Your first road trip with baby can seem like a whole world of unknowns, open roads, and potential for trip tantrums. But traveling with your little one(s) is a great way to connect, teach, and learn with them—and it’s not as intimidating as you might think! Follow these tips for a successful first road trip with baby and you’ll be ready for Lewis and Clark level adventures in no time.
Use the links below to jump ahead, or read end to end for a comprehensive guide to road tripping with your baby!
Benefits of Traveling with Baby
- Remember: Safety First
- Pack Ahead of Time
- Keep Important Stuff Handy
- When in Doubt, Map it Out
- Make Room for Spontaneity
- Capture Special Moments
- Chill Out
- Stick to the (Sleep) Routine
- Ask for Help
- On the Way Home
Benefits of Traveling with Baby
Besides getting to share special memories and sights with the family, taking a road trip with your infant can translate to many important benefits that shape your child’s development and personality.
Here are just a few of the benefits of traveling with young children:
- Experiential learning opportunities: From hearing new languages to trying new foods and seeing different people and places, traveling with your children brings many opportunities for the whole family to explore life outside of their daily routine. This can help diversify their view of the world at an early age and even inspire them to adventure on their own when they’re old enough!
- Early problem solving skills: While we hope everything runs perfectly smooth on every trip, any well-traveled person knows, there’s hardly a road trip they can remember that didn’t have at least one minor mishap. But on the positive, these challenges can actually be great learning opportunities for you and your little ones! From following your packing list to adapting to changing situations, there are plenty of teachable moments to be had out there on the open road.
- Improved family relationships: Whether you take a road trip with your baby or a road trip with your toddler, the bonding experience is just as important. According to a study from the Times Educational Supplement in the UK, two-thirds of conversations between parents and their children are about their daily routine. Traveling with your kids at a young age can help foster stronger relationships and connections beyond your regularly scheduled story time, school day questions, and playdate coordinating.
Alright, now that you’re ready to take a road trip with baby and the rest of the family, let’s dive into some tips and tricks to ensure you have a safe, successful, and fun trip!
1. Remember: Safety First
How soon can you travel with a newborn by car?
There’s not a set guideline on when your baby can travel by car—you probably drove home from the hospital, afterall. Just keep in mind that your baby’s immune system is still developing, so not overdoing it is important to keeping baby healthy and happy! Keep your parental instincts at heart and check in with your baby throughout the trip to ensure they’re getting adequate rest, food, movement, etc.
How to pick the right car seat for your road trip with baby
As parents, our most important job in the world is to protect our little ones—and that starts with picking the right car seat depending on their age and size. The CDC recommends following these guidelines to help you choose the right car seat for your child—whether you’re on a road trip with your newborn, or just driving a few blocks to the grocery store.
● Birth to 2-4 years: Infants and toddlers from 0-4 years should be buckled into a rear-facing car seat in the back seat of the vehicle until they have reached the manufacturer’s weight and/or height limits on their safety seat.
- 2-4 years until age 5: Once your child has grown out of their rear-facing car seat, they should be buckled into a forward-facing car seat in the back passenger seat.
- 5 years until age 9-12: After your child has outgrown both rear and front-facing car seats, they should use a booster seat until their seat belt fits properly (around 4 feet 9 inches tall).
- 12+ years: Around age 9-12, your child should be able to comfortably and securely wear a seat belt. Parents should educate their kids on seat belt safety from early on—stressing the importance of using a seat belt on every car trip.
Before purchasing any car seat, you should check the manufacturer’s car seat safety for newborns guide to ensure baby meets the specific weight and height requirements—and to make sure the car seat is installed properly.
Is it okay for baby to sleep in car seat?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated their list of unsafe sleeping practices to include sleeping in car seats for a prolonged period of time. This update is due to the inclined position when baby is secured into their car seat. When baby is tilted slightly upright, their neck tends to crane forward which can apply pressure to their chest and cause difficulty breathing. That said, it is okay for baby to doze off for awhile as long as the car is still moving (this promotes breathing), but parents should limit car seat sleep to under about 90 minutes. So what can baby sleep in when traveling? Baby should be moved to a firm, flat sleeping surface like a travel crib as soon as the vehicle is stopped.
