6 ESSENTIAL Tips for a Road Trip with a Baby (0 – 12 Months)

Author: Celine Brewer

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Whether you are bringing your baby to meet family for the first time or simply going on your first family vacation, baby’s first road trip is an exciting event. But, let’s be honest – your first long road trip with a baby can be every bit as intimidating as flying with a baby.

We’ve been there. We’ve made the 8-hour road trip with our kids to see their grandparents more times than we can count. Each family road trip had its unique challenges, especially because neither of our babies liked sitting in a car seat and they would rarely sleep in it for any length of time.

Despite our challenges, we always made it through intact, and you will too – you’ve got this! No matter what happens on your first road trip with your infant, you’ll make it through fully intact with more parental confidence and a brand-new set of family memories.

a cute baby looks at a road map.
Our daughter loved looking at the maps on our family road trips.

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6 Tips for a Successful Road Trip with a Baby

Over our years of traveling with babies, we’ve gained a lot of experience in family road trips. To help you have the best road trip with your baby, we’ve shared the six most important things we learned about taking road trips with a baby.

1. The Best Time to Leave for a Long Road Trip with a Baby

One of the most important factors in having a successful long car ride with a baby is picking the best time to leave. We’ve learned that doing a large part of the driving while your baby is sleeping goes a long way.

The best time to leave for a road trip with a baby will vary for each family. Variables to consider for your family road trip are your:

  • baby’s sleep schedule
  • baby’s usual feeding times
  • parent’s work schedules
  • acceptable arrival times, etc.

After considering these factors, the best departure time for your long road trip with a baby usually becomes clear. Again, try to target a departure time which results in your baby sleeping a good portion of the car trip.

a child sleeps in his car seat holding a brown teddy bear during a long car trip with his family.
Our son sleeps in his car seat on a long road trip.

For some families, starting your baby road trip right before nap time or in the evening before bedtime might be the best option, but for most families an early morning departure is likely the best time.

Since our kids did not sleep in the car for long periods of time, we tried to begin any long car ride with our baby while it was still dark outside – typically by 5 am. We’d wake our baby, quickly feed them and change their diaper, then put them directly in the car in their PJs with a cozy blanket on top.

a sleeping infant on a road trip.
Our daughter sleeping under a soft blanket on a road trip.

With any luck they’d go right back to sleep once the car started moving, and if not, they’d be groggy and quiet for a couple of hours. This usually bought us a few hours of quiet driving before they woke up or were hungry enough to want to eat.

Summary: The more miles you can drive with a sleeping child, the easier your long road trip with a baby will seem.

Do you have an older child? Don’t miss our tips on road trips with a toddler.

2. Strategically Plan Your Road Trip Stops

Another essential strategy for a long road trip with a baby is to pre-plan your stops. When planning your stops, consider how long you are comfortable leaving your baby in their car seat. Of course, we’ve learned that things rarely go strictly to plan when you travel with a baby, but it’s never a bad idea to have a base plan to optimize around.

How long can you travel with a baby in a car seat? A common rule of thumb is that babies who cannot sit up on their own need to be taken out of their car seats every hour or two. This ought to roughly line up with their feeding schedule anyways.

a baby boy sits in his car seat on a long car trip.
“This road trip is gonna be how long?!?”

Baby Road Trip Tip: Keep the cumulative length of these breastfeeding stops in mind as you plan your trip, as the time can really add up and you may arrive at your destination much later than you might think. You may wish to leave a little earlier to compensate.

In addition to the safety of your child, planned stops along the way are especially useful for keeping mobile babies happy on a road trip. Letting them crawl or move around for a while does wonders for their mood.

A mother sits in the back seat of a car with her playful 1-year old.

At the halfway point of our long road trip to see the grandparents, we would stop for an hour to let the kids crawl or play and burn off some energy. There’s a McDonald’s with a PlayPlace we like to stop at – we can grab a quick bite and a coffee and the kids can play in the area for smaller kids.

It’s worthwhile to do some research and plan these stops in advance. A picnic at a playground would work equally as well, just try to avoid a sit-down restaurant as this is just more sitting.

3. Feeding Your Baby on a Car Trip

If you are taking a long road trip with an infant or baby, you will be making one or more planned stops for the safety of your child. Chances are that at least one of these stops will involve a proper meal for your child. If you prefer to pack healthy food from home for feeding your baby solids, use a small insulated cooler with an ice-pack to keep food safe and cool.

a toddler on road trip eats an apple at a picnic table.
Our kids loved getting some fresh air and exercise during family road trips.

Don’t miss our tips on traveling with a newly potty training toddler.

While driving, portable snacks are great road trip snacks for babies as they work as both nourishment and distraction. Some food ideas for a road trip with babies are snacks that are good for distraction. Our favorite snack to give our babies on road trips were Gerber Puffs, which we loved due to their slow dissolving properties. Other of our favorite road trip snacks for babies include Cheerios travel cups, Gerber Yogurt Melts or pureed baby food pouches.

Important: While your baby is in a rear-facing car seat, be sure there is someone with them in the back seat while they eat.

Avoiding a hangry kid is essential for road tripping with a baby, so pack extra finger snacks 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.

a toddler in car seat with a sippy cup and white noise machine.

