 more hours to go. Do a trial run with a road trip that is only a few hours long. That way you can see how your baby handles the car and when you do take your long road trip you can adjust accordingly.
2. Bring your breast pump and some pumped milk.
To cut down on the stopping time, especially if you are breastfeeding, bring some already pumped milk so that you can feed that to baby while you are still driving. No need to stop every time your little one needs to eat. You can also have your breast pump handy when you need to give yourself some relief. I'll never forget bringing my trusty hospital-grade pump along with me on our first 10+ hour road trip. Most cars have electrical sockets now so you can take advantage of the full powered pumps instead of battery only.
3. Make frequent stops.
Even though your baby may not be walking yet, stopping often will help them stretch out their legs and help give them a change of scenery. Even the most comfortable car seats can get boring. You can change their diaper, lay out a blanket on the grass so they can roll around and ensure they are not in the seated position too long. Remember, when you have a baby, the lowest common denominator rule applies--don't try to rush beyond their speed.
4. Bring a few soft toys and rattles.
These will help keep baby a bit occupied during the trip and will help them focus on something else. Anything that will help distract them for a bit helps! They may not be old enough to really play with anything but will love to follow these toys with their eyes. If your baby is a little older and can recognize toys, we suggest bringing new toys for the trip. On a road trip with my youngster, I bought a few brand new toys and that kept my son distracted for longer periods of time because he'd never seen/played with them before.
5. Bring an extra changes of clothes.
Diaper explosions and spit ups will happen. (The expression "shit happens" had to have been invented by a parent, right?) So make sure that you have an extra set of clothes readily available. Try dressing your infant in easily removable clothing and pack easy to change clothing--no intricate layette here. When traveling in the warm summer months–just a onesie is perfect!
6. Be reasonable!
Remember that lowest common denominator rule? That applies to the amount of hours you spend in the car. Make sure to break up your road trip into several long day journeys and take adequate breaks (i.e. try to sleep) at night. Portable baby cribs are a great option for quick hotel stays and they work equally well at your destination. Even when your kids grow out of them, they are so compact, I suggest keeping them for guests and other family members.
7. Be prepared for lousy/gross restaurants.
Ok, it's not always the case but it's happened way too many times so we'll include this tip. Pit stop diners are not known for their choice in infant/toddler accessories and many of them will either not have high chairs and if they do, they are either too gross or else too unsafe for your child. I've lost track of the number of high chairs with torn, shredded, broken and otherwise unusable safety harnesses. Plus, they can be so greasy. Why not bring your own portable high chair? These are so convenient, lightweight and inexpensive. They can be used at home, on the go and not only do they clean really easily, you'll find yourself using it until well into pre-K years.
The number one tip is to get out there and have fun. Yes, traveling with baby is crazy and it will probably cause you to sprout a few grays but it's truly an experience you'll remember in a good way years down the road. Get it? Ah, there's a smile!