Hard Mode: Your First Road Trip With your Baby
Traveling with a Baby
Ahh road trips. When you’re young and childless they’re truly magical. The open road, your traveling companions, junk food, and some music. It’s just great. Traveling with a baby?
When you’re road tripping with a baby you no longer see the open road. You see a trail of asphalt laden with metal death machines, each powered by some asshole that’s probably looking at their phone. That gas station you so desperately need to stop at? It’s probably manned by traffickers and managed by Freddy Krueger.
Oh, and your favorite tunes are being drowned out by the cries of your baby.
What’s the alternative? Not traveling at all? Risking a flight with your newborn? Begging your family to visit you instead, while you slowly succumb to cabin fever?
Fear not, new parents! There are numerous things you can do to make your trip with a newborn easier. Hell, you might end up having fun along the way!
Road Tripping with a Newborn: The Basics
You have a newborn, meaning you’re tired. The thought of a road trip probably makes you even more exhausted.
Breathe. It’s okay. You can do this.
Have you breathed? Are you with me? See, I told you you’d be fine! Even if your trip is 1,000 miles, you can make things way easier on yourself by chunking it up. First, let’s tackle the little one. (Not literally.)
What to Bring for Your Baby
Grab a pen. Or, if you’re like me, open a Google Keep doc. (Digital things can’t be lost. I like digital.)
It’s cliched and you’re going to think it sounds stupid, but I want you to start a list. It’s hard to forget things when you have a list. You’re tired, you probably forget things all the time. (Is it time to feed your newborn?) Make a list.
Okay, first things first, let’s tackle what you need for your little one.
1. A New Attachable Toy for the Seat
You know those little dangly toys that clip onto the car seat? The ones that you can pull and they vibrate, jiggle, and do other things that captivate newborns? That’s what you want. If your baby already has a favorite toy then bring that, obviously. If they don’t have one, get one.
When your kiddo is crying and you can quickly yank that toy down and entertain them, you’ll be really glad you have it.
2. Spare Bottles
Whether your child is breastfed or formula fed, you’ll want extra bottles. Accidents happen, things get lost, and it’s really difficult to keep bottles clean on the road. You may not need them, but if you do, once again you’ll be glad you have them!
3. Tons of Wipes
Newborns spit up a lot. You know this, you’re probably cleaning some up right now. When you’re trying to feed your newborn in the car, you’ll inevitably spill things. This means you’ll need even more wipes than usual.
Also, wipes are just great and you should keep some with you in the car anyway. That greasy, delicious Popeye’s won’t clean itself off your fingers.
4. Extra Blankets (Times Ten)
All that spit up and spilling? Blankets are going to have a rough go. The rain coat of the newborn world, blankets have a rough life. Constantly bombarded in formula and milk and spit up and snot, they don’t get a break. In the car, once again, you’re going to need more than usual.
Also, if you’re traveling anywhere with a colder climate, pack some incredibly warm blankets in case your car breaks down or you wind up stuck in a snowstorm. The last thing you want to worry about is keeping your little bundle of joy bundled up!
5. A Ton of Onesies (Tonsies?)
Keeping with the theme, you’ll want extra onesies on your maiden trip. Once again, your little one will be dripping stuff and spitting up, and you’ll be spilling things. As if this wasn’t enough, you may space out and accidentally use your child’s onesie as a napkin while snacking on something. (I swear it wasn’t me.)
If you’re one of those parents that likes your kid to look dapper all the time, with a fancy little outfit, scrap that idea right now. You’re going to have a hard enough time changing diapers during pit stops as is. Don’t overcomplicate things by putting your kid in some slacks, button up, and suspenders. Embrace the onesie.
What to Bring for Yourself
Are you still with me? Hey, wake up! Drink more coffee.
As parents, we love to neglect ourselves. On a trip, this simply can’t happen. You need to make sure you’re taken care of as well, otherwise, you’re all going to suffer for it.
Pack the following, or some variation of them, to make sure you’re not a total emotional wreck the entire trip.
1. Extra Shirts
Newborns aren’t skilled at much, but they’re all great at peeing on or at you. When you’re at home you have the luxury of changing. (Or living with your stinky self for the day with the knowledge that a warm shower awaits.) On the road you need to be clean, quick, and efficient.
Pack some extra shirts in an easily accessible place just in case you catch one to the chest, or spill formula or milk all over yourself. Again, these things happen.
2. Road Trip Snacks
Road trips with a newborn are a different beast. Where you once used to stop and enjoy a dine-in experience, you now want to keep moving as much as possible to shorten your trip. Because of this, you’ll want to pack food you can eat on the go.
Because I’m all about being thrifty, try to avoid eating out and instead pack some ready-to-eat meals. We love to make miniature sandwiches that we can pack into the cooler and quickly smash into our faces when time permits. Hit up Pinterest if you don’t have any ideas. Find something you like and miniaturize it! Bonus points if you can snag cheap deals on groceries!
3. Caffeinated Everything
You’re tired, remember? (Seriously, do you need to feed your child right now? Don’t forget!)
Find some canned caffeinated drinks you can throw in the cooler with your adorable, portable snacks. If you’re heading out in the morning, save yourself the cost of an additional canned drink and make a thermos of coffee to go. Bonus points – and caffeine – if you make something loaded with espresso.
Fun fact: “Caffeine” is “cibus parentum” in Latin, or “fuel of the parents.”
