Traveling with a child changes…almost everything.
If you’re like me, the simple thought of traveling with a young child can be intimidating. I know it was for me even though I love to travel. I have always dreamed of taking my children wonderful places.
Then, after you have a child, you realize that traveling is not going to be near as simple as it was before. The reality is, almost everything changes..
If you’ve traveled with a baby, and experienced any of the following “issues” I had, then you can laugh along with my misfortunes. If you have not yet traveled with a baby, then hopefully you’ll be able to avoid some…discomfort while traveling by following me along through my journey.
*(You know well enough that every child is different…and what worked [or didn’t work] for my child might not work for yours).
Several months ago I decided to visit family that lives about 10-11 hours away. My first plan was to fly there. We had already taken our daughter (LL – Little Lady) on a couple flights so we knew that she would fly well, because it takes much less time. However, after looking into plane tickets and renting a car and the cost of it all, I decided to drive.
The thought of driving 11 hours with my baby scared me, so I asked family and friends that had traveled with little ones for ideas of what to do or expect. I am happy to say that the drive there and back went so much better than expected because of the ideas I got from them.
Here are my tips on taking a 12-month-old baby on a road trip (you can apply these to younger and older children as well, making them age appropriate for your own child).
I had planned to wake up at about 5am to finish packing the car and LL. (I packed up the car the night before and only left food, cooler items, and my purse to pack the morning of the trip). However, when LL woke up at 4am I decided to “go with it” and did everything else earlier. Since she was awake, I fed her (I was breastfeeding at the time) to help her fall back asleep. I then put her back in her crib, packed up the car, and made sure everything else was ready before finally strapping her in the car seat*.
*Before you put your child in the car, feed them (whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding) and change their diaper. This way you start with a clean, happy baby.
By leaving early, hopefully your child will quickly fall back asleep in the car and sleep for the first several hours of the drive. LL usually sleeps 12 hours at night and would usually not wake up until between 7-8 am. I put her in the car at about 4:30 am and she fell back asleep by 5:00 and slept for about two to three hours.
Pump in the Car
At the time of this trip, I was still breastfeeding on-demand every 2-3 hours. I did not want to make a 10-11 hour drive even longer by having to stop every 2 hours to feed her, so I decided to take my breast pump in the car and pump on the drive. (If you do this it is recommended to pump in the backseat so that you are not at risk of an airbag going off while you are pumping and causing damage to your breasts…that would not be good).
I pumped while she was sleeping so that when she woke up wanting milk, I had it available for her. To make pumping easy I used the Kiinde Twist attachment to my pump and pumped directly into the bags and added the bottle nipple to the bag when my daughter was ready to drink, it worked great.
You can also pump before your trip and have 1-2 bottles ready to use. Your baby will determine how often you will need to pump. If you usually go 4-5 hours between feedings then you probably won’t need to pump. I pumped for two reasons: my breast comfort and to provide my daughter milk while we were driving so we could avoid stopping more often.
I pumped once during each drive and then fed her when we stopped for gas or food. We only had to make 2 stops the entire 11 hour drive, this was to get gas, to go to the bathroom, to change her diaper, and to eat (both for me and her).
If you are not breastfeeding then make sure that you have one to two bottles ready and easily available for when your baby needs them.
Have Easy and Non-Messy Snacks
With your child confined to a car seat, you want them to be able to eat while you are on the move. It was great to have snacks and food items that I could hand to LL to feed herself. Crackers, puffs, rice husks, oatmeal cream pies (my personal favorite for road trips – for me, LL could eat them when we made stops), and other similar food items are great. If your child does well with the puree pouches, and won’t squeeze it out all over themselves, then those are a great option as well. Then, when you make a stop around lunchtime you can both eat more of an actual meal.
I learned the hard way that while cheese sticks are easy for LL to feed herself, they smell horrible when they come back up! I do NOT recommend cheese sticks for kids on a road trip because they tend to not settle very well in the stomach when in a moving vehicle. And they might throw up the most horrible-smelling vomit ever. Trust me…you do not want to clean that up. And you do not want that smell in your car the rest of the drive.
Bring Toys and Books Your Child Loves
When your child is awake they are going to want to be entertained. Make sure that they have multiple options of things to play with and look at while stuck in their car seat. It’s a great way to keep them happy. I brought stuffed animals, board books, and link rings.
I also had this mirror that helped a ton. This way I could see LL from the front seat without having to turn around all the time. She also LOVED being able to see herself and would entertain herself by talking to the cute baby in the mirror. It was awesome. I also love having this mirror for normal, everyday use. It is so helpful for me to be able to see her from the front seat and be able to meet her needs more quickly.
Listen to Audiobooks or Podcasts
I listened to podcast episodes the entire drive and it helped to make the drive feel shorter. I love Awesome with Alison and listened to almost all of her episodes while driving there and back. I also switched it up and listened to How I Built This.
This is a great time to be able to listen to several books. I know that as a mom, you don’t often have time to sit down and read a book, so listening to audiobooks is a great way to “read” while doing other things. Why not enjoy some books and get “you time” while driving somewhere?
Our 11 hour drive went very well, much better than I had expected.
- Leave Early: We left at 5:00am
- Finished packing up the car
- Food/snacks (I ate these throughout the whole drive, LL ate when awake)
- Cooler bag with 1 bottle pumped milk
- Diaper Bag
- Leaving early meant that LL fell asleep and slept for the first couple hours
- Finished packing up the car
- When LL woke up I gave her the bottle of pre-pumped milk and some snacks (breakfast)
- Stop #1
- We got gas in the car
- I went to the bathroom
- Changed LL’s diaper
- Breastfed LL
- We both ate some snacks
- LL fell asleep soon after we started driving again and slept for several hours (yay!)
- I pumped while she slept
- When she woke up I gave her the pumped milk and snacks (cheese and crackers)
- DON’T give cheese
- When I pulled off the freeway LL threw up all over herself, her car seat, and her blanket
- Luckily I brought an extra blanket (she likes to have a blanket to fall asleep)
- Stop #2
- Clean up vomit
- Change LL’s clothes and diaper
- I went to the bathroom
- Ate Lunch
- Breastfed LL
- Got gas in the car
- LL fell asleep again soon after we started driving and slept until we reached our destination
Overall, LL probably slept for 6.5 to 7 hours of the 11-hour drive. Everything was the same on the way home, except for the vomit (no cheese, so no vomit).
LL usually would poop once a day. On the days we drove, she did not poop at all and then the day after the drive, she pooped multiple times (which made her bum red). Keep that in mind and remember to pack diaper cream. I use absorbase. It works wonders. Plus, it can be used as a lotion on dry skin patches for everyone in the family.
Remember, every child is different, so take these ideas and tweak them for your family.
I hope that this will help you as you plan road trips with your family and that this list has helped you feel more empowered and confident with the choices you are making as a mama. Let me know what has worked for you when traveling and even those times that were a total fail (like yucky cheese vomit).