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Whether you are off to visit family or have a wonderful family road trip planned, being in a car with a baby for long periods of time can be as intimidating as going on your first flight together. As your departure date looms closer you start to imagine what it will actually be like being trapped in a car with a young child for hours on end. If the idea of strapping your little one into a car seat for any length of time starts to give you the cold sweats and you’re starting to wonder why you ever thought this was a good idea, just know that you can survive this type of family travel as well.
We’ve been there. Neither of our children has ever been too fond of the car seat and they would rarely sleep in it for any length of time, so road trips are not the first thing we choose when planning a family vacation. However, with family living 8 hours away, we have been making this drive since our first child was a baby. Following these 7 Essential Tips for Road Trips With a Baby, there are three main things we do that get us through a long travel day in the car: Time of departure, Play Time and Eating.
Let us explain...
Doing a large part of the driving when your baby or toddler is sleeping will be a big help. Since our kids do not sleep for long periods of time in the car, we leave EARLY. We try to be in the car by 5am. We get up early and get everything ready to go, then we wake up the kids and put them directly in the car in their PJs with blankets ready to go (after a diaper change and breastfeeding, of course). With any luck they go right back to sleep and if not, they are quiet for a couple of hours.
For some people leaving right before nap time or in the evening before bedtime might work equally well.
We pack breakfast for the car for the kids, which usually consists of dry cheerios and milk (or a peanut butter sandwich depending on the age). It’s maybe not the most exciting breakfast, but it’s portable. Usually a couple of hours into the trip they wake up or are awake enough to want to eat. This typically leaves us with 1-1.5hrs left before our first stop.
The second crucial part of our successful road trip with kids is our planned stops. We do our first stop after about 3-3.5 hours of driving. We know of a McDonalds play area that is nice and quiet right around the time we get there. We stop for a good hour to let the kids play and burn off some energy. We are often driving in the winter, so this works well for us.
A picnic at a playground would work equally as well. It’s worthwhile to do some research and plan these stops in advance. Try not to just stop at a restaurant as this is just more sitting.
Once back in the car, we give them some entertainment and usually get a short nap out of them (45 minutes to an hour). Once they are up, we are left with 3 hours to entertain them. This will consist of lunch/snacks (depending on how much they ate at our stop), music, toys and even one of us getting into the back seat.
The last hour or so is usually the worst. It usually involves some crying, but at this point we push through. This is usually when one of us will get in the backseat to play with them. Our daughter, who is now 3.5 years old, is more than happy just watching movies or looking at books, but when she was a baby we would sing to her and read her books. We do this with our son now too.
Here are a few more tips that work for us:
Food for your road trip with your baby or toddler
- Similar to planning a flight with a baby or toddler, bring a lot of snacks. These can work as both nourishment and distraction. Snacks that are good for distraction are things like Gerber Puffs, Cheerios or Yogurt Melts. I like all of these especially for young children because of their dissolving properties. I also pack sandwiches and plenty of fruit for the trip.
- Make sure to pack food for yourself as well and don’t forget lots of water for everyone.
- If breastfeeding, we would find places to stop every few hours.
Entertainment for your road trip with your baby or toddler
- For a baby, we would bring their favourite toys (like this activity ball) and a lot of board books. More often than not, they got tossed on the floor so keep a few up front to pass back when this happens. When they got overly restless, one of us would hop in the back seat to help keep them entertained.
- As our daughter got older, we let go of our guilt and just let her watch the iPad. We would secure it to the back of the front seat for her, so she wouldn’t have to hold it and so that she wasn’t just continuously flipping between apps.
Getting your baby or toddler to sleep on your road trip
Final tips for your road trip with kids
- Keep all the snacks and especially wipes within reach. Bring lots of wipes, you will need them.
- Have a place for all your garbage.
- Road trips got better and easier with our daughter once she was forward facing. If it’s safe to do so, you could consider flipping your car seat.
- Take turns driving and dealing with the baby.