Our family—my husband, 1 year old son, and I—took a road trip from coastal North Carolina all the way back to the Midwest, hauling a trailer. Yikes! The trailer and baby slowed our trip down immensely, and by the time it was all said and done, it nearly topped 24 hours.
Road trips with a baby are tough…but it can be done!
I recently wrote about air travel with children and how to help a baby and toddler sleep better during travel. So today, in continuing on with my travel + kids series, I’d like to share what I learned on our grueling road trip with a baby…
1. Split your trip into smaller sections.
We divided our trip into two days. The first day we did about 6 hours. And the second day we drove about 16 hours. Our son isn’t the greatest car traveler. He is a very light sleeper and struggles with sleep cycle transitions to this day. This means he cannot (for whatever reason) sleep longer than about 45 minutes without waking up when we are in the car.
Splitting our trip into smaller sections does seem to help him tolerate the travel better, but at the end of the day, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and get there. It is for that reason that we chose to drive for so long on the second day. We figured a third day in the car would be more painful that just plugging along on day two.
2. Plan for it to take much longer.
Normally when we are road-tripping, my husband I employ the 3 hour rule. The 3 hour rule means no stopping unless we’ve been driving for at least 3 hours. I’m not a lover of road trips, so stopping less means getting there sooner.
Now that we have a child, the 3 hour rule isn’t always realistic (one of the many ways I’ve changed since becoming a mom). We do our best to stop only when we need to, but overall, we are in the mindset that road trips will take much longer. It helps immensely just reminding ourselves to be patient and try to be understanding that small children have difficulty comprehending how long something will actually take. Hang in there!
3. Pack lots of food and drink (bottles too!).
Over prepare with lots of snacks for the baby to eat along the way. I am not a huge advocate for snacking. In fact, I rarely offer snacks when we are at home. When we are on the road, however, it’s hard on my son, and I’m willing to be flexible. Snacks help him get through the trip. As much as I hate to say this…it does help pass the time!
If your baby is still breastfed or formula fed try to have bottles ready to prevent stopping frequently for the baby to drink a bottle. If you are a breastfeeding mom, try to pump beforehand if possible. When I was breastfeeding, we never traveled more than 6 hours, but I can only imagine how long our 24 hour trip would’ve taken if I had to stop to breastfeed. Bottles help.
Our son was on cow’s milk by the time of our trip, so we picked up milk at gas stations along the way to avoid carrying a cooler and having to fill up with ice.
4. Hide the toys before the trip.
I’m a huge believer in rotating toys, rather than buying new toys. Kids are easily bored with toys sometimes, but I’ve found if you hide a few favorite toys before the trip, it can really help keep your child entertained. An old toy suddenly becomes new, fun and interesting again.
Hide a several toys a few weeks before the trip, and offer them one by one when your child is longing for the road trip to be over.
5. Keep an organized car bag.
Go ahead and make a car bag separate from the diaper bag. The car bag can include an extra outfit in a Ziploc bag, diaper, toys, snacks, first aid kid, or anything else you feel is essential. This way you won’t have to stuff so much in your diaper bag.
I always use a Ziploc bag for extra clothes. This way if anything spills in the car bag, the outfit is safe. In addition, if your child soils his outfit or anything else, you can place it in the Ziploc bag when you remove the clean outfit. I love keeping the dirty stuff contained.
6. Sit in the back.
My son doesn’t have a sibling to play with yet, and rear-facing in the backseat gets pretty boring for him after a short while. We do our best to encourage him to have a positive attitude while riding in the car. I do think there is value in teach a child to be content and patient and play independently in the backseat for at least a little while without excess stimulation. At the same time, he is a young child and we have to be reasonable with our expectations. So after a while, one parent usually sits in the back with him and plays. Sometimes our presence alone is enough to make him feel content.
7. Travel when the baby would normally sleep (Ha! Yeah right!).
I’ve seen this tip time and time again. For most kids, it probably works awesome. My son is a different story. Like I said before, he will only sleep for about 45 minutes at one time before waking up. If you have a child that struggles with sleep cycle transitions, I totally feel your pain. Thankfully, our son sleeps well in a good sleep environment, just not in the car.
If you are interested in learning how we got our challenging infant sleeper to sleep 12 hours through the night, be sure to check out my Baby + Sleep series.
At any rate, if your child struggles to sleep in the car, then my best suggestion is to simply travel only during daytime hours. Get a hotel, rest overnight, and continue on the next day. We learned the hard way traveling until 1:30 am with our poor son desperately trying to fall asleep after continually waking up due to a bumpy road, lights or noises.
My sweet boy was so tired…we made it, but it was hard on him.
8. Plan for a recovery day.
I’m big on schedule, routine, and structure. Obviously, travel throws everything off and we messed up his nighttime sleep during our trip. The next day we planned on getting him back on track and just kept everything low key. I just let him sleep for quite a bit longer during naps. At one year of age, normally I cut off naps at the 2 hour mark because any longer interferes with my son’s nighttime sleep. But on our recovery day, I allowed him to sleep longer for both his naps. It helped immensely, and the next day, he was back on his regular schedule.
Traveling with small children is challenging, but I do think, as parents, we can all learn to do it well! Split your trip up as much as you can handle and know it will take longer than a trip sans kids. Pack well, keep a few toys hidden, and plan for a recovery day. We are getting reading to move to Japan! And we will be traveling internationally with our son. I plan to share our experience with you in my future posts! Feel free to join my email community and never miss a post!
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What are your tips for road-tripping with a baby? I’d love to hear your ideas!
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