Nine Tips for Surviving Road Trips with a Baby on Board
Chances are you’ll be doing some traveling over the holiday season. If your family includes a new baby, Princess Ivana shares nine tips to help the journey go as smoothly as possible.
If you’re a new mom, driving much farther than your own zip code might sound more than daunting. Instead of sugarplums, the visions that are dancing in your head involve hours of non-stop crying, the smell of dirty diapers, and spit-up all over the back seat. Especially if you have older children too, the thought of confining everyone in a sedan, van, or SUV for hours at a time might be enough to turn you into a stay-at-home Scrooge.
“Yes, it’s true that road trips with infants have the potential to take the ‘happy’ out of the holidays and trips,” says Princess Ivana Pignatelli Aragona Cortes, a featured blogger at Modern Mom, founder of Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess, and coauthor of A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year. “Fortunately, some strategic planning can make driving over the river and through the woods much more bearable for everyone.”
Ivana speaks from experience. As a mother of two with a busy holiday calendar, she has participated in her fair share of road trips involving rear-facing car seats.
“Over time, I’ve learned a lot of travel disaster lessons in the School of Hard Knocks—and I’ve also developed some crisis-averting strategies that have turned out to be real lifesavers,” she says. “As simple as it sounds, anticipating issues and being prepared for contingencies can mean the difference between ‘fa la las’ and ‘bah, humbugs’!”
Here, Ivana shares nine mom-tested tips to keep you, your baby, and the rest of your passengers happy during holiday road trips:
Make a list and check it twice. When you’re packing for yourself and one or more children, it’s all too easy to forget essential items, despite your best intentions. That’s why Ivana suggests starting early. Make a list of everything you want to bring and check each item off once it’s in the car.
“When packing your baby gear specifically, take however many extra outfits, burp cloths, bibs, diapers, and pacis you think you will need—then double it,” she instructs. “Better safe than sorry! And Murphy’s Law of Babies says if you err on the side of less, you’ll always end up needing what you don’t have. Also, don’t forget to pack plenty of plastic baggies or grocery bags in which to store any soiled laundry.”
Take blowout containment measures. As a new mom you live in perpetual fear of the dreaded diaper blowout—but at no time is this baby bathroom emergency more inconvenient than in a moving vehicle. The last thing you want to do at a rest stop is attempt to clean your child, a car seat, and possibly your vehicle’s upholstery with paper towels and freezing tap water!
“Unfortunately, blowouts are more likely to happen in the car because of your baby’s positioning in the car seat,” shares Ivana. “However, you can take steps to contain the mess. Put a burp cloth or thin blanket underneath your baby in the car seat—just make sure it’s nothing too bulky that might compromise the safety of the seat. This way, you’ll have to switch out only the cloth and your baby’s clothes, not the entire seat.”
Listen to a new version of “White Christmas.” It might not be as melodious as Bing Crosby’s holiday classic, but it might be to your advantage to play a new track as you head down the interstate: white noise.
“White noise can calm fussy babies down, and even help them fall asleep,” shares Ivana. “I recommend downloading a white noise app on your smartphone or tablet. If you don’t have those devices, just switch to a static radio station and turn up the volume!”
Prepare for meals on the go. One of the many road trip responsibilities you’ll have to juggle is your baby’s feedings. If you’re bottle feeding, Ivana recommends filling bottles with water ahead of time. You can either buy single serving formula packs or use a dispenser that allows you to pre-measure formula. These options will make preparing bottles in the car much easier.
“If you’re breastfeeding, invest in a car adapter for your pump,” she continues. “Be sure to include sanitizing wipes to clean up after each pumping since there will be no soap and water in the car.”
Bundle up strategically. If the temperature is cold outside, your instinct might be to bundle baby up in his warmest clothes. But that might be a mistake. Babies can easily get hot and sweaty in their seats, so it’s smarter to dress them in lighter layers.
“You can always cover your baby up with a blanket or two if he seems too cold,” Ivana points out. “Keeping your youngest traveler comfortable makes for a much more pleasant trip for everyone.”
Hit the road when it’s best for baby… Think about your baby’s best time of day when planning your travel. For most infants, early morning is the happiest and easiest time of day.
“If you travel in the late afternoon or evening, when most babies tend to be fussiest, your trip can seem to take twice as long as it actually does,” observes Ivana. “Plus, if you pull out of the driveway bright and early, you might also beat some of that dreaded holiday traffic.”
…and give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. You may be thinking, Duh! Every amateur knows that! but the advice bears repeating. It always takes longer to get out of the house than you think it will. Traffic jams tend to pop up at the most inconvenient times. You might encounter an unexpected detour. And you never know when a tantrum or dirty diaper will erupt.
“Thinking back on my family’s many trips, I don’t believe there has been even one that went without a hitch,” Ivana recalls. “And that’s normal! Make sure your time margins are as wide as possible. Leave a half-hour or more earlier than you think you need to. Otherwise, you may find yourself in the middle of a meltdown.”
Be a backseat mom. If you don’t need to be in the driver’s seat, and space permits, sit in the backseat with your baby so that you’re on hand to entertain, feed, retrieve dropped pacis, etc.
“Being able to quickly respond to fussiness, as opposed to waiting until you can pull over (or developing a killer crick in your neck after twisting around in your seat for the 100th time), is easiest on everyone,” Ivana notes. “The sooner you can soothe and calm your baby, the more holiday cheer everyone will feel. And if you’re in baby’s line of sight, she might not be as fussy to begin with!”
Start your gift-giving early. If you have older children, consider purchasing kid-friendly headphones, as well as a few audiovisual distractions (like DVDs, music, and games that can be played on a tablet), and parceling them out at the beginning of the car trip.
“Your kids will be thrilled with these new toys,” Ivana promises. “Even better, their headphones mean that they won’t disturb a sleeping baby—your ultimate travel goal! And when baby does get upset, headphones will keep older siblings from becoming upset or agitated by the noise.”
“If you take these suggestions into account, you can maximize your chances of getting where you’re headed—and still being in a good mood when you arrive!” Ivana promises. “Expect there to be a few incidents during your journey regardless of how much planning you do, though—there is no such thing as a picture perfect road trip with an infant! That said, I hope you travel safely and make wonderful memories during what’s probably your baby’s first holiday season.”
Ivana is the author of A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year, which was co-written with her mother, Magdalene Smith, and her sister, Marisa Smith. Their blog, Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess, is a blend of humor, practical advice, and lifestyle tips on the essentials. Ivana is also a featured blogger on Modern Mom.