Does your family have a road trip coming up? Perhaps you are putting off travel because the idea of a long drive with a baby or toddler seems daunting. With family eight hours away, we’ve become pros at long drives! It’s not always easy, but it can be done. It’s even possible to have some fun along the way! We have made the drive between south Houston and central Oklahoma too many times to count with our little girl, so I hope some of the lessons we’ve learned will encourage you as you plan for your long trips!
Road Trip Tips for Babies and Tots:
1. Pack with bags.
Organization is crucial!
Pack one bag with snacks, eating supplies, and bottles/cups. (If you are pumping, use a separate bag for pump supplies.) Bring plenty of snacks! We’ve found it works best to let our tot graze rather than depend on scheduled meals and snacks. It keeps her happier on the road. We try to keep the snacks pretty healthy, like cheese, fruit, raisins, and pretzels. But be sure to have a treat for the last leg of the trip which always proves challenging!
Bring a second bag with diapers, wipes, changing pad, change of clothes, and gallon ziploc bags for any messy items.
A third bag can be packed with small books, toys, and additional entertainment items. Try to pack a variety of items including some new ones for added interest.
Note: this is what you need for your drive time–not your entire trip! You’ll feel like you’re bringing your entire house when you travel with a little one!
The little ones have to have it. If your kids are anything like mine, they like it warm. This can be a challenge while on the road! My favorite way to find warm cow’s milk is at Starbucks. You can ask for a small glass of milk steamed to the “kid’s temperature” and transfer it to bottle or cup. If you need to warm up mother’s milk or any other milk you’ve packed, Starbucks, as well as many other fast-casual restaurants, will bring you a glass of hot water you can use to warm your bottle in. Sometimes gas stations have warm water for tea you can use as well!
Enough said. This is your ideal stop for food and/or restrooms. You will always find clean bathrooms with changing stations at Chick-fil-A, and they treat people with young kids like royalty.
4. Let them move!
Park stops are great when the weather is nice! You can pack a picnic or pick up some food in the drive-thru to enjoy outside. I highly recommend you take at least thirty minutes to let your kids eat and burn some energy. If they have been snacking, they might not need to have meal time, so let them just play! If the weather isn’t great for outdoor play, look for a restaurant with a play area. Tiny ones can even play in the car. While our daughter was still in the infant stage, we made sure to let her have some time to play on our laps and enjoy snuggles on our stops.
Depending on your trip, there might be time to see something interesting along the way. It might seem inconvenient to make stops for play, but it can do quite a bit for the mood of the trip!
5. Dress comfortably.
Road trips are not the time to pull out the baby jeans and all the extra style. Keep them in soft cotton that is easy for diaper changes. If you’re traveling in cold weather, I recommend keeping their clothing light. You can wrap them in blankets when you go inside or put on their coat when it’s time to play. Babies can quickly get too hot in those car seats once the heater kicks on, and then they might get grumpy!
6. Relax and give yourself plenty of time.
Add on at least an hour and a half to your usual drive time. If you are nursing you’ll probably add even more time depending on the length of your trip. It is not safe to nurse while the car is in motion! Know that there will be more and longer stops–and be okay with that. Your kids can tell when you are stressed and it will cause them to get worked up. There will probably be some tears, but hopefully some naps too! There can be lots of opportunity for fun. Don’t keep yourself on a tight schedule or it will be stressful! Proverbs 14:29 has some great wisdom for us on our road trips: “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.” Patience will go a long way when you’re in tight quarters as a family!
Many parents have all sorts of screen time restrictions (especially for the youngest children), but if you find yourself in stop-and-go traffic on a road trip you might want to reconsider. Our favorite song videos to watch on Youtube are from Little Baby Bum, Baby Joy Joy, and Super Simple Songs. If you do not have an entertainment system in your car you will need this in your bag of tricks!
Traveling in the car as a family has potential challenges but it also has potential joys. You have time to bond and enjoy each other much more than when you are spread about at home. If you are traveling with little ones, the home of extended family is most likely your destination. I cannot express how important it is to take your kids to see the ones you love. Don’t let a long drive hold you back. Make the effort and take the trip. Let your kids fall in love with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Explore God’s world together, from your car, and may your family go on many adventures, growing closer on each one!
What are your best tips for long drives with little ones?