Tips for a Road Trip With a Baby: How to Survive the Long Drive

tips for a Road Trip With a Baby Car Seat
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Setting off on a road trip with your little one? I know – it sounds like a mission. Trying to figure out nap times, packing enough but not too many toys, dealing with sudden mood swings (and that’s just from the parents!) – it’s enough to give anyone a slight headache. “Will my baby be okay? How on earth am I going to keep them calm? Did I pack enough diapers?” These questions whirling around in your head are perfectly normal, and I’m here to help with my tips for a road trip with a baby.

Over the years, I’ve taken my kids on so many road trips, I’ve lost count. Short weekend jaunts, epic cross-country adventures, you name it. And you know what? Every single one was a learning curve. Sometimes, it felt more like a rollercoaster than a curve, but that’s parenting for you. I’ve had my share of forgotten essentials and messy surprises, but each hiccup has helped me perfect my road trip routine.

Don’t worry – by the end of this blog post, you’ll be a lot more confident about hitting the road with your little partner in crime. You’ll know what to expect, what to pack, and how to handle those inevitable bumps along the way. I’ve done all the hard yards, the late-night packing, and the frantic roadside diaper changes. Now, you get to benefit from my road-tested wisdom and plan a trip that’s all about the fun stuff.

Road Tripping With an Infant FAQs

road trip with baby toddler

I know how different it is to take your kids with you on a long drive compared to a fun and spontaneous road trip as a couple. Especially if you’re taking a baby with you. And if it’s your first trip as a family, you’d be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed and nervous

Jumping in the car to explore the country can be such a fantastic memory-making experience. Plus, showing your kids (even the teeny tiny ones) magical places is part of what all parents dream of doing. 

So to calm your worries and help you plan a fabulous vacation, I’ve gathered some of the most frequently asked questions and answered them as best I could. 

Have another question? Or a tip for new parents about to hit the road? Let us all know in the comments, and keep the support going!

What to Expect When Traveling With a Baby

baby road trip mirror

The question most parents would love to be able to answer with a crystal ball; I promise, even if you have a few hiccups on the road, at the end of the day, the memories will be worth it. 

A road trip with a baby under 12 months isn’t the nightmare that some may make it seem, as long as you prep properly. Your baby has their usual routine, space, and expectations in their daily life—all of which go away once you put them in the car for an extended period of time. 

You definitely should expect them to be a little fussy, possibly get bored, and very likely make a bit of a mess. With a few important steps, you can ensure the ride is pleasant for the baby and parents. You want to make fun family memories, which means enjoying the journey just as much as the destination.

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What is The Best Age to Road Trip With a Baby?

This depends on your baby, of course. Generally, it’s best to start planning your family road trip only once your baby is about three months old. Between three and six months, babies are in their developmental stage and will begin to gain more head and neck control. 

This means they can sit in a car seat and be comfortable for slightly extended periods. They’re also typically on better sleeping schedules at this age, allowing you to plan accordingly. 

You can entertain your baby between three and six months with bright, colorful, and noisy toys. They’re interested in the world around them but not yet crawling or walking, so they won’t be too antsy to get out of their seat for the whole ride.

Also taking Fido? Here are some tips for a road trip with a dog.

How Often Do You Have to Stop With a Baby on a Road Trip?

road trip with baby tips sleeping

When you’re planning a road trip with a baby, your stops will need to be planned around their routine. You’ll likely need to stop for feeding, diaper changes, and as they get fussy. You may find that a stop is needed as they wake up from a nap or before they fall asleep. 

On average, I would say plan for a stop every two to four hours. Try not to go longer than this, for the whole family’s sake. Although, if you’re driving overnight and your baby sleeps through, you may be able to extend this a bit. 

The shorter driving times when you’re traveling with a baby may just give you the perfect excuse to stay over in more small towns. Driving four hours and then retiring for the night at a quaint hotel or BnB only adds to the entire road-tripping experience is one of my best tips for a road trip with a baby.

How Do You Occupy a Baby in a Car?

Unlike older kids, babies are not going to be interested in games of I Spy or a traveling trivia quiz. So how do you keep them busy for the ±four hour stretches of driving?

One way is to play music in the car — not the latest pop songs, but nursery rhymes and calming tunes. Sing along and make it a fun time for the baby. Give them a rattle to play with as well, as this will help stimulate them. This is ideal when on a road trip with a baby and toddler, as it can entertain both of them at the same time (I used this trick many times on drives).

You can also set up a sort of mobile in the car, with animals and colorful toys for them to look at and grab. If their heads can’t reach the windows, give them a plastic handheld mirror or position a mirror to help them see the fun sights outside. 

If all else fails, chatting with your baby is normally always a winner. Play peek-a-boo, describe your journey, and tell them where you’re going. Even if they don’t seem to understand it all, your attention and the sound of your voice are often enough to keep them engaged. 

