Over the river and through the woods, to Grandma’s house we go!
Only problem is: Grandma’s house is an 8‑hour car ride away, and you’ve got a baby or toddler, plus maybe a few big kids, to cart along with you. But don’t let that stop you from embarking on that road trip – with some smart planning and preparation, you can make it to your destination relatively unscathed.
We’ve teamed up with our friends at Stonyfield, to bring you the absolute best tips and advice to make it through a marathon car journey with your baby. So buckle up and read on to learn how to make some road trip memories that will last a lifetime.
1. Check Your Expectations at the Door
First things first, it’s critical to not set your expectations too high. Remember that babies and toddlers don’t have the patience that you do (or that you might hope!). With this in mind, don’t expect to drive straight to your destination without stopping…multiple times.
Depending on the age of your child, you may have to stop every hour or two to feed, change, or give them a break from their car seat. If you go into the trip with this in mind, you’ll have a much better, less-stress experience.
2. Plan Wisely
Keeping #1 in mind, plan your trip so you avoid driving too far in a single day. Map out your journey with the help of an online tool so you can get a sense of how long the trip will take. An app like Waze will even take into consideration what day and time you’ll be leaving and factor in the consistent travel patterns like rush hour.
Plan a few potential pit stops along your route so if baby is getting fussy, you’ll already have done your research. Depending on your child’s age and stage, you may want to find a park or playground for them to explore, or somewhere to go for a short walk to stretch your own legs. Pack some bubbles and a ball for some fun, interactive play during your stop.
Inevitably you’ll need to find a clean bathroom at some point, so we suggest downloading the SitOrSquat app before you leave so you can view public restrooms based on your current location. It also includes an interactive map with how long it will take to reach each stall, can filter those with baby changing tables and even gives a cleanliness rating. Major high five to that!
3. Time it Right
The most successful road trips are timed right.
If your baby sleeps well in the car, plan your trip to coincide with a time where you know your baby will sleep – either over naptime, or at bedtime. This way you’ll be able to get in a good chunk of quiet, peaceful driving that can recharge everyone’s batteries.
If your baby isn’t a great car sleeper, plan to leave shortly after they wake up in the morning, or right after a nap. Then at least you’ll start the journey with a well-rested, happy baby.
Either way, make sure that baby has a full tummy and a clean diaper before you leave!
4. Pack/Organize Your Car Like a Pro
We suggest packing your car the day/night before you leave, and while you pack, really think about what you’ll need to keep at arm’s reach vs. what you can stow away.
Keep your suitcases and large baby items like a travel crib at the back of your trunk, as you likely won’t need to access these until you reach your destination. Pack a separate “necessity bag” with all of the essentials you’ll want en route like toys, pacifiers, burp clothes, and bottles.
We like to pack a separate “Changing Station” that includes a changing pad, plenty of diapers, wipes, diaper cream, small trash baggies and an extra set of clothes for any spit-ups, spills or worse! Stick everything into a plastic zipper bag, or buy one of these handy dandy organizers. You could even just grab the pre-stocked caddy you use in your home.
If you can, leave a free space in the back of your car for a make-shift Changing Table (especially if you have an SUV where the trunk is flat and the perfect height for diaper changing). This makes it super easy for quick changes during pit stops, and you don’t have to worry about finding a clean gas station bathroom.
Create an easy place to throw your trash – we love this amazing car trash bin, but a trash bag around the front seat headrest can work just as well.
These back-of-the-seat organizers are also great for keeping toys, books and other necessities close at hand.
5. Be strategic with nursing/bottle feeds
Your baby will need to eat during your travels, and whether nursing or formula feeding, make sure you have all of your supplies close at hand. If nursing, a comfy pillow for feeds in the car while filling up with gas can make a huge difference. For bottle fed babes, pack a thermos 1/3 full with hot water so you’ll have room to place your bottle inside to warm it up. Do this just before you arrive at your next pit stop, so the bottle will be ready and your baby won’t have to wait.
We know several mamas who nurse but also bring a pump and bottle so that they can pump while their partner drives, and feed with a bottle from the backseat if need be.
6. Bring a fully stocked cooler with snacks or meals
For babies who are eating solids, make sure to bring a cooler stocked with healthy, nutritious options for pit-stops or eating on-the-go.
To save room in the cooler, we love to use Stonyfield Organic Whole Milk Yogurt Pouches as ice packs. Simply stash a few in your freezer 24 hours+ before you depart, and then line your cooler with the pouches. Not only will they keep your food and drinks icy cold, but once they thaw, they can turn into a great snack for the whole family. We especially love that they contain real fruits and veggies and have 35% less sugar than the leading kids’ yogurt.
We also like to travel with our favorite Stonyfield YoBaby yogurt so we have plenty of them for meal time and snack time once we arrive at our destination. If your baby is at least six months old, YoBaby is a great choice as it’s made with only Certified Organic ingredients and supports digestive health with its blend of live and active cultures and the probiotic BB-12. We love that the YoBaby Veggie and YoBaby Plain have no added sweeteners, and they’re thicker than other baby yogurts which makes it much easier for them to eat. That being said, remember to bring pack some napkins/wipes, spoons and a bib.
And although it’s important that you pack foods that baby will enjoy, don’t forget about yourself! Even if you plan to stop along the way for your meals, if your baby is content or asleep, you may want to keep driving. So throw a few healthy snacks in the cooler for yourself as well.
7. Recreate their sleeping environment
As we mentioned earlier, having your baby sleep for a portion of your trip is essential for everyone’s happiness. So do whatever it takes to recreate their ideal sleeping environment: bring any comfort items like a blanket, lovey or pacifier and if they’re used to white noise, download an app to play on your phone/iPad or use a portable white noise machine. These window shades can also help protect your baby from the sun and create a darker, nap-inducing environment.
8. Keep baby entertained
After baby has awoken from their nap, they’ll be ready to play, so be sure to bring a vast selection of age-appropriate toys for them to explore. We find that new toys often hold their attention for the longest spans. Pick up a few new ones at your local discount store, or plan a toy-swap with a friend. You could even stash away a selection of toys a week or two before your trip so they will be forgotten and feel new.
Or try your hand at these DIY ideas to keep baby engaged:
Make your own “baby garland” by taping a piece of string across the back of the seat where they sit, and attach photos of other babies or family members to it. Babies are fascinating by studying people’s faces, so this can keep them surprisingly occupied.
Alternatively, fill an empty tissue box with long scraps of fabric or smaller mouthing-friendly toys – baby will love reaching in and pulling out each new surprise.
9. When the going gets tough, jump in the backseat
10. Make a playlist
Listening to music both you and your kids will enjoy can make your road trip so much more fun for everyone. If you’re able to sync your phone or device to your car’s speakers, make a playlist of your family’s favorite songs. If it’s just you and your baby, listening to podcasts or books on tape can make the time go quickly, and the sound of voices often helps a baby relax.
You can even try listening to music in another language – exposing your kids to new sounds and cultures.
11. Be prepared for anything and everything
Although we hope with fingers tightly crossed that your road trip will be a smooth one, with no unforeseen circumstances, we always suggest to be prepared for the worse!
We’ve learned the hard way, that it’s always helpful to have a bucket (or small garbage pail) and towel within an arm’s reach. You may learn that your baby (or even yourself) gets car sick, or comes down with a sudden stomach bug.
Having a First Aid kit with band-aids, bug spray, sunblock, prescriptions, and over-the-counter drugs like Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen, could stop your trip from taking a disastrous turn.
And make sure that your vehicle has emergency supplies like jumper cables, flares, a spare tire and jack, and if applicable to your location, a small snow shovel and brush.