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Baby R was 9 months old when we decided to visit our friends in Florida. We looked at plane tickets, the cost of renting a car, and asked around for a pack-n-play. It was going to be so easy to fly – wake up a little earlier than usual, frolic through the tiny local airport, and be at the beach in less than two hours.
Neither of us would have to drive, and we would have an entire extra day when we got there! We would pack only the essentials and our friends would let us borrow anything we needed. It was going to be great.
But, it was going to be way too expensive.
I panicked. How the heck were we going to drive 10 hours with a 9 month old whose on the verge of walking? It’s not fair to leave your baby in the car seat for 4 or 5 hours at a time. The traffic is always bad and we’re leaving on a Friday?! Sheesh.
We were determined to see our friends. They did so much for us while I was pregnant, plus my husband needed a vacation.
We took a deep breath, told ourselves plenty of families do it with MULTIPLE babies, and got ready for the ride. It ended up being so much fun and the least-stressful road trip we’ve ever taken.
Here’s how to have a successful road trip with baby.
1. Pack the car the day before.
You don’t want to be rushing around the house grabbing random things as you head out the door for your trip. Having random piles in your car will only cause stress and confusion. Packing the night before will help to ensure that you get everything you need to take with you.
Make sure the essentials are within reach. Keep snacks and water nearby. Leave space in the backseat in case you need to crawl back there mid-drive, and keep baby’s favorites in the seat compartment for easy reach.
Keeping baby’s diaper bag in the front seat with you makes quick stops for diaper changes easy.
Taking a cooler? Pack it, leave it open in the fridge, and grab it on your way out. I love this soft cooler for road trips.
Waking up early? Throw a blanket and pillow in the back so the passenger can rest and get ready for their turn to drive.
Need more ideas about what to pack? Read more here.
2. Pack baby’s breakfast the night before so you don’t forget it.
Plan to take something you know baby likes and something that is easy to eat. Think finger foods – muffins, fruit, bagels. Pouches are also convenient for road trips, although we prefer to use them as a snack rather than a meal.
We packed an oatmeal muffin for our first stop. You can always snack or grab something at a gas station, but most places won’t have vegan mama approved, baby-friendly food.
3. Wake up early (like, really early).
Your goal here is to let baby sleep as much as possible on the trip before waking up for breakfast. You also want to beat all rush hours of any big cities you may be driving through. Rush hours and heavy traffic do not bode well with a baby stuck in a car seat.
I told my husband we needed to wake up early and leave. We were headed to Florida on a Friday (poor planning on our part!), so we needed to beat rush hour everywhere. He didn’t believe that we would do it, but I set my alarm for 2:15am. We were up by 2:20 and ready to go!
4. Prep your coffee/tea the night before.
You can bring iced coffee and put it in your cooler if you aren’t ready for coffee at 2am. The Yeti kept my husband’s coffee hot until he was ready to drink it at around 4am. I drank my iced dirty chai at around 11 for an energy boost!
Stopping for coffee wasn’t an option for us because we wanted to save money and time.
5. Wear what you’re going to wear in the car to bed.
Most people like to be comfortable on long road trips, especially if they are waking up early. You can always put an outfit on top in your bag if you want to change on your way there. I opted for cropped yoga pants and a tank top. It was also surprisingly cold the morning we left, so I wore a flannel over my tank.
6. Transfer your sleepy, sleeping baby to the car.
I was so nervous about transferring Baby R to her car seat. We had never woken her while she was sleeping, and she’s a pretty light sleeper. But, I was determined!
After making our coffee, doing some quick stretches, putting the cooler in the car, and wiping the sleep from our eyes, my husband started the car. I asked him to turn off the car door light and get in the car. I didn’t want any noises to startle the baby awake, so no doors closing after she was in her car seat.
When I lifted her from her crib, she instantly opened her eyes. She knew something wasn’t normal. I kept her in her PJs and sleepsack and didn’t change her diaper. We slowly walked to the car. My husband opened the door for us (he’s seriously the best). I nursed her and put her in her car seat.
I stayed in the back with her so I wouldn’t make any noise. She fussed for about 2 minutes, but then slept for 4 hours. Yep, we were 4 hours into our 10 hour road trip before she woke up. It was GREAT!
If you aren’t nursing, a pacifier or the rumble of the car would help ease baby back to sleep.
7. Plan for 1 or 2 long stops.
Some would suggest to stop somewhere for the night halfway, but we really wanted to get there. It would have caused baby more distress to have to sleep in two different places while away from home. We wanted to get there, get settled, and see our friends.
Keep baby happy by stopping at least once for an hour. Find a park nearby using Google Maps. You will be pleasantly surprised by how many there are. Rest areas are also great places to stop to snack and let baby play. We enjoyed the parks because we had them all to ourselves – bathrooms and all 😉
We enjoyed stretching our legs and letting baby play in the grass while we made veggie wraps. The day before we left, I steamed carrots and broccoli, baked tofu, and sliced fruit for baby’s lunch and road snacks. We ate together at the picnic tables under the park pavilions, baby bouncing on the seat.
After lunch, we took advantage of having the playground to ourselves. Baby R had never been on a swing or slide!
The stop at the park was exactly what she needed so she would ride peacefully on the last part of the trip.
8. Avoid sit-down restaurants.
Oh, the joys of full service restaurants! They are wonderful in lots of ways, especially if you’ve been driving since 3am. However, baby doesn’t want to sit still any longer. Avoid sit-down restaurants and pack your own meals.
9. Be flexible.
I’ve heard stories of my grandfather never stopping for road trips. My great grandmother had a pee bucket in the front seat. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it would be to sit for 10-12 hours straight. (And how smelly!)
As you’ve probably learned by now, things don’t normally go as planned with a baby. Remember that your baby is growing and becomes uncomfortable, just like you do after sitting for hours. If you need to stop multiple times, keep in mind that it’ll be worth it. Try to stay positive so your long drive isn’t miserable.
10. Have fun!
You’re off and away! You can do this, mom and dad. Relax and enjoy the ride. This is one of the biggest “first” memories for your scrapbook, baby book, etc. Make it a fun one!
I hope these tips for your first road trip with baby. What other advice can you offer to new parents?