We just got back from our first major road trip with Hudson. We had a wedding in Arizona, so we made the decision to drive and turn it into a little family trip. We both were a bit concerned with how Hudson would handle the 6-hour drive. Overall Hudson is a pretty easy-going, mellow baby, but 6 hours in a car seat at 11-months is not an easy ask. He did so great on both drives and we had a really enjoyable couple days. Really random, but I would say it was one of our best trips as a family. They say everything changes when you have a baby, which is totally true, but I feel like an underlying implication when people say that is that things become less fun. Ironically, we are finding that we seem to be doing more and having even more fun with Hudson. We are finding that you can really incorporate baby into the same things you would do prior to baby, you just need to make small adjustments, bring a few more things and plan ahead. While we are definitely not experts when it comes to traveling with a baby, I do feel like we intentionally did a few things that really helped make our trip a success. Also, side note here, I get that not all babies are the same, and some might respond a bit differently to such a long car ride, so be sure to adjust and change these tips based on your own baby’s needs. Here are my top five tips to not only help you survive a road trip with baby, but truly enjoy it and make memorable times as a family.
1. Leave Early
Especially when traveling with a little one, leaving early in the morning is a huge benefit. We left around 4:30 and it worked out very well. For one, there was zero traffic and we made excellent time. Leaving early also allowed for Hudson to sleep the first couple hours. This made it so his awake time during the drive was only a couple hours, since he also took his first nap on the drive out. He was sleeping for over half the drive, which was amazing. Maybe leaving at 4:30 am, is not you thing, I get it, but I do think you should try to be strategic when you leave in terms of your baby’s sleeping schedule. The more they can sleep during the drive, the happier everyone will be. The other great thing about leaving early is that we got to our destination at noon, so still had a full day. We were able to go to Target and get a few essentials and even go to the pool to give Hudson some time to burn off the extra energy he had built up from being tied to his car seat. Waking up at 4 am also is a lot easier when you are excited for your trip! Those first couple hours of driving were so nice for Lance and I as we sipped our coffee, chatted, and watched the sunrise.
2. Make Activity Bags
This is a tip that I have heard from a lot of other moms when it comes to traveling with a little one. The more distracted baby can be, the better. The same old toys can get pretty boring after a few hours, so I found it helpful to pack three separate ziplock baggies with a variety of different toys. We were gone for three days, so I made each bag dedicated to a different day in the car. I created these bags by intentionally putting in toys I know he really likes, while also including toys he hasn’t seen in a while. I also tried to make each bag as varied as possible. I put at least one electronic toy, a book, teether, and a ball (his very favorite thing right now) in each bag. This system proved to be helpful. It not only mixed up the toys he was exposed to throughout the trip, it allowed for me to stay organized with the toys as I had three separate storage containers. I would bring one bag with us in the diaper bag, and the others I would just leave in the car for the next day.
3. Sit Next to Baby
While I didn’t sit next to Hudson the entire trip, it is a good idea to make sure there is room for you to move to the back if needed. Our car is pretty small, so we needed to do some shuffling, but after moving a few things around, I was able to squeeze in the back to act as entertainment for Hudson. This seemed to also just calm his overall presence. He seemed to enjoy my company. If you have more than one kid, you obviously don’t need to do this, they can entertain each other, but if you just have one baby, you should definitely have a plan to make it easy for you to sit in the back row for a bit of the drive.
4. Keep Snacks Accessible
Just like toys can be a good distraction mechanism, so can food. I would recommend packing a separate bag full of snacks for the little ones. Keep this bag in a place that is easy for you to reach throughout the drive. I also would pack a separate baggie within the snack bag to put any trash in. This is one thing I didn’t do, but I wish I did. It would have kept the car a bit more tidy.
5. Stop Often
As tempting as it is to just plow through the drive and get there as fast as possible, the more stops you make, the easier it will be on your little ones. Be sure to use this time to change diapers, feed baby and allow baby to see new things and burn a bit of energy before returning to the car seat. We did not need to do this since we just have one baby, but if you are also traveling with kids a bit older, try to front load them and be very specific when and where stops are being made. Try to get them excited for the stops you are making so the trip as a whole can feel more broken up.
Road tripping with a baby can actually be a ton of fun. But like with most things in life, it is much more enjoyable the more planned and prepared you are. So, plan ahead, make a list with all the essentials baby will need, and mentally be prepped to listen to lots of Mickey songs on CD. Creating a checklist and having all our bags packed and by the door the night before made the morning leaving super smooth. Also, making sure we had something that seems to automatically soothe him and put him in a good mood, saved us a few times. For Hudson, this is his personalized Mickey CD. I know there is tons of controversy with screen time, but we did allow Hudson to watch a couple shows on the IPad when we needed to help occupy him for a few minutes. Don’t judge. Sometimes you just need to do what you need to do. If that’s not your thing, that’s great but I would think about the things that work well to entertain and occupy baby and implement those. Overall, if you are debating between road tripping and flying, I think road tripping was a fun and less stressful environment to introduce Hudson to travel. In a couple weeks, we will be taking him on his first flight to New York, so a flying with baby post will be coming soon. Hope these tips are helpful and if you have any baby road trip tips that worked well for you, I would love to hear them. Leave a comment below!