Make sure to reserve your rental car ahead of time! I love using Discover Cars for my trips.

Can You Give a Baby a Bottle While Driving?

The short answer is no. 

It might be perfectly fine to have your older kids snacking while driving, but the risks are too high for an infant. You shouldn’t have a baby drinking from a bottle without your attention being fully focused on both the baby and the bottle

Even if you are breastfeeding, it’s not safe to do so while the car is moving. So it’s best to plan your stops according to the baby’s feeding schedule

How Do You Calm a Crying Baby on a Road Trip?

There’s always a reason why your baby is crying. First, check that they’re not uncomfortably hot, cold, or perhaps have a dirty diaper. It’s also good to check that they’re not hungry

If their basic needs are met, and they are still crying, they may just not be enjoying the drive as much. Try playing soothing music, talking to them, or giving them a toy to distract them. If none of that works, then it may be best for everyone to stop the car at the next safe spot, get out, and cuddle the baby until they are calm again

Are Car Seats Uncomfortable for Babies?

As long as your car seat is properly installed and has all of the right cushioning, it should be comfortable enough for your baby to sit in during a drive. Sitting in one for too long for a more extended, cross-country drive with a baby can become uncomfortable

Staying in one position for extended periods of time will agitate anyone, and babies are no different. There are a few ways you can ease this discomfort until you stop, though:

  • Keep the car’s temperature pleasant. 
  • Give the baby a little extra cushioning where you can. 
  • Distract them with toys and excitement. 

How Long Should a Baby Be in a Car Seat on a Trip?

Even though babies can’t walk around yet, they still need to stretch during road trips. If you’re doing longer newborn travel by car, you should aim to take them out of the car seat every two hours or so (a very important tip for a road trip with a baby). 

If your perfectly planned road trip falls within the three- to six-month sweet spot, then two to four hours is fine. Be sure that when you’re stopping, you’re taking the baby out of their car seat and letting their bodies stretch in different positions for a bit. 

What Do I Do If My Baby Hates the Car Seat?

So, your baby cannot stand when you put them in a car seat — are your dreams of a family road trip over? Not necessarily. 

First, I would check with a doctor if anything makes the baby hate sitting in the car seat. If there are no medical concerns, then it may just be personal preference. You can slowly introduce long road trips with a baby and make the experience more pleasant. Both my kids hated drives at first, but they got used to it the more I traveled with them.

Don’t begin right off the bat with a 15-hour trip from LA to Lake Tahoe; begin with an hour-long drive and gradually increase the time and distance. Doing this will allow you to test out a few soothing options and hopefully find one that works. Driving while the baby sleeps is also an option. 

What Should I Pack for a Baby on a Road Trip?

bento box kid road trip

You can read my full family road trip packing list for a more detailed list, but here are a few essential items to include that are important road trip with baby tips: 

  • Extra diapers — Pack a little more than you think you’ll need. It’s better to be overprepared with a little one than scramble to find a grocery store while on the road. 
  • Wipes and rash cream — These should be with your diapers, but again, pack a little more than you think you need in case of emergencies. 
  • Extra sets of clothing — This is standard when going anywhere with kids and babies. Make sure you have extra clothes for messes as well as enough clothing for all kinds of weather. 
  • Their favorite blanket — Keep babies comfy and soothed with whatever blankie they would use at home. This will help them sleep better in the car and may keep the tears away on the drive. 
  • A few fun toys — There isn’t much space in the car, so you want to make sure that the toys you bring along will entertain the baby for long periods. Choose colorful toys, squishy ones, and even ones that make a bit of noise — just remember, you don’t want to have a distracted driver. 
  • Bibs and utensils — Quick meals on the side of the road or at a gas station may be necessary. Pack in any mealtime essentials so you’re not left in the lurch if you need to make an emergency dinner stop. 
  • Sippy cups and bottles — Ensure you have enough of these with you so that even if you can’t wash them out for a few hours, there’s still a clean one to use until you reach your hotel. 
  • First aid kit — Always keep a car first aid kit on you. Include things like pain syrup for little ones, bandaids, and any medication your baby usually takes. Also, bring sanitizer, mosquito repellant, and a thermometer. 
  • Baby carrier — Pit stops and impromptu hikes will be much easier and more enjoyable if you can comfortably carry the baby around. 
  • Milk and snacks — While you can find food along your route, you definitely want to pack some easy-to-eat snacks and enough milk to avoid a hangry baby. 
  • Bin bags — You’re going to want to keep the car clutter-free and as clean as possible. This will eliminate frustration, help you quickly find what you need, and make the drive more enjoyable. Keep plastic bags to throw trash in and discard them as soon as possible once you’ve stopped. 

What Food to Carry for Babies While Traveling?

