Road trips expose children to new experiences and build their connections to people and places. But let’s be honest, the idea of road tripping with a baby can be both intimidating and stressful. The good news is with the right expectations and planning, you can ease anxiety and keep your little one content during a long drive.
Our baby was born during the pandemic. We felt it was important to instill a sense of adventure and wanderlust in our son early on, but we were hesitant to book any flights. We found our solution in taking road trips. At 2 months, we hopped in the car and headed to Baltimore, MD, a 45 minute road trip from our home in Northern Virginia. At 7 months, we drove 3 hours to Deep Creek, MD, for a weekend camping trip. At 9 months, we drove 6 hours away to Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia. During his first 10 months of life, we have driven well over 6,000 miles! Those long stretches of driving gave us plenty of time to discover a few key strategies for road tripping with a baby:
1. Keep a large blanket on hand
Like adults, babies require stops to eat, use the bathroom (or diaper change), and even to stretch their little legs from the car seat. You may have to stop every hour or two, so it is wise to relax expectations and be reasonable with timing. Rather than trying to rush yet another pit stop, embrace the opportunity for everyone to get some fresh air. Ideal locations include rest stops and public parks, however any place with a grassy patch is suitable.
A large blanket creates a comfortable space for your baby to crawl, roll around, and let out some pent-up energy. Set out some snacks and the experience becomes an impromptu picnic, transforming what could have felt like a setback into a memorable moment of your road trip.
2. Keep pacifiers everywhere
Pacifiers are an invaluable tool on road trips—they offer instant contentment that lasts for, well, maybe two minutes. I don’t know what it is about babies and pacifiers, but they make these things disappear like magic! They get tossed into the trunk and dropped into crevices you didn’t know existed. We strive to keep a pacifier in several pre-identified locations throughout the vehicle so that we always know where one is.
3. Rotate the selection of car seat toys
Dangling car seat toys and soft crinkly books go a long way in keeping a baby entertained in the car seat. Switch them out whenever you stop to stretch your legs.
If your child is no longer amused by the available toys, remember that everyday objects can be used to entertain and build motor and sensory skills. An empty water bottle to squeeze, an empty wipes container, Tupperware, and plastic cups are all things you might find around the car.
4. Keep your baby cool with a fan
Car seats are notoriously hot, especially when they are rear facing and blocking airflow from the vents. A small portable fan can make a difference in keeping a baby cool and comfortable during long summer road trips. Furthermore, many portable fans come with bendable tripod legs allowing you to attach it to a car seat inside the car, or on the stroller outside once you have reached your destination!
5. Make a playlist
Listening to music makes a road trip more enjoyable for everyone in the vehicle. Make a playlist of everyone’s favorite songs, but also be sure to include a “white noise” track. The steady sound of a whirring fan, waterfall, or “shushing” voice can mask the sound of distracting road noises and help soothe a baby to sleep.
6. Drive at night
One of the most helpful tips that we learned is to drive at night when possible. For the first few months, babies are working to establish their circadian rhythm (their body’s internal clock). Driving after your baby has gone to sleep prevents any disruption to your child’s sleep schedule. It also allows you to cover a longer driving distance without having to stop. Use caution and pull over if you feel yourself getting tired.
Taking a baby on the road is not easy. Relenting spouts of crying can test your patience and your eardrums. A flexible mindset will help you adapt to unexpected stops and unplanned detours. The journey is just as important as the destination, so slow down, practice patience, and embrace your time together on the road. You’ll make it to your destination with a new sense of parental confidence and a great story to tell your child one day!
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