Dec 23, 2021
Now that you have a baby in tow you begin to wonder what this whole vacation life will look like. Car trips don't sound too difficult so you begin to plan for your first road trip with your new bundle of joy, but you wonder if you are missing something.
Let me help you go through the essentials of planning a road trip with a baby. My 3 kids and I have taken plenty of road trips when my kids were baby. This article is written through my own expertise as a momma.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase. Rest assured all products I suggest are products I have bought or would buy based on personal experience or through my network of other mommas.
The first no brainer would be the car seat. How else are you going to drive your baby around? Most likely you already have one of these, unless you don’t own a car and will be needing to rent one.
A baby should be in an infant car seat and rear facing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is in charge of establishing and maintaining safety regulations for children in motor vehicles. Children who weigh up to 80 lbs must be in a child restraint while in a car. For babies they should be in a five point harness, rear facing and within the height and weight limitations of the car seat. All car seats for babies are required to have the latch system (USA). In Europe they use the ISO FIT.
The safest position for the infant car seat is the middle seat of the second row of your vehicle. According to WebMD article
"Children seated in the center rear have a 43% lower risk of injury compared with children in a rear outboard position."WebMD
I recommend installing a mirror in front of your baby so you can see your baby while driving. Otherwise you will have no way to look at your baby’s face to see if something is amiss.
According to pediatrician Dina DiMaggio, she recommends no more than 4 to 6 hours overnight or 2 to 3 hours during the day before taking a break.
It is important at these intervals to get your baby out, feed, change and let your baby move around. The car seat keeps your baby in the same slightly upright position; it is important for your baby’s spine development to limit how long your baby is in that position.
Providing a safe sleep spot for your baby should be high on your priority list. Babies should not sleep in their car seat once you arrive at your destination; your baby should sleep flat on his/her back. Back sleeping is the safest way for a baby to sleep and reduces the chances of SIDS.
Hotels and Airbnb’s sometimes will provide a travel crib when requested. Another alternative is to bring your own travel crib with you. If bringing your own you will want to make sure you plan how much space the crib will take in your car, ease of use and safety requirements.
Pack-n-plays are common to bring, although I find the Lotus Travel Crib the best pick for those who travel often.
Read Best Travel Crib for more options and suggestions.
Always plan to bring the items that a baby is used to when falling asleep at home. My babies, no matter where we were, always fell asleep listening to a sound machine, in their swaddles or sleep sacks. Do not forget these items!
On a road trip with a baby at some stage you arrive at your destination. You need to plan for how you will be carrying your baby. Will a stroller do? Or are you planning on hiking with a baby where a soft structured carrier or hiking backpack would be more appropriate?
A travel stroller will need to fit in your car with all your luggage. I recommend using one that can fit between the passenger seats and front row seats. This frees up room in your trunk for your luggage and other essentials. Also it is convenient to always keep in your car, as you never know when you will need it.
I use the Mountain Buggy Nano stroller and highly recommend it for traveling mommas. Not only does it fit well in your car, picture below, but also can fit in the overhead compartment on an airplane.
If your flying with your baby make sure to check out **Tips On Flying With A Bab**y.
If you are planning on a hiking trip you should plan on bringing a soft structured carrier for babies younger than 6 months old and a hiking backpack for babies older than 6 months.
Once my babies were older than 6 months and big enough to fit in the hiking backpacks I stopped hiking with them in the Lillebaby. A hiking backpack, I found, is a more comfortable way to carry a heavier baby up and down mountains and it gives the baby more space and the ability to look around.
Lillebaby does offer a back carrying option, however, I still prefer my Kelty hiking backpacks for older babies. Hiking backpacks offer you more space to carry snacks, water, diaper changing supplies and anything else you might want with you on your hike.
I still used my Lillebaby to carry my baby on walks around my neighborhood up to 1 year old.
If your baby has begun his/her journey with solid foods don’t stop! Bring along a travel highchair to continue your baby’s progress with food.
My go to travel highchair is the Hiccapop Omniboost Travel High chair. This high chair comes in a convenient over the shoulder bag, weighs little and takes up minimal space in my car. I can use it anywhere, with or without a seat to attach it to. It makes it a perfect seat to bring while camping/hiking.
Read a complete list of packing for a road trip for all my suggestions.
Hotel vs Airbnb/Vrbo
The big question of where to stay once you reach your destination has changed for me since having kids. Before kids hotels seemed like a great option for a quick getaway, but with a baby is it still the easiest choice?
