Planning a road trip with a baby can seem like a daunting task. God knows, that these beloved little people are handful under normal circumstances and logging long miles in the car with them require battle plans of a whole new level. There is no doubt that long hours of being cooped up can be exhausting for everyone and then the lack of sleep which is normal for new baby‘s parents adds to the woes. However, from my personal experience of our 30 days Europe car journey with a 8 months old along with host of veteran travellers‘ advice, I can vouch that a road trip with a baby can be an easily doable thing and all it requires are marathon planning, prepping and organizing. Read on this step by step guide to manage an enjoyable road trip with a baby minus the meltdowns.
Confront the fear of a road trip with a baby
We took a spontaneous decision to pack the car, put the baby in and leave and in retrospect that was what made us go. Our biggest fear was a cranky baby for long hours and we faced that by not giving it a long thought, which might have made us change our decision. Well, lets face the reality with our eyes wide open. Babies will cry and they express every emotion, need or urgency by bawling out loud. Some babies cry less while some do a lot more and even in the familar environment of home, incessant crying can drive anybody mad. Be prepared that on a road trip with a baby, there will be moments when you and your partner will get crabby over a yelling baby and say things to each other which will not be nice.
– Get real. Babies will cry and they will poop at odd places and hours
Another difficult, yet unavoidable part is the baby pooping at odd places and sometimes hours and you will often question, “Why he couldn‘t do the job when you were in the rest area just a few minutes earlier?” This bodily movement often leads to arguements, annoyance of parking over at small gaps of the drive, and in our case, “who will dispose the doo doo diaper in the fashionable Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris. Well, if you expect these things to happen, then you will be far less frustrated when they do and be more emotionally prepared to deal with them and carry on enjoying your road trip. As parents, the most important thing is to feel if your ready for this adventure together or not and it is quite okay to start small with short duration trips. By now, Tarek and I both know that kids are quite tough and resilient creatures and they sense off the vibes of their parents. So, how we feel is exactly how they are going to get the vibe of and in not so comfortable situations, cheerful or placid parents can lead to a calm child.
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Plan and prepare well ahead of time
Even though Tarek and I left spontaneously one evening for the road trip with a baby, we had planned it out well ahead of time. This included planning the route with proper kilometers, routes to take, driving distance/hours, scheduling stops, booking accomodations, what to carry, prepping the car etc. The only thing left to do was to have the courage to embark on this journey and this we did spontaneously. Usually in the business that precedes a trip, it is quite easy to forget things, even the essential ones and on a road trip with a baby, this can be a total deal breaker. Avoid maddening meltdowns by going easy on yourself, being pro active in making trip decisions and planning ahead.
– Split the planning and preparation responsibilities with your partner
We split the responsibilities of the road trip in two. Tarek took care of the manual prepping, planning the route, while I made the holiday plan, accomodation booking, checklist of packing and packed. Well, being overly cautious, we even made checklists of prepping, planning and packing and in the upcoming posts, I will share the packing tricks and tips with you. We also researched a lot, contemplated on some questions like “does our baby sleep well in the car, what are his nap hours, how could we coincide nap time with the drive, etc” and came up with solutions suitable for us. Since, being strapped on the car seat makes a baby more cranky than usual, we broke the drive with frequent stops where he could crawl about a bit. We also tried to keep the estimated arrival times within reasonable hours, having counted unexpected reasons for delay like diaper explosion requiring entire change of clothes, inconsolable crying for whatever reason, stomach upset of either or both the parents (trust me, this is a bad one) etc. We even kept antidotes to counter these reasons and the result was a smooth road trip in most parts of the journey.
Prepare the car at least a day before
A marathon road trip needs mega preparation and the maximum effort goes to keep the car ready. Take plenty of time and care to prep it, since you want to run smooth throughout the trip. Here are a few tips to make your car be safe, ready and a traveling entertainment center for the baby.
- Take the car for a tune up (change oil and oil filter if required)
- Top off anti freeze or coolant if required
- Carry snow chains or snow tires if required
- Check windshield wiper
- GPS Update
- Charge all gadgets and carry all chargers, extra batteries, power banks etc
- Fill up the gas tank
- Check the tires
- Ensure window sunshield for the baby
- Secure all loose items in the car for extra safety
- Make sure the child car seat is properly installed. Consider a forward facing seat, if you have a fussy baby
- Pack plenty of water, a first aid kit (we had a home made one), a flashlight with extra batteries, and basic car safety equipments like jumper cable
- Check for a tarpaulin sheet, map(s), car papers etc in the car
String an array of lightweight toys like a play mobile from the ceiling of the car to dangle in front of your baby. A good alternative is to string a line from one window to the other with an array of toys attached with ribbons. Keep a diaper disposal bag (or a general trash bag) handy, a giant box of toys within easy reach of either of the parent or co traveler. Place the toys, food, and changing box next to each other on the car floor. Bring audio books, and music for the adults to enjoy when the baby is sleeping. Some babies get soothed by a voice on tape or music.
