When my daughter was itty bitty, I didn't baulk at a long car ride. There she'd stay, cozily sleeping for hours if we kept moving. As she grew, my daughter would tolerate the car and her carseat less and less. We had two choices: carry on down the road, contending with the crying and streaming (all of us suffering), or bring our beliefs in child-led development into the car with us. In all honesty, he got ample experience with both. Here, I'll share some ways we learned how to thrive during road trips.
5 Tips on How to Enjoy a Family Road Trip With Baby
1. Timing is everything
2. Break before the breakdown
3. Pack for pleasure
4. Snack for stamina
5. Pace yourself, pace yourself, pace yourself
1. Time things to baby's schedule
Simply put: leave at nap time. This worked fantastically for us, especially if she was freshly fast asleep. For you, this could mean leaving so that the car lulls baby to sleep, or that you skilfully transfer baby to her carseat just after she sinks into her afternoon slumber. Not only will you get a good, long nap in, but you'll also have more freedom to kick off your road trip focusing on your perfect road trip playlist, holding hands with your honey, and enjoying the soft sounds of the round spreading out behind you. You'll also reduce the routine interruption that comes from car-induced naps at odd times.
2. Let fussing be your "Scenic Overlook Ahead" sign
It served us well to honor our daughter's "requests" for a change of scenery. Pushing through was almost never worth it (except when we'd lose an important doctor's appointment slot - sorry, girl.) Pulling right over let's baby and all know that car rides are no place for vocally disgruntled passengers, especially since those vocal cords will only roar louder if unanswered effectively. If it helps, try to think of it as if your newly diaper-free toddler needed an urgent pee. If the baby (small child, big child or even mommy) gets grumpy with sitting on the move, stop the car and get your groove on. Be sure you've packed a cushy blanket that your baby can roll around and get some tummy time on, where you can serve your proper purpose as a human climbing gym, or where you can have a relaxing lying-down nursing session. Always add movement into your breaks, to stimulate and bond through activity. You'll have your awesome baby carrier in tow, so make good use of it to see the sites (even if it's a narrow shoulder of gravel between DeMoines and Denver).
3. Go ahead and splurge on some car toys
I read once that if you are going to fly with small children (older babies included), you should pack at least three new toys the child has never seen before. I never put this good advice into practice for long car rides, but when I have for flights, its golden. I did, however create some fun quiet books and busy box type toys for our toddler once her full car-hating phase set in. Here are some stellar travel toy suggestions from The Carseat Lady. I especially recommend the sticky things (that don't make a mess).
4. Never underestimate the power of snacks
It's likely, if you are the mother of a baby, even if it's your first, that you know the power of snacks. Making them very travel-friendly could be a skill of yours, as well. We boosted the fun factor of snacks when my daughter started getting a little older by letting her pick out something at the gas station. Being the semi-controlling, hyper-health conscious mom I (usually) am, I would often narrow it down for our girl in the store, but hey! if you're all about Doritos and Mountain Dew for your littles, go for it (being sure to schedule a few extra pee and run-the-sugar-off stops into your itinerary). I love how far beyond baggies we've come, too. How about a couple of new and new-fangled snack cups to entertain while feeding? Think ahead, think "fun", and think "what will get us 30 more miles?". By the way, this applies to mom and dad (or mom and mom, or dad and uncle, or whatever configuration your road trip takes).
5. Apply the double or trouble theory, and you might hit your goal
My dad gave me some stellar project management advice when I was in high school, which I still somehow fail to factor in every time (though it almost always applies). It goes like this: Figure out how much time you'll need and double it. Period. This was always (almost) the case on long car trips for us. Between potty/diaper breaks, fuss support, photo ops, feeling up, leaving late (every time), etc. I have yet to meet a long-haul road trip goal. Even when I have come very close, it has been through the loss of my cool. Being tense about progress is just no way to live. Road tripping is life, too, so give yourself and your traveling companions a break and take is niiiiiiice and slow.
Here are a few of my favorite road trip resources, to help you with more of the practicalities, getting more fun out of your route, and scheduling the time you're going to double.
Enjoy the ride!