4. More Wipes
I know, I know, wipes are for children. Or are they? They work for EVERYTHING. Throw an extra pack in your luggage or snack bag. Whether you’re eating homemade snacks or shoveling McDonald’s into your face, you’re going to be glad you can quickly clean your fingers off.
Raylan will be in college and we’ll still have wipes around. I just know it.
5 Tips for Traveling with a Newborn
You know what your little ball of cuteness and spit up needs, and you know what you need. It’s time to talk the trip in general, and how to make things as smooth as possible.
Note: You may still have a rough time, but these little tips will help you have a better trip overall and focus on savoring every moment of being a parent!
1. Stop Frequently
Sure, you want your trip to be over as quickly as possible. You know what makes a trip way longer? An incredibly fussy newborn in the backseat. Stopping frequently gives you time to tend to your little one, tend to yourself, and of course get some fresh air.
It can really suck to stop frequently when you simply want to get to your destination, but it’s for the greater good in this case. We used to drive from Indiana to Texas and vice versa in a single go. Now? That’s a two-day trip every single time. There’s no way we’d put our little guy through that trip in one sitting.
There’s no hard and fast rule on how long your baby can be in the car seat, but try to stop every 1-2 hours so they can be taken out. Car seats can cause all kinds of circulation problems, and even death in some cases. The stops will do you all good, so enjoy them.
2. If Traveling in Pairs, Keep Someone in Back
Ideally you’re traveling with a partner when driving with a newborn. If so, make sure someone is sitting in back with the little guy or gal. They’re going to get fussy, they’re going to need love and affection, and they’re going to need food. While the driver is moving you forward, the backseat baby parent is equally important.
To the person in back, it’s on you to tug that car seat toy, sing silly songs, make goofy faces, feed the little one, and frequently poke the diaper to see if it’s full.
3. Don’t be Afraid to Feed Them on the Go
Formula or breast milk, it makes no difference – you need to be prepared to feed your little one on the go if possible. Obviously you can’t do this if you’re traveling alone, but if you’re in the backseat, it’s time to saddle up.
Take things slowly and be extra cautious when feeding in the car. The last thing you want is a choking incidient. You also want to make sure you’ve got a cloth underneath your child’s chin in case of leakage. A car seat soaked in formula or milk is the last thing you want to smell for several hours or days. A rag under their chin can prevent that.
Also, try to time your feedings and stops so you can at least burp your little one at a rest stop after feeding time on the road. Stopping a light may sound like a chore, but having a baby suffering from gas is far worse.
4. Download Lullabies ASAP
If you’re going on a lengthy trip, there’s a big chance you’re going to have terrible cell coverage at some point. If your baby is nearing naptime and you happen to be in a dead zone, having some downloaded lullabies can be a real lifesaver.
If you have YouTube Red or subscribe to Google Play Music, you can download YouTube videos for offline viewing. This has been especially helpful for us during trips. Even if we’re not in a dead zone, it’s nice to know we’re not eating through costly data when we’re on the go.
5. Plan Your Route Around Great Stops
Seeing as how you need to take your little bundle out of their car seat every hour or two, it’s safe to say you’ll be stopping A LOT. This might sound nuerotic, but look at the map and see what kinds of rest stops, gas stations, and truck stops are on your route.
For example, we quickly realized that, while the Oklahoma route takes a little longer, it’s worth it on account of all the great rest stops and Love’s Travel Stops along the way. Not only this, the toll roads tend to be in better shape than highways, and they have more lighting.
Tip: In general, truck stops tend to be nicer than gas stations. They often have a more complete selection as far as food goes, and they often carry more supplies in case of emergencies. If you’re taking a route for the first time, try to find one with a lot of major truck stops, like Love’s or Flying J, etc.
6. Make Sure Hotels Have Refrigerators
This one is pretty simple. When you’re booking a hotel, make sure they have refrigerators in the room. Many sites will list if they do, but I like to call to make sure. You’re going to have formula or milk to worry about, and you’ll have your road snacks. You don’t want anything to spoil, so make sure there’s a fridge.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask the front desk about a fridge if you arrive and your room doesn’t have one. They’re usually pretty understanding and willing to have one loaded in there!
7. Tell Your Baby Everything
Your newborn can’t talk back yet, but they sure can listen. Talk to them as if they’re another regular passenger on this magical journey. Tell them about sites, share funny street names, and let them be a part of things. They may not appreciate the journey like you, but this will keep them engaged and entertained, and your trip will go so much faster.
As an added bonus, you’ll have so much more fun this way. Some of our favorite memories of trips with Raylan have been from the drives, not the destinations.
The Road Ahead
Road trips with a newborn don’t have to be the nightmare you’re imagining. They can be an absolute blast. Sure, even the smoothest of trips will have a few bumps in the road. But hey, that’s any trip, right?
We’ve made the trip to Indiana several times now with the little guy, and while no two trips are the same, they’ve all been a blast. There are rough patches, and there are always points where we state it’s the last time we’re making the trip ever again, but we always come back for more.
During the crying, near misses with really full diapers, frequent rest stops, and momentary bouts of insanity, allow yourself to simply enjoy the moment. Your newborn is only new once, so savor every minute of your trip. All those diaper changes, stops at shady gas stations, and roadside sandwich breaks add up to make some memories that will stick with you forever.
If your baby is approaching toddlerhood, fear not! Traveling with a toddler can be a lot of fun if you prep for it, and I’ve got you covered!