Car Trips with Baby

(Mama Seal here because she is the car traveling master)
We both live far from our families, so it is inevitable that we will need to travel at some point with our babies. I have spent roughly 125 hours on road trips with my baby. Each of these trips was between 2-8 hours in length. It is no easy feat. Of course, the tricks necessary for long car rides are completely different than those needed for plane or train rides. Using our experiences, we would like to share a few of the tools and tips that have kept us sane during stressful trips. This post will focus primarily on car rides, because sometimes it feels like I’ve spent my life driving in the car with my sweet Buttons.

If you’re traveling alone with the baby (bless you), there is one thing I would absolutely do. Grab a bin/basket/bag/tub/what have you to hold things your baby will need during the drive. You can reach back there and grab the paci/binky your baby has thrown, but should you? You know what your child will want and enjoy the most during a long ride, and it may vary from one trip to the next. I would suggest gathering the items and placing them back in the tub when you stop for gas to a stretch. Here is an idea of what I’ve had in my emergency tub…
  1. Squidbeard (named by awesome papa seal) or some other interesting, multifaceted toy.
  2. Pacifiers...so many pacifiers…
  3. Books...crinkle or board, whichever your baby enjoys.
  4. Teething toys, if you happen to be driving during “that” time.
  5. A blanket, especially if you like your car cold.
  6. A mirror is necessary basically all the time, but especially on long rides. There will be that inevitable moment that your child will be screaming bloody murder in a place where there isn’t another stop for 72 miles and pulling over on the side of the highway is really not ideal. As long as you can see that they aren’t dying, it makes it more bearable. Babies also enjoy looking at themselves and that makes for some great entertainment.
  7. Some “new” toy...I have found (and if you haven’t yet, you’ll realize soon) that novelty is one of the best tricks for entertaining your baby.
  8. Nutrition...in the form of a bottle with water and some pre-measured formula, or a bottle/bag of breastmilk kept warm in a thermos, or some puffed cereal...this will change as your baby gets older, but food is always a good distractor for when you’re trying to buy some more time before your next stop.
  9. If you need to pump during your drive, make sure your pumping bra, pump, clean bottles, etc. are handy. But please, for the safety of you and your babe, and everyone else on the road, pull over when you start pumping and pull over when you’re finishing your pump session.

The most important thing is patience when taking one of those long drives with baby. If you’re tired of being in your seat, imagine how exhausting it is being strapped in, unable to adjust to get comfortable. If you need to, stop and stretch your legs. You have to get gas sometime, right? Use that opportunity to get both of you out and walk or grab a bite to eat. One of my main drives has a few parks in some of the towns along the way. There are also some safe, state-sponsored rest areas with a play area and bathrooms and vending machines.

If you’re not sure what is coming up on your drive, Google maps has a “search along route” option that you can use to find upcoming gas stations, restaurants, coffee shops, etc.
As Buttons has gotten older, road trips have become more difficult. When she was 3-4 months old, she would sleep through much of them. Now that she doesn’t nap as much, she gets restless. My last trip alone with her was 3 hours driving from Austin to Dallas, followed a few days later by a 6 hour drive from Dallas to Amarillo. What I realized in that 3 hour stretch was that it has become very difficult driving long distances if there isn’t someone to entertain her in the back (usually it is her dad driving and me in the back with her, if it’s a family trip). So my 6 hour drive home? I waited until about an hour before her bedtime, then I started driving. This meant that I didn’t get home until 12:30 and didn’t get the car emptied until 1 am, but it was worth it. One thing I tend to have trouble with in my life is patience, and this is made especially difficult when there is someone yelling at me from the back seat.
(Buttons with Squidbeard on our first 7 hour trip. Papa Seal was driving to Mama Seal was riding backseat)
TL;DR version of this post?
  1. Make an attempt to entertain your baby by putting toys in your arm’s reach.
  2. Stop as needed, stretch your legs, eat.
  3. If all else fails, only drive while your baby is asleep.

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