Road Trip ProTip: Always make sure to get your vehicle inspected before heading out on a road trip—with or without your little one! This can help you address easily avoidable vehicle maintenance issues. Play it safe and consider getting roadside assistance insurance if you don’t already have it.
How to avoid infant car sickness
Many people experience symptoms of car sickness, including infants and kids. If you’ve ever dealt with car sickness, you know the side effects are not fun—upset stomach, loss of appetite, vomiting, etc. But when you’re in a tiny little body and don’t have the words to express your feelings, it can be even more frustrating and scary.
Here are some ways you can prevent infant car sickness when taking baby on a road trip:
- Take breaks regularly
- Keep air flowing
- Distract them with a movie, book, or place to focus their attention
If you don’t know if your baby is prone to car sickness, take some practice car trips to help them adjust before you leave for your vacation. This will also help you figure out what car sickness remedies baby responds to, so you’re ready with the right tools and tricks!
Does breastfeeding impact my travel plans?
Breastfeeding your baby on a road trip can seem daunting at first. But according to the CDC, maintaining baby’s breastfeeding routine while traveling not only provides them with ideal nutrients and hydration, but it can also be a huge source of comfort for your little one. The CDC recommends taking frequent breaks to express milk and feed your baby while traveling. In addition, you should keep an abundant supply on hand—check with your lodging accommodations to request a refrigerator if you need. Freshly expressed breastmilk can be stored in an insulated cooler bag for up to 24 hours and then should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
2. Pack Ahead of Time
Packing the car for a road trip can be overwhelming as it is, but when you’re prepping to road trip with baby, there’s so much more to think about! From car insurance and your driver’s license, to car-friendly baby foods and games, it’s a lot to keep track of. Our strategy? Start making a list of items you’ll need for your trip about two weeks ahead of your trip, or use our handy road trip with baby checklist—then, start gathering everything you need about a week ahead of time. This gives you time to gather your thoughts, get anything you need, and organize your bags so you’re ready to roll by the time your departure day arrives!
Road trip with baby checklist
- Car first aid kit
- Changing pads and diaper gear
- Plastic bags
- Extra clothes
- Sling or front carrier
- Baby travel bassinet
- Entertainment— books, games, music, toys
- Cozy items like blankets and stuffed animals
Use this checklist as a guide to help you get stuff organized, but consider your day-to-day needs to ensure you have everything you need like prescriptions, travel itineraries, etc.
How do I entertain baby in car?
Keeping your little one entertained can be challenging—whether or not you’re on a road trip! Here are a few tips for how you can keep baby entertained in the car:
- Playtime: Keep baby engaged by hopping in the backseat and making some time for some. You are your baby’s biggest source of comfort—so let your copilot take over the driving duties for awhile and play a few rounds of peek-a-boo or I Spy!
- Books, Movies, Games: Put on a movie to capture baby’s attention, or, give them a touch and feel book to keep them stimulated on the road.
- Toys: Attach a mobile above baby’s car seat to focus their attention. Bring along their favorite stuffed animal to keep them busy and feel the comforts of home on your trip.
- Be Silly: If baby gets a little fussy along the way, try singing out loud or playing hide and seek to get them giggling again!
3. Keep Important Stuff Handy
So you’ve been collecting everything you need to take on your journey for days, and you’re ready to pack up the car and just GO! But before you open up that trunk and start shoveling in suitcases and snacks — take a moment — and think. If you’re taking a long road trip with baby, you’ll want to pack a little more strategically to avoid having to stretch across the back seat to reach for toys, or feel like you’re constantly pulling over for snacks and other items.
Make sure to have important essentials on hand and readily available when you need them. Not only will this save on time, but it’ll also likely save you a tantrum or two—which is truly the key to a successful road trip.
Keep these items in reach and at the ready on road trips with baby:
- Formula or breast milk
- Sippy cups
- Toys, games, movies, and books
4. When in Doubt, Map it Out
Whether you’re taking a long road trip with baby, or just a few hour drive to your destination, it’s a good idea to have somewhat of an itinerary in line. Besides planning out your lodging and timeline, you may also want to look into where rest stops are along the way—especially if your route is a little bit more on the desolate side of things.
Take note of fun breaks and sights to see on your way to avoid restlessness, take a breath of fresh air, and stretch your legs.
