Baby Road Trip Tricks

Rested baby = everyone happy
Rested baby = everyone happier

I always envisioned parenthood involving plenty of travel adventures. However, now that I have a little one (LO) of my own, I realize just getting out the door can feel pretty intimidating. This summer we have taken three road trips with Eloise. It hasn’t always been easy but we have learned a lot in the process. Here are some of the tricks we have found most useful:

1. Unless you have one of those magical babies who will sleep anywhere, you have to build in nap time(s) for your LO. This changes the dynamic of travel. In my opinion, accommodations are key. You want to stay somewhere comfortable enough that you still enjoy being away from home while your LO sleeps. A view is a major plus.

On the flipside, you have to be strategic about actually getting out and seeing/doing things during your LO’s wakeful hours, otherwise the trip may feel like a waste. This may mean sacrificing a nap or two. Finding the right balance is key as too little sleep can make for terrible evenings but too much may mean you don’t get to enjoy your destination.

We spent a lot of our trip to Mendocino in bed so Eloise could sleep. It helped to be somewhere with such spectacular views.
We spent a lot of our trip to Mendocino in bed so Eloise could sleep. It helped to be somewhere with such spectacular views.

2. Bring a sound machine! White noise will help baby (and you) tune out unfamiliar noises and sleep better. A rested baby (and family) makes travel more enjoyable.

3. Pack more clothes for your baby than you think you will need. Blowouts don’t just happen at home. Two plastic bags, (one for soiled clothes, the other for trash), help too!

4. Be prepared for shifts in feeding (and sleeping!) patterns. If you are a breastfeeding mom, this may mean bringing a manual pump. Eloise is a distracted nurser and it takes time for her to focus. This means she sometimes skips feedings on the road, causing me a lot of physical discomfort. On the same token, a major traffic accident left us at a standstill for a couple hours on the way home from Mendocino. Expressed milk would have been wonderful when she started screaming. Instead I did the famous lean-over-the-carseat trick. Not fun, (except maybe for the bored passengers in nearby cars).

I was reluctant to give Eloise a pacifier at first but it does the trick to get her to sleep in the car. The blanket around the head trick helps too, but I wouldn't try it without someone sitting in back next to her to make sure it doesn't cover her face.
I was reluctant to give Eloise a pacifier at first but it does the trick to get her to sleep in the car. The blanket around the head trick helps too, but I wouldn’t try it without someone sitting in back next to her to make sure it doesn’t cover her face. The carseat safety forum would probably tell me to move the buckle down to her sternum.

5. Carseat safety seems obvious but it is easy to make mistakes when harnessing LOs. In Eloise’s case, I had the straps too high above her shoulders, (straps should be positioned at or below shoulders). Little things like this make a huge difference. Check out this FB group for advice regarding seat safety. You can even post pictures of your LO and techs will tell you whether you’re using your seat correctly.

6. Long rides inevitably involve a meltdown or two, (unless of course you have one of those aforementioned magical babies). I discovered a good bag of tricks goes a long way. Light-up toys that make noise distract Eloise during a tantrum. Likewise, a selection of pacifiers helps to put her to sleep. We hit up the local grocery store before our first road trip this summer and bought a variety. I now won’t drive without a pacifier handy and prefer to keep a few different kinds as she alternates preferences. And, if all else fails, you can annoy other passengers by singing Christmas songs, or my absolute last resort, play cell phone videos. Eloise has a thing for watching her cute self. I’m sure she’s not the only vain baby out there.

7. Don’t bring your whole house. You won’t need it. The second trip we took this summer I brought way more baby gadgets than we needed. Clothes, diapers, medical supplies, carriers, and a small selection of toys is enough. Bigger items like activity gyms and rock ‘n plays did not prove necessary. To save space, babywearing can be a good alternative to a stroller.

Board books definitely make the list for the bag of tricks. Eloise loves looking at the pictures.
Board books belong in that bag of tricks too, Mama!

8. Get gas and stock up on grown-up food before you depart, that way if baby is asleep you don’t have to risk waking the LO for a pitstop. The farther you can make it down the road before stopping, the better. It sucks to be cruising along peacefully and need something you could have prepared for ahead of time. Babies know (and don’t like!) when the car stops.

There you have it. I worked hard to learn these seemingly simple tricks. Traveling with baby has proven to be more work than expected, but definitely worth the memories. I would love to hear your tricks as we are bound to end up in the car again sometime soon (and I still have anxiety about being stuck on the road with a screaming babe). Also, for those of you who have flown with babies, please share what has worked, I need some major encouragement to take that leap!

10 thoughts on “Baby Road Trip Tricks

  1. Yes, I referred to getting a baby ready for a car trip, even a short one across one, as comparable to preparing for the invasion of Normandy. We were fortunate to have babies that didn’t fuss a lot in car seats and they frequently fell asleep in the car. But, the key is to have toys for them and then snacks when they get to the age where they can eat them. Keeping them entertained and/or eating is the key to success. And you just need to plan on making more stops than you did pre-kid.

    We never flew with babies. I think our first flight with our kids our youngest was four years old, so I can’t help you there. Good luck. 😉

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  2. Good tips!

    A couple additions – you can bring a white noise machine, or you can download a sound app on your iPhone and just accept you won’t be able to use it while your LO sleeps (a blessing in disguise) – we learned this after we forgot our Cloud b giraffe once on a trip to Seattle. Now we don’t even bother – anything to lighten our load. I still long for the days when I’d go away for a week with just a backpack – haha no more!

    VRBO is your friend! So many spots now include pack’n’plays or (gasp) real cribs, including such fantastic spots as Mendocino, Carmel, Tahoe…

    This may make more sense once Eloise is a little older, but we plan on driving times to coincide with Seamus’s naps. He gets cranky being cooped up for too long – kid needs to move! – and it gives us some peaceful time to catch up with each other while we get there.

    Similarly, if your drive is longer than 2 hours, *plan* a midpoint stop for everyone (feeding, stretching, bathroom breaks). If you have a knowledgeable and lovely friend, text her for family-friendly recommendations in your stopping destination.

    Waze to avoid those traffic mishaps. It may have even taken longer, but we used the Waze app on a recent trip and diverged from congested I-80 to smaller roads surrounded by sunflowers. Again, who knows if we netted any time, but it was much more pleasant than the jerky stop-and-go.

    You can fly with little ones – we may have a semi-magical baby, but took him to Ireland at 6 months old. He’s also flown to Seattle, Colorado and Pennsylvania. Ways to keep your cool – buy a seat if you can afford it (Seam doesn’t sleep if he can be up and moving around), bring lots of snacks and games, let others entertain him/her if they’re willing (Seam spends a lot of time peeking over the seat), feed/pacifier during take-offs and landings, and accept that it might suck a little, but all flights do. Beer helps.

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    1. I think you need your own blog mama. Such great advice! I definitely will put these tips to work on our next adventures. I love VRBO too, so nice to have the space of a home instead of just a hotel room with thin walls. Also love that using a phone app saves packing space AND forces you to be more present while baby is napping, such a great observation… I’ll be waiting for that new blog announcement, hehe. And, yes, I think Seamus is a magical baby, so awesome! 😀

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