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Prep the house
This one is a no brainer essential part. Prepping the house before hand ensures less or no unexpected unpleasant surprises upon return and fewer headaches and worries. Most travellers do it before leaving, though we finished some minor bits like keeping the bills paid, making drip irrigation for the house plants etc earlier. If you have a pet and are not taking him with you, look out for a caregiver or a pet hostel. Make sure that your electrical appliances are turned off, gas and heating are not on, windows and loors locked, house cleaned, and security alarm is on. In case you are going for a long trip, try to have a trusted friend or relative come over to check your house once a while.
Pack sensibly and strategically for a road trip with a baby
It is surprising how small children and babies need such a huge amount of stuff. Needless to say, Akash‘s things occupied maximum space in our car and we had to pack our stuff very cleverly to fit them in. Our packing success was 100% since throughout the entire trip we had everything that we needed, always within our arm‘s reach. In fact, we made several bags like Food bag, Diaper change bag, Clothes bag etc which had lists of items taped on them, so that we knew which one to turn to for whatever. The most important travel trick we learned on that trip was to pack every essential item within easy access and to know where they are kept, to avoid digging around in a suitcase. We kept extra pacifiers, baby snacks, tissues, hats, socks, adult munchies, drinks, lip balm, loose change, extra batteries etc in glove compartment, along with disposable plastic bags. There were head rests, cushions, and a blanket in the back seat, so that the one minding Akash could rest with him a while. Check out the next post for packing checklist for a road trip.
Stockpile lots of food and drinks
Driving is a strenuous activity which needs loads of high energy snacks to keep going. The co travelers also nibble a lot during road trips due to lack of other actions and babies are best soothed in most cases with healthy finger food which they enjoy. That is why keep plenty of water, drinks, and snacks stockpiled in the car, and within easy reach. Food that travels well without perishing are ceeal bars, bagesl, pretzels, cheese, some air dried meat, chocolate, fruits etc. We also carried plenty of cookies and special baby food boxes for Akash to distract him during crying fits. A snacking baby means a messy car, so keep those dry tissues and sippy cups handy.
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Have a drive plan in sync with the baby‘s routine
This is perhaps the most important tip for anyone planning a road trip with a baby. Schedule your driving time keeping your baby‘s routine in mind. Since a baby sleeps major chunks of the day, plan to start around his normal bedtime and drive while he naps. Most people, including us, drove at nights, so as to log longer miles and reaching the destination with a rested, happier baby.
Make frequent pitstops
Anybody strapped to a seat for a long time will get cranky and your baby is no exception. To avoid cranks crying jags, plan frequent pitstops which are good for the adults too. We stopped at gas stations which had mini play areas or picnic zones for toilet and food breaks. It did us good to stretch our legs and Akash also crawled around for some time before being comfortably settled in his seat. The fresh air and exercise made him get hungrier and tired more easily, so it was quite a win win situation for us.
Go in the backseat with the baby
We had a backseat which faced the rear. Of course Akash did not like it and complained quite frequently, so a long part of my journey was spent with him there. Feeding him, sometimes changing him, playing with him or simply holding his hand to reassure him happened on the backseat and he responded every time by smiling at my familar face. If you are traveling with another adult or a sibling, plan in taking turns in riding in the back seat with the little one, just to make him feel comfortable and tend to any need or discomfort easily.
Finally, don’t overdo when on a road trip with a baby
Keeping in mind that babies do not have the patience level to sustain a super long road trip without showing discomfort, try to keep your sessions on the road short, especially when they are awake. Schedule your drive during nap times if you have to cover a sizeable distance or break the journey with stops for eating, playing, changing, and sleeping.
And while on the road, these tips will keep you safe
You are almost ready to go, if you have carefully planned your trip and prepared your vehicle. These are the final thumb rules to keep in mind as you make your way down the road:
- Be flexible, beacuse when you are traveling with a baby, even the most meticulous plans can get disrupted. Try not to stress over the changes, stay relaxed, accept the situation, and go with the flow.
- Trying to push “just a little farther” with a crying baby in the car can be dangerous, as you are more distracted and nervous. Instead keep your sanity, by taking the time to stop and calm your baby.
- Always bear in mind that safety comes first. Make sure that you keep your baby in his carseat and secured. You cannot foresee an accident, and there are plenty idiots on the road. To avoid dangerous and often fatal injuries due to airbags, never put your baby in the front seat.
- Most importantly, do not leave your baby alone in the car even for a minute.
Last but not the least, split the driving if you can and enjoy the trip
As clichéd as it sounds this is most essential for having a memorable trip. Split the driving part with your partner or another co traveler and try to take things as they come. I know this is easier said than done and I myself have contributed to a lot of stress during the trip due to sheer lack of sleep. However, in the end, everything worked fine, there was no car problem, Akash was healthy and happy throughout the trip and I had worn out my worry beads over nothing. If I had to do it all over again, I would sleep better before leaving, try to share Tarek‘s driving responsibility, and truly enjoy the journey. I realise today that we achieved with our small baby during those 30 days is of epic proportion in being successful as a couple, team, and parents. So take my word for it and get out there to enjoy your road trip with a baby to the fullest. There is indeed no better travel feeling than to cruise down the open highway in a capsule filled with the people you love the most and discovering extraordinary moments of beauty in our world with them.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE