The first time we took a long car trip with our son, he was only 4.5 months old. We drove 1000 miles, from where we are stationed in North Dakota, to where we are from, in Missouri. We were pretty nervous about traveling that far with a baby. I looked and looked but couldn’t really find any good information about what to do to make it easier for everyone, so we just had to guess, and change things as we went. My son is now 13 months old, and has made that trip from North Dakota to Missouri and back again three times. We’ve learned several things that do work, along with a few that don’t, during that time. These tips might not work for all babies, but they worked for mine.
Every baby is different. Some babies like sleeping in the car, others don’t. My son would sleep in the car but could stay awake if he wanted to. We found that it was best to leave in the morning around the time that he usually took his morning nap because of this. We went ahead and got him up and fed him breakfast at the usual time. Then while I finished packing (if it wasn’t already done) and got ready to go, my husband played with the baby. When he was small he got his tummy time then. When he got older, he spent the time crawling around. Once I was showered and changed, I would play with the baby and feed him again and change him while my husband got ready and packed the car up. I got the baby all ready for naptime by putting him in his pajamas and reading him his story. Then I gathered his favorite bedtime toy and a blankie and arranged him in his carseat while my husband took our house key to the neighbor and went over last minute details. Now we were ready to go.
One thing we learned on our first trip, was that it takes a lot longer to get somewhere with a baby. It’s much better to take a few minutes every 2-3 hours to get out and play with baby and feed him and take care of ALL of his needs, rather than listening to him cry. Sure we knew we would have to stop and feed and change him every 2-3 hours. We just didn’t realize how much time we were going to be spending out of the car so that he didn’t have to sit on his little rear end the entire time. Just walking around carrying him at rest stops really helped a lot. He got fresh air and got to stretch so he felt much better.
We also found it helpful to have someone sit in the backseat with the baby sometimes, so we could play with him and make faces. During our last trip we didn’t ever sit in the back because we had our animals with us, and our cat kept our son entertained the entire time. It is really important to keep baby entertained. It keeps them from sleeping too much during the day. And believe me, you don’t want a baby that has slept a lot more than they should have, especially if you are spending the night in a hotel!
You will, of course, be eating on your road trip. Stick with food for baby that you know he likes. Now is definitely not the time to introduce new foods. You don’t want to deal with a food allergy when on the road! Even if baby has never had food allergies before, they could easily show up with any new food.
Even though you are on the road, make sure your baby still gets exercise. You probably won’t be able to let your baby get as much exercise as he is used to, but he still needs some. If he can walk, let him walk into the bathroom or restaurant while he holds your hand. No matter how old your baby is, let him have some time, either in the morning, at night, or both, to play and exercise if you are staying in a hotel. You may think you don’t really have time for it, but babies who are better exercised are far less cranky! Less cranky babies do better in the car.
If you are going to have to spend the night in a hotel, it’s definitely a good idea to call ahead. If you don’t know where exactly you will be staying, try to line up a friend or family member who can call around to some hotels when you get close to the time you want to stop. We have always relied on my sister to look up hotels for us when we have traveled. It has saved us lots of time, especially during peak travel times. We had to spend the night in South Dakota the night after the Sturgis Rally ended! My sister called over a dozen hotels before finding us a room. It would have been a nightmare to find one by ourselves.
Most hotels have play yards that you can get when you check in. If baby is used to sleeping in a crib, he might have a hard time falling asleep in the play yard at first, but it will be easier for him to sleep in there than with you, unless he is used to sleeping with you. Our son is way too much of a mover to sleep with us. We tried it once but he couldn’t stand for us to hold onto him and I didn’t want him to fall off the bed. Neither of us got much sleep that night. Our son does much better to just go ahead and sleep in the play yard.
Be sure to follow baby’s routine as close as you can in the hotel. You baby will have a hard enough time adjusting to the new place even with familiarity. Taking away his routine will make it much harder. With our son, he has to sleep where he can see this Winnie the Pooh that plays lullabies and lights up. If we tried to go without it, we would have been setting ourselves up for failure! We also make sure to bring a few books so he still gets to choose one for his night night read.
Once you reach your destination, you still need to try to keep baby’s schedule pretty consistent. It would be nearly impossible in most cases, to keep the schedule exactly the same, but keeping it close will help a lot. If baby feels that his routine is still familiar it will really help him deal with all the new stuff. Stranger anxiety won’t be quite as pronounced if he knows what’s coming next. I know my son does much better for my sister and mom when we stay with them, as long as they stick to his routine. I guess he feels like as long as he knows what’s coming, he can still cope pretty well.
When traveling with your baby, keep these tips in mind. But remember that you know your baby best. Plan your trip to fit your family.