Traveling with Baby 101: Traveling By Car
Having lived and volunteered abroad and all across the United States, my love for traveling is something my family and friends know me for. It was also something that was held over my head as a cautionary tale before becoming a mom. People would condescendingly tell me to “get it out of my system now before baby,” or say things like “you won’t be able to do that anymore when the babies come!”
Their attempts at good advice were lost in translation: negativity is a language I don’t speak, and not one I intend for my daughter to become fluent in, either. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to travel as often as possible with our girl—and we began doing so when she was just 5 weeks old. Here are some of our been there, done that, got the t-shirt words of wisdom for traveling with baby.
Hitting the Road at 5 Weeks
When our daughter was just 5 weeks old, she went on her first road trip. Our destination was approximately four hours from our home, and we were going somewhere we’d never been before.
But even before booking our accommodations, we scoped out the area: We found a clinic that was nearby that would be our go-to spot in the event of an emergency.
We booked a well-rated (and cheap!) AirBnB: This allows you to read reviews, search by “suitable for families/couples/etc.,” and also gives you a place that might feel more like “home” than a hotel.
As with any road trip, check out your vehicle and get a tune-up if needed: The last thing you need is a flat tire, full boobs, and a hollering baby or spouse (or both!). Check the tire pressure, oil, and freon.
Pack & plan accordingly: We lugged along entirely too many clothing options, a great portable bassinet, and things that smelled like home in case she was a newborn homebody: but let’s face it, newborns are basically just adorable loaves of bread. They don’t do much other than sleep, feed constantly, and poop—so there were no concerns about entertainment. We were definitely worried about the amount of time spent in a car seat, though, so we planned an extra leisurely day full of stops so I could nurse her out of her seat, and for us all to get some fresh air.
The great thing about this trek was that four hours is a relatively short journey to experience something totally different, and this trip is one we definitely don’t regret taking. In addition to the obvious over-packing, we also brought along extras of everything for ourselves—because few things are as inconvenient as forgetting, say, an extra set of shoes on vacation and losing a singular shoe. It happened to me once in Italy: I do not recommend it.
The situation changes a bit when they’re bigger: baby E’s next road trip was when she was substantially more aware.
At 10 months old, some of the same rules apply
But with newer caveats to bear in mind.
Continue to keep their time in a car seat down: We were instead able to cut a four hour trip to the beach in half by working in a long lunch after the first two hours of driving. She no longer snoozes the entire time she’s in a moving vehicle, which is all the better for me as I was not interested in arriving to the beach with a totally thrown-from-her-schedule little tot. We scooped up a fast food lunch, and took it to a nearby rest area to eat. Most have been renovated to be quite lovely, and are a welcome diversion for cramped butts and legs.
Keep their comfort in mind: If you can plan to go at night when they’re already sound asleep, great! Otherwise, it would behoove you to stick to their routine as best as you can. Depending on some of your child’s quirks and needs. You can hide their favorite toy a day or two prior to the trip and give it to them again in the car. This newly aware stage of life means they’ll recognize—and be content with—this long-lost lovey or noisemaker.
Stores in travel areas always have incredibly high mark-ups on items for convenience sake: I’ve seen packs of diapers (I’m talking 28 diapers here, y’all) for upwards of $20 in some areas. Do yourself a favor and just pack days in advance. When your brain is less frazzled and more likely to have lightbulb moments of, “Oh! We might also need this.”
Here’s a semi-obvious packing list for your convenience. Give or take a few comfort items. This is exactly the list I use when packing for baby E for 4 nights away.
- Diapers (45-50, just to be safe)
- Bottle sterilizer items (steam bags, soap, special bottle brushes)
- Extra bottles
- 5 pairs of pajamas
- 6 or 7 “daytime/playtime” outfits
- 3 pairs of shoes
- An actual zillion pairs of socks (I will be buying stock in baby socks, friends. I lose them like I lost hair after having this child.)
- Extra bottles of water
- 10 jars/pouches of food
- Snacks for the road
- 2 bathing suits
- 3 towels
- A small bag of her favorite toys. I’m talking small: though I like to be thorough. I do not believe in bringing a whole toy chest on vacation. Besides; it makes it a lot easier to convince my husband of our need for souvenirs if we don’t bring everything.
As I mentioned, this list is a rough sketch of the things I’ve taken on our trips lasting from 3-5 days: this is when we’re working with ample trunk space and no baggage claims, fees, or other hassles. Stay tuned for my tips on traveling with baby efficiently, overnight stays. Also, air/international adventuring with a little travel bug in tow!