Before Acacia was 5 months old we had already driven over 4,000 miles with her through 6 states and taken multiple 3-hour trips to visit family in Northern Idaho. Trust me, I did the math. A lot of people looked at us like we were crazy when we told them that we were planning on taking our 3 month old daughter on a road trip across the Southwest. Others offered us words of encouragement and shared their own experiences from traveling with young children. My thinking was that the younger we got Acacia accustomed to driving in the car for long periods of time, the easier road trips will be as she grows older. Please be right, Chanel. It wasn’t always easy or fun, sometimes it was messy, and I may or may not have had an emotional breakdown or two along the way, but I feel like finally we mastered the delicate art of road trippin’ with a baby. Today I have thrown together a list featuring some personal tips that helped our travels go a lot more smoothly, with fewer temper tantrums from both the baby and parents! 😉
- BE FLEXIBLE & PATIENT
Road trips have always been my thing. It’s been a family tradition every summer and we often go on multiple ones. Traveling is a cleansing and freeing experience for me; I always feel like I come back a new person…unfortunately with a baby it’s often the exact opposite of “freeing”. One must to go into traveling with a baby having an entirely different mindset than before. Ya dig, my young grasshopper? You need to have the patience to stop and change a blow-out in the middle of the desert, even though you just stopped for gas 15 minutes ago. You also need to have the flexibility to jump in the backseat for an hour or so to entertain your baby if you have to. If you go into it mentally prepared for mis-haps that (I guarantee) will happen along the way and pack accordingly, road trips with your new baby can be the exciting and memorable experience you want it to be!
- TOYS & COMFORT ITEMS
There are times when I drive 5 minutes down the road and forget to bring a pacifier for Acacia…I usually regret it. If I’m driving for longer than 15 minutes, then I better have a stash of toys because she gets bored real fast. Be ready to pack toys-on-toys-on toys to entertain your little one during a long road trip, and it seems like the older they get the more toys you need to keep them from getting bored. Acacia’s binky and blanket are essential comfort items for calming her down when she’s upset and getting her to sleep. We usually rock her to sleep every night before bed, but the movement from driving usually does the trick. If she ever has a hard time falling asleep we play some soothing music to help soothe her.
- PREPARE BOTTLES / SNACKS
Prearranged snacks and bottles will save your life on the road. You’ll be able to easily hand your little one a Tupperware full of their favorite snacks or you can hop in the back and chow down with them. It usually keeps them happy for quite a while. During our long road trip through CA & AZ, Acacia wasn’t old enough for regular food yet, so having her formula pre-measured inside our favorite Twistshake containers made it easy because we didn’t have to make a mess by measuring it inside the car. We pre-filled the bottles with distilled water and so all we had to do was dump the formula inside and shake it up. It made feeding her on-the-go much easier!
- EMERGENCY KIT
Everyone should be prepared for the worst case scenario during travels. Adding a baby to the equation just puts an even bigger responsibility on your shoulders and if you’re like me, once you became a parent you were cursed with worrying all the time. The craziest scenarios are constantly running through my head and it drives Dustin insane because he constantly has to reassure me that everything is going to be okay. Nevertheless, It’s a good idea to pack your trunk with any emergency items that you and your baby would need just in case. A first aid kit, a couple of gallons of water, extra blankets, baby medicine, extra formula and/or breast milk, along with extra wipes and diapers are just a few items that we packed in our emergency bag.
- WINDOW SHADE / CANOPY
A window shade is something that we didn’t have during our long road trip with Acacia that I desperately regretted not buying. Instead, we made our own DIY-window shade by rolling part of a blanket up in the window to block the sun from her eyes. It made her a lot more comfortable which made it easier for her to nap, which made everyone in the car happy. Using a car seat canopy would work too. We have a cute blue one, but I thought Acacia would enjoy being able to see her surroundings a lot more without it.
- TAKE LONGER, FEWER STOPS
Before having a baby, I was used to taking short pit-stops to refuel, take a bathroom break, stretch and buy some snacks, however when you have a baby on the road I’ve found that it can be a lot more beneficial to take longer stops. This actually made it possible for us to drive for longer periods of time and take fewer stops, because she would usually be tired after stopping and would fall back asleep once we started driving again. Mapping out your destination ahead of time and picking a few stops to get out and at eat a restaurant or walk through an interpretive center would be a smart idea. Or you could just be spontaneous and make random stops along the way!