If your planned departure time is at the crack of dawn, be sure to pack breakfast for the kids so they have something to eat when they wake. If you haven’t noticed the pattern yet, we’ve discovered that sleeping and eating are two super important elements to an easier road trip with a baby.

For a breakfast in the car, we usually packed dry Cheerios in a spill-proof snack container and milk in a spill-proof sippy cup. It’s not the most exciting breakfast, but it’s portable and it takes a long time to eat; all those minutes of a happy, occupied baby on a road trip really add up!

Spill proof snack cups and one of these best travel sippy cups can be such a lifesaver when traveling with a 1-year old.

4. Getting Baby Sleeping in the Car

Every baby is unique and hopefully you’ll have a good idea of what conditions make your baby sleep in the car. This is stating the obvious, but for a baby on a road trip, sleeping in the car is a great way to easily pass the time.

a newborn baby sleeps in their car seat.
Our daughter asleep in the car.

Strategies we used to get our babies to sleep in the car on a road trip were:

  • We play soft music or audiobooks with bedtime stories for kids. There’s a ton of bedtime storybooks for kids on Audible.com, just try to ensure the driver doesn’t get sleepy too!

  • An old trick, but a good trick, to get your baby to sleep in the car, is to increase the temperature slightly to help them get a little more sleepy.

  • If you can’t leave super-early in the morning, try leaving when your baby has a full tummy right before nap time.

5. Road Trip Activities for a Baby

How do you entertain a baby on a long car ride? If your baby is not eating or sleeping in the car, they will likely need some form of mental stimulation. It helps for parents to take turns driving and sitting in the back seat interacting with the baby.

These baby travel toys are popular with parents traveling with infants:

For additional ideas, you can check out our list of 1 year old travel toys.

a cute baby shows off her toys before going on a long road trip.
Our 1-year old daughter shows off her travel toys prior to a long road trip.

Another favorite of ours, regardless of the kids age, was to play kid-friendly audiobooks in the car. It’s such a great thing to occupy a child’s mind without the need for a toy or a screen. As mentioned above, listening to audiobooks is also a good baby road trip sleep strategy.

With babies, we started with simple audiobooks like Winnie The Pooh, but we soon graduated to some classic Disney storybooks. If your kids love Disney stories, you’ll find a wide selection of classic Disney stories on Audible.com. Audible offers new members one free audiobook (sometimes more), so at a minimum, sign up for Audible and get a free audiobook for your road trip.

One of our most popular blog posts of all time is the Best Airplane Activities for Babies. We recommend reading this post as there are a lot of similarities between entertaining a baby on a road trip and a flight. The biggest difference is, of course, you’ll be less concerned about how much noise your child is making in the car (to reasonable limits of course!)

6. Keep Your Routines

If you have started a bedtime routine with your baby, keep it going, even on the trip. As you approach bedtime, stop and change them into PJs, give them their favourite stuffy and if you usually play music or read a book, do that. Babies, like most of us, find comfort in routine. 

A baby flips through a Lonely Planet Guide on New York City.
Our daughter gets ready for a trip to NYC!

Road Trip with a Baby Packing List

What should I bring for a baby on a road trip?

Packing lists are an essential tool for any parent planning a trip with a baby or toddler. You have enough details to keep in mind, let alone keeping track of everything you need to bring for a successful trip.

a baby holds the steering wheel of a car before a long family road trip.
Our little guy liked to “drive the car”.

As you plan your car trip with baby, keep in mind the essential items we discussed above:

Also be sure to download a copy of our complete Baby Travel Packing List.

a smiling baby is strapped into his car seat while on a family road trip to Sedona, AZ.
Our son’s first road trip was to Sedona, AZ!

Destination Ideas for a Road Trip with a Baby

If you are looking for some ideas for the best road trip with a baby, we can help. In addition to family road trips to see the grandparents, we’ve taken our kids on some great road trips. In addition, some of our readers were kind enough to write about their road trips with a baby as well!

Baby k'tan for newborn
We loved our family road trip to Sedona, AZ!
Visiting Prague with baby
Prague with a baby.

We often get inspiration for our road trip ideas from the Lonely Planet book Epic Drives of the World. As the road trip is an American institution, you won’t be surprised to find that there are 41 American road trips highlighted in this book.

If you are looking for a more of the best American road trips, Lonely Planet also publishes a book called USA’s Best Trips – 51 Amazing Road Trips.

road trips with babies and toddlers

This post was written & edited by:

info@babycantravel.com | Website | + posts

Celine Brewer is the owner of Baby Can Travel. Not only does she have years of experience traveling with babies & toddlers, but she's helped millions of new parents travel with their babies and toddlers for over a decade. In addition to writing on her baby travel blog, she has shared her expertise on traveling with a baby or toddler by contributing to articles about traveling with a baby with the Washington Post, USA Today, the Lonely Planet magazine and Pregnancy & Newborn magazine.

Celine also writes about family travel on the site FamilyCanTravel.com, which she co-owns with her husband. Being from the Canadian Rockies, she shares her passion about her home and travel to Banff National Park and area on their site TravelBanffCanada.com.

Read more about Celine Brewer.

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