Car Travel with Baby: 12 Tips to Help You Stay Sane

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I wasn’t excited about tackling the 7-hour drive from Minneapolis to Chicago with a 4-month-old. I knew the car trip would take even longer than usual and that my son would get cranky being cooped up for so long. And it was a holiday weekend. What are some ways to make car travel with baby easier?

The first few hours were rough — my screaming baby who refused to sleep and oh so many stops. But once we got into the road trip groove and learned a few tricks for keeping baby happy, the drive was actually sort of fun. Here’s what we did to keep our sanity and what we learned about car travel with baby.

How to Enjoy Car Travel with Baby

1. Do Prep Work in Advance

We filled up on gas and packed the car the day before we left, so we were able to hop in the car and go first thing in the morning. It saved us a lot of time. It made getting on the road less stressful.

2. Get an Early Start

We left at 6:30 am and it was perfect. Baby was ready to sleep again by the time we got in the car, which helped our trip get off to a smooth start.

3. Pack Lots of Toys, Books, and Music

If your baby is old enough to engage with toys and books, bring a bunch. At one point, we had out 5 books and 6 toys. He always preferred some books and toys over others so we rotated them throughout the drive. If your little one likes music, be prepared to sing your heart out, pop in a CD, or use your MP3 player.

4. Sit in the Back Seat

If you have two adults in the car, divide and conquer — one of you drives while the other plays with and soothes baby. There’s nothing worse than being trapped in the front seat, stuck in traffic, with an inconsolable baby just out reach in the back.

Car Travel with Baby

5. Be Prepared to Stop Often

Our son needed to eat every 3 hours so we knew we’d have to stop that often, but he got cranky after 2-2.5 hours so we stopped even more frequently to take him out of his car seat and let him stretch. Who could blame him for wanting a break from his car seat?

6. Have Smaller, “Themed” Bags

The last thing you want is to be digging through a giant suitcase at a rest stop looking for more diapers. Pack smaller bags so you can find things easily, even if it means bringing more bags. We had separate bags for food, diapers and toys, computer and books, and parents’ items (wallet, phones, etc.).

7. Stop Before You Need To

Don’t wait for baby to get hungry before you stop. A hysterical baby isn’t fun for anyone. You never know when a traffic jam will attack, keeping you on the highway when all you want to do is pull over. When we were stuck on a highway between Chicago and Madison, WI with no gas stations or rest stops in sight, our son started screaming. We thought we would hit a rest area before he needed to eat, but we were wrong. We ended up taking the next exit and driving 5 miles before stopping to feed and change him in a Menard’s parking lot. Not ideal.

8. Take Longer Stops

Plan on each stop taking 20-30 minutes. Allow time for the adults to take a bathroom break, grab food, and put gas in the car. This allows allows time for baby to eat, stretch, and get a diaper change. If you stop just to feed or change baby, inevitably one of the adults or other kids in your car is going to need a bathroom as soon as you start driving again.

9. Stop at an All-Inclusive Rest Stop

When you do stop, stop somewhere where all passengers can do everything they need to do — run to the bathroom, get a meal, gas up, change baby, and feed baby.

10. Don’t Let Baby Overheat

Our son started crying inconsolably, and we couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He’d just eaten, he had a clean diaper, and he’d slept recently. I felt him and realized he was sweating. He was only wearing a onesie and pants, but since he’s rear-facing, he wasn’t getting any of the A/C, and the light blanket I had draped over his car seat to block the sun was trapping heat. Once I stripped him down to his onesie and cranked up the A/C, he was a much happier baby.

11. The Trip Will Take 25% Longer

It’s amazing how quickly a 7 hour drive turns into 9 hour drive. All of the stops a baby requires definitely add up, so allow for extra time on your drive.

12. Getting There Is Only Half the Fun

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you have to deal with a new environment and schedule for the baby,  especially if you’re bunking with family or friends rather than staying at a hotel. And don’t forget that a few days after you arrive, you get to turn around and do it again on the ride home! But by then, you’ll have conquered the drive to your destination, and you’ll be a pro at traveling with a baby.

Make Car Travel with Baby Easier

If you plan ahead, are sensitive to your child’s needs in advance, and give him or her enough attention and stimulation, you should have a wonderful, relatively stress-free time experiencing car travel with a baby.

Have you taken a road trip with a baby? What tips would you add for car travel with a baby?

photo credit: Lunchbox Photography

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