So I have gone on a bunch of car trips with my baby. We drove from Wisconsin to Texas when she was 2 months old (4 days at 5 hours each) and we have had lots of shorter trips of an hour or three. If you’re anything like me, and I know you are, the sound of your baby screaming in the car while you’re stuck strapped into the front seat is like having your soul ripped from your body and nothing is good and everything is terrible and “How can I make it stop, right now?” is the only thing you can think. Right?
Here are my tips for taking a road trip with a baby:
- First of all, make sure all basic needs are met. I know this is obvious, but I have caught myself saying stupid things like, “Her diaper’s not THAT wet and we really need to gtfo.” Don’t do that. It’s not worth it. The only thing that gives me some peace of mind when I’m stuck up front with a screaming baby in the back is knowing that she’s got her basic needs met. Otherwise I obsess about what horrible condition I’ve left her in and I’m a terrible parent and everything is bad.
- Definitely look up the proper way to strap your kid into the seat before you go on a big trip. I know, you drive with your kid every day, but there are a TON of parents who strap their kids in wrong every day. Use this as an excuse for you and your driving partner (if applicable) to brush up on the rules. It’s more complicated than it looks. Basics for straps: chest buckle at armpits, 5 points (2 over shoulders, 2 at hips, 1 between legs), check the level and you SHOULD’T be able to pinch any fabric from the straps.
- Timing. Plan your trip at the optimal time for you and your baby if you have the option. Does your baby nap really well/horrible in the car? When s/he wakes up will you be in a good place to change diaper and feed if needed? Will the sun be in baby’s face the entire trip? Are you going to hit traffic right at the 2 hour mark (or whenever) when you know baby is going to need to get out?
- If you have the option, consider sitting in back with your baby while someone else drives. You can make eye-contact and play games. I know that seeing my baby helps me freak out less when she’s screaming, as long as I know she’s ok. I also happen to be well-endowed enough to nurse my kid from the seat next to her, and that has saved us so much time on our big trips! See instructions for the Back Seat Dangler here!
- Find some fun kid music. I can’t stand a lot of kid songs, but I love the ones that are from grown-up singers but made especially for the kids. For example, Jerry Garcia and David Grisman have an album called “Not for Kids Only,” Ziggy Marley has “Family Time” and Keller Williams has one called “Kids” that is my favorite. Not sure if those are your bag of tea, but they help me on the trips. We all sing and it keeps things light. Sometimes I will sing to her when she’s crying at it makes me feel better, even if she is still fussy.
- Finally, if you’re traveling for several days, plan your stops ahead of time. You do not want to be stuck searching for a hotel when your baby has been suffering for hours and you so badly just want to get out of the car. If given the choice for extra days on the road with less hours in the car, or less days in the car and more hours of driving per day, choose wisely. We chose the former and I am very glad for it. We had to pay for an extra hotel room, and we “lost” a day, but it was worth it to have every day less stressful. You know your family, though.
Let me know if these are helpful or if you have any of your own tips. I find car travel to be the hardest way to travel with a baby. Sometimes even 45 minutes can be rough.