In a hotel room you most likely have one room, unless you dish out the money for a two bedroom suite. Once you put your baby to bed you will be confined to that room, trying to stay as quiet as possible. This might be okay for a night or if you plan on being out most the day, but not ideal if you want some baby free time while your baby sleeps or if you want some room for your baby to play.
Hotels often have portable cribs, ask before booking your stay. This could eliminate your need to bring your own travel crib.
Hotels might offer you a bigger selection and more amenities that you might not have at someone’s house, such as free breakfast, pool, fitness center or cleaning service.
Airbnb or Vrbo give you the option to rent a whole house/cottage/or room. The benefit of renting a house is parents' freedom to put their baby to bed in one room and enjoy themselves in another room. Also renting a house gives you accessibility to a kitchen.
Some Airbnb/Vrbo will provide a travel crib, make sure you ask before booking.
Eating every meal in a restaurant gets a bit harder with a baby. Babies can be cranky and sometimes meal times are easier if you eat in rather than going out. A house gives you more flexibility to play things by ear.
Another added benefit is the extra space. You will appreciate the additional space when you want to lay down a mat for tummy time or give your baby space to learn to crawl. A hotel room can be quite small and cramped in comparison.
If you are planning on staying at a friend or family’s house then you are all set! Just make sure you bring a travel crib if they do not have one.
A couple considerations to think about:
If the drive is similar in length to your baby’s nap I would suggest driving during nap time. Before setting off, change and feed your baby then pop them in their carseat and head out. This works well if your baby sleeps well in their carseat.
If the drive is long you have a couple options. You can choose to start the drive during the night when your baby naturally will be sleeping, although this will interrupt your sleep. Or, you can choose to drive during the day and stop every couple of hours.
Driving during awake hours might result in a very fussy baby. Your stops might need to be longer for your baby to stretch and not feel confined. When driving it is advised for someone to sit in the back seat with your baby to keep them entertained. However, if your baby doesn’t sleep at all in the carseat this might be your only option.
I prefer to drive during the night for longer car trips. I would rather sacrifice my sleep than have to listen to an unhappy baby for hours. Also my babies have always slept well in their carseat.
Pro Tip: if you drive through the night and traveling with another adult, take shifts driving. Therefore both adults can get a little shut eye on the trip. Also bring COFFEE!
Lastly you want to consider when you can check in at your accommodation. Most places don’t allow you to check in till the afternoon. If this is the case driving through the night will result in a morning arrival.
Research the area you will be staying and find what you can do until check in. For example a small hike in the area, a place for lunch, or a nice park to hang out in.
Traveling with a baby can be unpredictable. Your baby might get sick on the trip, be fussy from teething or be in their best mood; you cannot predict which mood they will be in.
Be prepared and expect hiccups along the way.
Babies need to eat frequently. You will have to stop every 2-3 hours during the day to feed your little one. Do not feed a baby in a moving vehicle.
Babies have blowouts. Blowouts can occur whenever so be prepared to stop and handle the situations. Always have your diaper bag stocked.
Plan your stops or have a good idea of stop possibilities. If driving during the day find stop options every two hours or so. If driving overnight ,find a good stop for the morning for breakfast and a longer time out of the car (think park or nice town to walk around).
Baby toys that are not attached to their carseat will get dropped. Your baby will cry and you will be craning your neck looking for it while driving. Best car toys for babies are the ones attached to their carseat. I used the toys like the one below on my boys' car seats when they were babies.
Music can be a welcome distract to your baby. Be prepared to put on music that will soothe your baby or songs that they recognize. Any distraction might alleviate an unhappy baby.
Babies will cry, this doesn’t make you a bad parent. Often my baby would cry extremely loudly one moment and the next minute be sleeping soundly.
My top destinations to travel with a baby involve lots of outdoor time.
This is my personal favorite. I love to hike with my babies and soak in my outdoor time. The mountains don’t have to be extreme, but any length of days where I get to go outside for a hike does my soul good.
I personally think you should come back from a vacation more fit then before you left!
Beach can be a nice relaxing time. Just make sure you bring the right baby beach gear equipment like a sun shade! Also babies are notorious for trying to eat sand so be on the lookout.
City breaks can be a nice time for the parents to walk around, eat some good food and get some culture. Baby wearing is ideal for the city and your baby will love watching the excitement around them.
Traveling to introduce your baby to other family members is a great road trip. Most likely your family will want to hold and cuddle your baby which will give you some down time. Unless your little one is only wanting momma or stranger danger phase.
Either way it is always nice to surround yourself with family.