I made sure CC’s baby carrier and stroller were easily accessible so we could spend a longer time walking around during our stops and explore the area. We normally do fast food runs to save time during our road trips, but this time we decided to eat at local restaurants along the way which I highly suggest. We stopped at a restaurant in Winnemucca and the adults took turns going next door to the casino to play some slots and roulette. In San Louis Obispo, we walked around the shops and ordered coffee before heading over to the beach to watch the sunset. We also made a pit stop just outside the Grand Canyon, at a trading post in Cameron, AZ for some Navajo Tacos. Long stops like these seemed like they were going to be a burden at first, but ended up making our road trip way more fun and added a lot of value to our experiences along the way. It’s definitely something we will continue to do even as she gets older.
- STRETCH YOUR BABY OUT
You know that feeling when you’ve been driving in a car for hours and you finally get out of the car and you take the biggest stretch of your life and it’s the most reliving feeling ever? Well, imagine being locked inside a car seat, in the same position for hours on end and not being able to fully stretch out…ugh horrible. Unless she was sleeping, I would get Acacia out during our stops and lay her down in the back seat so she could stretch and get all her wiggles out. I would also pump her legs and stretch her arms for her a little bit.
- SIT IN THE BACKSEAT
There were a few times that Acacia was fussing so bad and absolutely nothing would make her stop except for me or Dustin getting in the back and sitting next to her. You should definitely be ready and willing to alternate time sitting in the back with your baby, as I’ve found that sometimes it’s the easiest way to maintain a peaceful car ride.
- A MIRROR
Another item we didn’t have during our long road trip with Acacia was a mirror. I was constantly unbuckling my seatbelt and turning around in my seat to check on her the whole time. Having a mirror hung on the backseat would have not only have kept her more entertained, but would have also made it a lot easier for us to check on her while driving.
- SYNC YOUR SCHEDULES
Some people like to sync the driving schedule with their baby’s sleep schedule. Luckily, Acacia has always slept 9 or more hours a night, with a solid 2-3 hour nap in the afternoons. I’ve never liked taking road trips in the middle of the night because it doesn’t feel as safe or relaxing, and you aren’t able to enjoy the scenery. That being said, syncing with her sleep schedule wasn’t an option for us. However she ended up taking extra long naps during the trip and would still fall asleep at her usual time of 9 o clock, which gave us some time to ourselves to wind down and talk before stopping at a hotel.
- PACK AND PLAY / BASSINET
This seems like an obvious one, because it is, but where and how you plan on having your baby sleep during your trip is very important. We bought a pack and play that we would set up next to our bed and it worked great! It doubled as an activity center because it was big enough for her to hang out in and safely play with her toys while we were getting ready for the day or packing everything up. We also brought along our Dock A Tot in case we decided to have her sleep in bed with us. I’ve also seen some sleek-looking portable bassinets that would be a nice alternative to a larger pack and play.
- A SENSE OF HUMOR
I remember driving in the middle of the California desert; we had just barely stopped at a gas station to fill up on gas and change Acacia. We were getting onto the freeway when…first we heard it and then we smelled it…Acacia had a blow-out and a bad one at that. We had to stop at the nearest, safest place to pull over and change her diaper, her clothes, clean her car seat, and wrap up all the dirty clothes in her blanket that she somehow managed get poop all over too, and throw everything in the trunk for the remainder of the drive.
It was awful. But all we could do was laugh because she’s not going to be a baby forever which means that these mis-haps aren’t going to happen forever either. Eventually she’ll be old enough to laugh about these memories with us and (hopefully) not shit herself all over the car. The point of this story is, that your attitude shapes the outcome of a situation. We could have been pissed off that we were 30 minutes behind schedule because we had to stop again and clean everything up, but that would have set a negative tone for the rest of the drive. Instead we decided to laugh about it and roll with the punches, which overall made the rest of our drive a great one!
So tell me, what are your favorite tips for surviving road trips with babies and young kids?