It’s that time of the year again. Millions of us will hit the road and turn interstates into parking lots - all with the goal of being home for the holidays.
My first road trip with Winnie was a disaster. We were 2 miles from our final destination, encountered rush hour traffic, and she Lost. Her. Mind. It was 30 minutes of screaming while we circled the maze-like outdoor mall searching for our hotel. The travel gods were taking particular pleasure in putting construction barrels at every available turn and blocking each road to our hotel’s front door. It would have been funny were it not for the shrieking from the back seat.
We survived (obviously), and my eardrums eventually recovered. Since that “adventure,” we’ve embarked on many more road trips and, along the way, I’ve learned a few things:
#1 Travel during the morning nap
This one seems obvious but is not always easy to pull off. Morning naps* are usually the longest for kids. So, traveling during that time will get you the maximum number of road-sleep hours. Road-sleep hours being the holy grail of baby road trips. On travel days, I pretty much build the entire day around the travel/nap time overlap. It starts at wake up. Most kiddos under 6 months old will need to nap every two hours. So, if Winnie wakes at, say, 6am, she’ll probably nap around 8. Factoring in time to nurse/bottle, that means I have about an hour to pull our stuff together, get the car packed, and get Winnie situated. Bonus tip: I always make sure she’s eaten right before we hit the road - even if it’s just a one or two ounce top up.
*You know your kid best. If your sweet pea takes a longer afternoon nap, that’s your ideal travel time.
#2 When possible, two adults are better than one
I’ve road tripped as a solo parent and with my husband. With my husband is definitely preferable. There are too many benefits to name - but most of them are about having a passenger who can pass stuff back to the kiddo/retrieve pacifiers.
#3 All the pacifiers
Speaking of pacifiers, if your kid uses one, you'll need at least eleventymillion for a road trip. This is especially critical if you’re road tripping without an adult travel buddy. I keep Winnie’s pacifiers in the console-armrest-thing next to me. Then, when she cries, I can pass a paci back to her one-handed.
Yes, I occasionally poke her the forehead, ear, or neck trying to hit her mouth without looking, but she’s pretty tolerant as long as the paci is within eyeshot. If you travel with too few pacifiers, you’ll keep having to pull over to find lost ones you can’t reach from the front seat. I go for a one paci per 30 minutes rule (to a point, of course - do not bring 18 pacis for a 9 hour road trip.).
#4 Smitten is your best friend
Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried to break down a pack ‘n’ play. Leave your hand up if it made you really, really angry.
You are my people.
Our play yard has a particularly hateful button situation on the top rails that makes it impossible to collapse unless the stars are perfectly aligned, the moon is full, and you say the correct spell. This is one of the many reasons I miss our Smitten. I've already enumerated all the reasons Smitten rocks my family's socks off over here, so I won't gush again, but, suffice to say, it's my jam.
With the Smitten, you just put all the baby things in the box and put the box in the trunk. It takes about 30 seconds. The box weighs two pounds but can hold up to 100, so I pack it full without worrying about affecting its structural integrity. If I can lift it, it's not too full.
I even pack some of my own stuff in there - I like to think of it as a suitcase extender.
#5 Ship supplies ahead
If you have a smaller trunk, hate lugging baby stuff, or discover that you don’t have enough diapers to make it through the long weekend but don’t want to run to the store before you leave (not that that’s ever happened to me), shipping baby goods ahead may be for you.
Amazon and Diapers.com both offer free shipping options, so you can have your diapers, wipes, formula, etc… shipped to your travel destination. We’ve even seen parents shipping Smittens to grandma’s house, their hotel, etc., because they can use one during their stay, keeping baby safe for all sleep time, and then recycle the box at the end of the trip. No schlepping in either direction. (This post is about road trips, but this tip is also handy for air travel.)
#6 Paced toy distribution
Even the best toy gets boring after long enough. I keep a bag of toys on the passenger seat and pass a new one back every 45-60 minutes. (Timing is child dependent.) It helps break up the ride for kiddos and gives you some back-up in case you need to distract a screaming child mid-ride. These don’t need to be new toys, just toys your little one hasn’t seen in awhile. I hold back 3-5 toys for a week before the trip so they’ll feel fresh. Honestly, keeping them out of sight for a day is probably plenty, but I don’t mess with road trips.
Those are my travel tips, but I’m sure many of you have wisdom to share. What are your road trip sanity savers?
Kate Compton Barr, MPH, has been working in the public health field for more than a decade. She is also a co-founder of Pip & Grow.
Kate’s loves being mom to her luminescent, 6-month-old daughter, Winnie and wife to her spectacular husband, Dan. Kate is happiest sitting by the ocean, surrounded by family and good friends. She enjoys good food and is honored to carry on her family’s Southern baking traditions.