With the holidays around the corner, it’s likely that many of us will be traveling long distances to spend Christmas with family. But what do you do when you have to travel with a baby?
I’ll be honest, I was a bit nervous traveling the first time with our little guy.
The first trip we took him on was a seven hour drive not including stops. At that point, he was only about one month old. It was definitely a learning experience, and I’m happy to say that this year we made the same trip with fewer hiccups.
The trick was learning from our past mistakes–and you can too!
You don’t have to be afraid of traveling long distances with your baby. With proper preparation, you can travel just about anywhere with a baby.
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How To Rock Car Travel With A Baby
In this post I’m going to focus on traveling with a baby in a car. Don’t worry, I’ll cover plane travel in a future post–because we’ve done that too (when Elijah was a baby and a toddler)!
This poor kid has made six long trips in his one year of life. But! He survived, we survived, and really, the trips weren’t that bad at all. And, future trips with any additional babies we may have will be so much easier now that we know what to do and how to prepare.
So, let’s talk about how to prepare to travel with your baby, and then we’ll briefly cover how to make fast gas and food stops with a baby so that you can get to your destination faster.
1. Well Stocked Diaper Bag
The first thing you want to do is make sure that you bring a well stocked diaper bag. (We have this diaper bag, and have loved it for our son! Plus, it comes with eight matching pieces, including a bottle bag and clutch bag)
You’ll need the following:
- Diapers & Wipes (enough diapers to get through the day, plus a few extras in case – check out my favorites here)
- Diaper Cream
- Changing Pad (rest stop changing tables are cold, hard, and nasty)
- 1-2 Changes of Clothes
- Burp Cloths
- Extra Pacifier & Clip
- Plastic Grocery Bag (to put dirty diapers in if a trash can is unavailable)
- Wet Bag (to put dirty clothes in if needed)
- Sanitation Wipes (great for cleaning bottles, pump parts, pacifiers, tables, and more)
Depending on whether you are nursing or formula feeding, you’ll also want to bring:
- Nursing Pillow & Cover
- Cooler/Bottle Bag w/ Ice Pack
If you are feeding pumped breast milk, be sure to bring:
- Pump (electric with car or wall charger, manual as a backup)
- Pump Accessories
- Bottles & Storage Bags
- Sanitation Wipes (great for cleaning bottles and parts on the go)
- Plastic Ziplock Bags (to put dirty parts & bottles in)
- Portable Bottle Warmer
2. Keep Essentials Within Easy Reach
For a smooth car ride with your baby, be sure to put all your essentials within easy reach.
That means your diaper bag, any baby toys, snacks and drinks should all be within easy reach from where you are sitting (presumably in the front seat). Don’t put these things in the trunk where you won’t be able to get what you need when you need it.
Things will go much smoother if you have a system set up so that you don’t have to go digging for things.
Plus, this allows you to get things ready to go as you approach a rest stop or gas station you plan to stop at. That way, you can have your diapering essentials ready to go, so that you can get the baby out and changed quickly while your spouse or travel partner gasses up the car.
3. Provide Toys Suited For Car Travel
If your baby is still young, the good news is he will likely sleep a large part of the ride.
I remember the first long car trip we took with Elijah, he slept almost the entire time (and still slept fine that night too!).
The feel of the moving car frequently puts babies to sleep, so if your little one sleeps most of the time anyway, you’ll probably be in luck.
If, however, your baby spends a large time awake every day, you may find that he is able to remain alert in the car.
In case of this, you’ll want to bring a few toys along that he can play with during the trip.
Whatever toy you choose to bring along, be sure it is one that will not be easily lost (and definitely one that your baby has no chance of choking on!). Many toys have clips you can attach to the car seat, or you can get a car seat toy like this one.
4. Dress Baby Appropriately
When you’re traveling a long time in the car, you want to make sure your baby is dressed appropriately.
If it’s winter or very cold outside, resist the urge to bundle your little one up in heavy or puffy coats or jackets. Puffy jackets are actually unsafe to use while in a car seat, because it hinders the straps from tightening enough to protect your child in case of an accident.
Additionally, overdressing your child can lead to him overheating–especially if you have the heat on in the car!
For long trips, stick with a simple outfit such as a onesie (long sleeve or short, depending on the weather) and pants.
Then, try to not overheat the car or overuse the AC. Instead, shoot for a comfortable, room temperature range.
When you make stops, you can always put a coat or jacket on your little one before getting out of the car.
5. Keep Bottle or Snacks In Easy Reach
If your little one is using a bottle, be sure to keep this and any formula or breast milk (in a cooler) within reach. Having these items easily accessible will allow you to reach and prepare bottles prior to stops, so that you can feed your baby as soon as you stop.
Do remember that you will still need to burp your baby every time you feed him, even if you try to feed him a bottle while in his car seat. The best thing to do is to stop when your baby needs to eat, feed him, burp him, change him, and then continue on with your trip.
Having to stop to feed when you travel with a baby can be a hassle and slow you down some, but with practice and know-how you can cut down on the time it takes.
How To Make Fast Stops With Baby
Now, briefly I want to give you the run down on how to make fast stops when you travel with a baby.
1. Have A Plan
Have a plan for how you want to run your stops, and make sure everyone knows what it is.
For example, when we went on a trip with our son when he was one month old, this was our plan for stops.
As soon as we stopped, I would take Elijah in to the restroom and change his diaper while my husband put gas in the car. He was usually done gassing up when we finished, and he would then take Elijah and feed him a bottle.
During this time I would go back in and use the restroom. When I was done, I would take over feeding the baby if he was still eating, or burp him and get him back in his car seat while my husband used the restroom.
By the end of our trip, we were pretty good at this system.
You can do it the way we did, or come up with your own routine for stops. Just be sure to have a plan to make each stop quick and smooth.
2. Have Everything Ready To Go
The best way to have quick stops is to have everything you need ready to go.
That means have everything you need to change a diaper ready to take in with you.
Pro Tip: Our diaper bag came with a smaller diaper clutch that we used to carry Elijah’s diapers, wipes, and changing pad with us into the restroom. It saved us from having to lug his entire diaper bag in with us every time, and was super handy. Just remember to refill it when you get back on the road so it’s ready to go for your next stop!
If you plan to feed during your stop, have the bottle all ready to go when you pull in to the gas station or restaurant (wherever you plan to stop!). Planning to nurse? Have your cover (if you plan to use a cover) ready to go and your nursing pillow handy.
Having your stuff together and ready to go as soon as you pull in to the parking lot will make your stops so much quicker, and you’ll save a lot of time. Believe me, you’ll want to save all the time you can when you travel with a baby!
Have you taken your little one on a long car trip before? I’d love for you to share your experiences with me in the comments below!