5. Make Room for Spontaneity
The beauty of road trips is that you get to design your own path: take your time, stop and take in the view, or experience a local dive as you’re passing through small towns and cities. While planning out your trip is a good idea, we say use it more as a guideline than a rule book. You never know when a quick stop could end up being one of your most memorable moments! So even if you’re taking a road trip with your toddler or newborn, feel free to make a little time to be adventurous.
6. Capture Special Moments
You and your family will cherish these memories forever, so be sure to have your camera at the ready to take advantage of those picture perfect moments along the way. Use a cloud based storage system to upload and save your photos throughout your trip, so you never run out of photo storage! Making your summer road trip an annual tradition? Craft a scrapbook for each year so you can reflect on your memories as your family grows together.
7. Chill Out
As a parent, you know that the moment you bring your kids into the world, they become your top priority. No matter what time of day it is, what they need, or how tired you are, you’ll always make sure their needs are taken care of. But balance is the key to good parenting— and great vacations! Make sure to work in some time to relax on your road trip in between all of the tourist attractions and long journeys to your next destination. Ask your partner to step in and take turns caring for the kids while you take some much needed “me time.”
8. Stick to the (Sleep) Routine
There’s something about the comfort of a routine that we tend to miss while trips away from home—and the same thing is true for babies (especially when it comes to sleep)! Moving through time and space on a road trip can be disorienting for all of us, so it’s a good idea to incorporate some elements of baby’s standard sleep routine to keep them from feeling overwhelmed and fussy.
Here are a few tips to help you maintain baby’s sleep routine on your trip:
- Keep a sleep schedule: Babies tend to get sleepy in the car, which is great on a long road trip—but not so ideal when you get to the hotel room and they’re totally recharged with energy while you’re yearning for some shut eye. When you’re planning out your trip, try to schedule longer stretches for the early mornings or evenings so baby can get some rest while you cross state lines and rack up the miles—just make sure you’re getting ample time to rest too!
- Bring along blankie: Be sure to pack blankets and plush toys that your little one associates with bedtime at home. This can help put them at ease if they get nervous spending the night in a new place.
- Separate sleeping spaces: It may be tempting to save on travel costs by sharing a bed with your little one, but giving them their own space can actually help both of you get better quality rest. If you’re road tripping with a baby or toddler, pack a travel crib that functions as a sleeping and play space.
9. Ask for Help
It’s always best to travel with your partner or a friend on your first road trip with baby, rather than go it alone. Kids can be a lot to handle at any age—not to mention when you’ve got an itinerary to manage, details to coordinate, and items to pack! A helping hand to take the driver’s seat or keep the kids entertained can be a huge relief.
10. On the Way Home
You’ve made it through your first road trip with baby, with only a few minor bouts of fuss in between. You’re homeward bound and your vacation feels like it’s practically over, except that you still have a few hundred miles to drive before you call it a first road trip success.
When you’re tired and missing home, it’s easy to rush the whole way back to make it home and recover from your vacation. But keep in mind, the drive home is just as much a part of your trip as the way there. Be gentle to yourself on the way back and make sure you don’t overdo it—take things slow, get rest, and treat yourself to some vacation fun, too! This way, you won’t end your trip on a stressful note—you’ll just have great moments and memories to share and reflect on your first road trip with baby.
Here are some ways for parents to take it easy on the route home—and avoid the post trip blues:
- Get Comfortable: If you’ve been camping throughout the rest of your road trip (or roughing it at all), make sure you book the more splurge-worthy lodging locations on your way back home. The plush bed and luxurious linens will feel even better when your body needs some R&R most.
- Eat Healthy: Swap out the gas station snacks for healthier options, especially on your way home. Your body needs some time to normalize and adjust after a vacation, so get a jumpstart by opting for healthier snacks and meals before you get home.
- Relax: Was there a spa, yoga studio, or poolside lounge you passed by on the way to your destination that you haven’t stopped thinking about? Take some time on your route home to stop and take a breather. Take turns with baby so that you and your copilot can both recharge and refresh.
Road Trip ProTip: While you’re making your way home, try and do a recap of your road trip and take note of what you wish you would have done, or things you wish you’d packed on your trip. Parenting is a learning experience for all of us, and the more practice we have, the better we get!
Road tripping with baby for the first time can feel like an overwhelming step in parenthood—but the memories and moments you’ll share will be those you’ll cherish forever. Follow these tips as you get ready to pack your bags and explore.