Two years ago, I drove from the coast of South Carolina to Kansas by myself with an 8-month-old. My husband, an Army officer, had just been assigned there a few weeks prior, and we were finally joining him in our new home. Surviving that trip is still one of my proudest mom-moments, and the only reason it turned out as well as it did is because I planned it meticulously prior to the trip and then just went for it.
Here are nine tips to help make road-tripping with a baby a bit less painful.
Accept the fact that you won’t get as far as you would alone
It took me three full days to make the 19-plus hour drive with a baby. I easily could have done it in two days, but knew not to push it with an infant. I broke the trip into approximately seven-hour days which allowed us ample break time and minimal stress.
Start driving after breakfast and end the day before dinner
My reasoning behind this is because they’ll be happy for a while after eating breakfast, then they’ll (ideally) take their morning nap in the car seat. Then they’ll wake up relatively happy (for a little while, at least) and you can drive a bit longer before taking a long lunch break. Then let them crawl, walk, or stretch their bodies as much as they can so that they can get some energy out. Take time to eat outside of the car. Get on the road again once you feel ready and hopefully you can get another nap out of them. Call it quits before dinner so that you can relax and eat and not worry about getting on the road again.
Travel with a bag of toys in the passenger seat
Children in general are notorious for dropping things in the car, and 8-month-olds have particularly short attention spans. I packed a giant reusable shopping bag full of toys and books and would hand a new one back whenever he’d get bored or fussy or drop whatever he was playing with. There was always an avalanche of toys when I’d get him out of the car, but this was a huge sanity-saver for me! For older kids, there are countless tips out there for car-friendly kid activities. A clipboard is handy if your child loves to draw, as are magnetic doodle pads!
Use a car seat mobile and hang a baby piano mat at their feet
These are great distractors for rear-facing children! The piano we used was made to be tied to the side of a crib but we tied it to the headrest so that he could kick it and make music. He loved it!
If your child uses a pacifier, make sure you have spares or that it’s on a clip
A dropped pacifier when you’re on the highway is no fun for anyone.
Plan meals and snacks
I was still breastfeeding on this trip so I made sure to nurse before starting each leg of the journey. I also had puffs and pouches readily available whenever my son needed a snack. Both of my kids are toddlers now and can be pretty picky so I always make sandwiches for the road.
Travel with an easy-to-use baby carrier
If you’re alone, you’re going to want a baby carrier that is quick to use (ring slings are my go-to). This makes bathroom breaks much easier because you can get them out quickly and use the restroom while wearing them. It’s not ideal, but it’s much easier than getting a stroller out each time you stop.
Consider stopping at restaurants with playgrounds
This wasn’t a trick that I used because my son was too young at the time, but if your kids are older this is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. They can get some energy out while you get a cup of coffee or a bite to eat.
Play toddler music
When we’re on the road, we often stream a toddler radio station and it’s great for keeping them engaged and passing the time.
Hopefully your trip won’t be as long as mine was and ideally you won’t be alone, but if you’re up against the odds just take it in stride and know you’ll get there eventually. This is all a phase and one day road trips will be a breeze once again!