Is this a good idea? Or are we just really naive and stupid?
I kept asking myself these questions while we planned our 3 week adventure with our crazy kids – our nearly 5 month old son (Colby) and our dog (Abbie) – and was still asking them while we were well on our way.
Reflecting back on the first leg of our trip, a road trip from our home in Portland, OR to my parents house in Northern California, plus a one night excursion to San Francisco for a wedding, I realize that it all went really well, all things considered.
I’ll be honest, I was pretty nervous about the road trip portion of our trip as I didn’t know what it would be like to travel for hours in the car with a tiny baby. I kept wondering how many stops we’d have to make along the way – whether for a screaming, poopy, hungry, or bored baby, or for an anxious, needy, thirsty, or bored dog, or let’s be honest, for frazzled parents who just want to go into a quiet place to sit and be alone for a minute (aka the restroom). I agonized about keeping them both entertained and on good behavior long enough to survive (and hopefully have some fun) for so many long hours in the car.
And while there were certainly some challenges, and cranky baby (and parent) moments, I can safely say that I would do it all again tomorrow.
If you’re considering a road trip with your little one and are both terrified and intrigued, that’s a good place to start. Just like tackling any new challenge, I believe that the key to success is having a healthy dose of fear and interest as you plunge into the unknown.
And while every baby and every road trip will be different, here’s what we did to make the trip enjoyable, memorable, and dare I say, manageable?
Roll the dice
A wise person once observed that I am very comfortable with ambiguity and in the five months since becoming a parent, I’ve realized how true this really is. I often wonder if something is a good idea and then just go ahead and try it (the old you won’t know unless you try mentality). I realize that if I overthink and overanalyze anything too much, there’s a good chance I’ll just talk myself out of it. If I just go ahead and do it, then at least I can say I tried (and possibly failed), and then move on.
Doing anything with a baby can feel intimidating and hours in the car with a baby seems like something only a fool would sign up for, yet once we got going, it really wasn’t so bad. We expected that he would cry. We expected that he might poop at inopportune times. And we expected that we would have to be flexible and creative along the way. And those expectations allowed us to find humor in the challenging moments and give ourselves grace when things didn’t go quite as planned.
I do realize this strategy is not for everyone, hell a road trip with a nearly 5 month old is not for everyone, but if it works for you and you find yourself thinking why not then I say roll with it.
Keep supplies nearby
One of the things that saved us during the trip was preparation. Instead of just packing everything we needed into one giant suitcase, we packed smaller bags that we could have within reach while driving so that we could get Colby what he needed, when he needed it. Every day before hitting the road, we’d pack the essentials into a small tote bag and leave it in the backseat along with my pump and a cooler for bottles so we’d have things in reach when we needed them. Some of those items include:
- Changing pad
- 3-4 diapers
- Packet of wipes
- Change of clothes
- Extra socks
- Spit up rag
- Rattles and other toys
- Portable pump
- Bottles and bottle cooler
- Car adapter
And while having supplies for the baby is a must, you might also want to consider having some supplies for yourself as well. For me, that meant having my phone, a book, and some good, high protein, healthy snack options all within reach. In case you’re curious, on the way to California I was reading, “I’m Just Happy to be Here,” by Janelle Hanchett (a must-read!!)…
and was snacking on RXBars….
…and of course, plenty of water.
Become a backseat driver
While Casey drove, I sat in the backseat with Colby (and Abbie) so that I could be there to address any issues that might arise – feeding him bottles, wiping up spit up, putting up shade, curing boredom (shaking rattles, singing songs, or having animated conversations with him), and acting as first line of defense on diaper changes (being the one closest means you smell or hear when a change might be necessary as it happens).
I’m not going to lie to you and say that sitting in the backseat for the majority of the trip was always fun, it was necessary to avoid too many stops and worse, too many meltdowns. Plus, if I try and think positively about being squished in the middle seat between a sometimes squawky baby and a needy dog, it did give me a lot time to really bond with them.
Plan to stop.
While you might be able to drive a full day with infrequent stops, most likely your baby can’t. We factored frequent stops into our routes, and tried to keep our travel plans as realistic as possible.
To avoid too many unnecessary stops, we did our best to maximize each stop by finding somewhere where we could change a diaper, stretch our legs (and let Colby out of the carseat), and let Abbie go potty (and sometimes even run around!). Taking breaks will naturally add time on to your trip but can also lead to fun experiences along the way.
When you have a little one in a car seat for an extended period of time, you’ll have to be ready to get creative with songs, play time activities, and even funny sounds. We sang songs, often changing up the lyrics (mostly to make ourselves laugh), we made animal noises (and any other noises that came to mind), and found ways to play games (like helping him clap, kicking his legs, or rattling his favorite toys).
Bottom line is that when the baby is awake in the car, you have to be ready for action and unleash your creativity if you want to keep them calm and happy for the duration of the trip.
I’ll be honest, there were definitely moments during the trip where I felt a little crazy sitting in the backseat with the baby and the dog. There were many times I got tired of speaking nonsense to him, or felt like my arm was going to fall off from shaking a rattle or toy for so long, or wished I could just sit back and relax instead of having to gooo and gaaaa, or oink at him, and certainly times where I thought that I might jump out of a moving car if I had to hear the ants go marching song one more time, but in the end it was well worth it. We made a lot of memories, and shared an experience that we’ll never forget and will enjoy telling Colby about when he’s older.
Have you taken long trips with a kiddo? If so, what are your best tips? Are you planning on taking one? Nervous about taking one? Or just think we’re nuts? Comment and let me know!
As always, stay sweaty (and don’t be afraid to sit in the backseat and MOO every once in awhile).