We’ve mentioned packing in food and snacks, but what else can you take that won’t make too much mess or require any prepping? Some great options to keep in the car for emergency snacking include:

  • Extra milk and/or water – I always warn parents against packing juices for road trips because they’re sticky and can get everywhere if spilled. Pack milk for the ride if your baby is too young for water. 
  • Sipping yogurt – Driving may take away the baby’s appetite. Sipping yogurt is easy to eat in the car, will fill them up a bit, and often tastes good enough to entice them to eat. 
  • Finger foods – Beef jerky, cheese puffs, finger sandwiches. These are all ideal for packing into a lunchbox in the car and handing over if your little one starts to complain about tummy grumbles. 
  • Pre-packaged & single-serve baby food pouches – What you don’t want to do is try and handle large amounts of anything to dish anything out in the car. It might be a little more work, but getting pre-packaged snacks before you set off makes eating and sharing easier on the drive. 
  • Pre-cut fruit – Cut up apple slices, pears, or oranges, as these will be a fun, sweet (but healthy) snack to keep the little mouths busy for a while. 

Read more in my post with 101 road trip snacks for kids.

How Do You Pack Baby Milk for Travel?

If the baby is still exclusively on milk or only just starting on solids, you’ll want to bring quite a bit of this with you on your road trip with an infant. Keeping it fresh is important; no one wants to drive for hours with a car smelling like spoiled milk. 

If you’re pumping breastmilk to take with you, keep it frozen before you leave. Then when you pack the car, put the milk into a well-insulated cooler box to stay cool and frozen during the drive. If you’re packing formula, pre-pack servings in either bottles or secure containers/bags is an easy way to do it. Then have a flask or bottled water to mix it up.

Sterilize your bottles before you pack them and again when you stop at your nightly accommodation. 

My Top Tips for Long-Distance Driving With a Baby

road trip with toddler snacks

If this is your very first road trip with a baby, just remember that it can only get easier from here. I’ve found that getting the kids used to traveling and being on the road from an early age means it becomes a splendid experience as they get older. 

Besides keeping the car organized (and booking any accommodations you’re going to need well in advance), here are some other things I’ve found helpful when taking a 0- to 12-month-old on a road trip. 

Check the Car Seat Before You Go

Most importantly, ensure that your car seat is safe, follows regulations, and is properly installed. 

A car window safety shade is another must-add for a baby’s comfort and safety. Having the sun pelting down on their faces is a sure way to end up with a miserable baby. 

Plan Your Route Carefully

Know where you’re going (as well as possible detours in case of roadworks, etc.) and how long you have between each possible stop. Know where you can stop to walk, where you can get gas, and where there are shops to top up on essentials

This will give you a bit more control over how long to keep baby busy, when nap time should be, and where you can get out and stretch your legs if needed. You can also plan any activities along the way. 

Make a Note of Doctors and Hospitals Along Your Route

While planning your trip, keep a log of hospitals, emergency doctors, and medical care units in each town and city you’ll be passing through. Hopefully, you won’t need to use this list when going on a long drive with a baby, but if you have a feverish kid or an unfortunate accident, it’s better to know where to go. 

And on that note, be sure to keep important medical records on you while driving. From vaccination cards to allergies, bring anything that may be important in the event of an emergency. 

Keep Essential Travel Items Packed in The Front of The Car

You don’t want to take up too much leg room, but you also don’t want to have to stop the car just to reach a pacifier. Before you pack the car, separate items for the drive from things you’ll only need when you stop or reach your destination

On the other hand, don’t put items that you won’t need while driving in the front of the car. Keep extra clothes, bulky toys, and similar non-essentials in the boot instead. 

Stick to Routine as Much as Possible

This may seem harder once you’re actually on the road, but if you can keep to regular nap times and feeding times, it will help your baby stay regulated and feel secure. Similarly, taking some of their personal items with you to put into hotel rooms can help them feel at home. 

Get your free road trip packing list here!

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Have Someone in the Back Seat

If you can, have one adult in the back seat with the baby if there’s a need for snacks or a quick drink. If you’re stopping often enough for food and drink, having an adult sitting at the back might still be helpful to talk to and entertain the baby

Of course, if older siblings take up space in the back seat, try to get them to play nicely with and speak to the baby. 

Look After Yourself Too

Just as it’s important to remember everything needed for the baby, it’s equally important for parents to stay happy and comfortable on long drives. Not only is it good for the parent driving, but it’ll also help keep the car’s atmosphere pleasant and calm

Stop when you are feeling uncomfortable, too. Pack in a few of your own favorite snacks. If the baby is fast asleep, take the time to play some of the music you used to play on long drives. You can’t take adequate care of your baby unless you also care for yourself.

Again, these tips for a road trip with a baby are from my real-life experiences, so I hope you feel more confident to plan that drive you’ve been putting off!

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