Who says you cannot travel with a baby? Yes, it is different, but it is totally doable! One of the best ways to start traveling as a new family is by going on a road trip with a baby.
After one year of road trips with our son, we have learned a lot. From short 2-hour road trips to a 2-week long road trip – we have experienced the best and the worst parts of road tripping with a baby.
Through personal tried and true experience, I have created this guide of “How to Road Trip with a Baby” to help new parents navigate their way as easily as possible. My guide includes product recommendations, expectations at different months of age, and 12 essential tips for road tripping with a baby.
Full disclaimer: I am not a children’s practitioner, nurse, or expert. This guide and tips are purely from personal experience and fellow traveling parents. If you have any medical or health concerns, please seek advice from your pediatrician.
12 Essential Tips for Road Tripping with a Baby
First and foremost, EVERY BABY IS DIFFERENT!
Yes, I believe my guide can help first-time parents navigate their way to a successful road trip with a baby. However, what has worked for other parents and us, may not always work for you. Some tips may work, some may not – you will not know until you hit the road and go through trial and error.
We have found these 12 essential tips to be the most helpful during our road trips with a baby. Whether you are taking a road trip with a newborn, a 12-month-old, or any age in between – these tips can be helpful for any stage.
The Trifecta Checklist
Of all the tips for road tripping with a baby, this one is KEY! We call it the “trifecta checklist.” So what does that mean? Sleep, diaper, food.
If our son was crying, the first thing that helped us was to check for a diaper, see if he was hungry, and find out the last time he slept.
Nine times out of ten (especially before our son was 6-months-old), he would cry for one of those three reasons. He would immediately stop crying once we figured out if he needed a diaper change, a bottle, or sleep.
Moreover, the “trifecta checklist” is a great tip for traveling with a baby, period.
Plan For Several Stops
This brings me to my next tip – you will need to plan for several stops when road tripping with a baby. This is important and inevitable. Depending on your baby and their stage in life, you may need to plan a stop every 1 -3 hours.
Why? Because you need to give your baby breaks. The best way to take breaks is by incorporating fun activities, tours, or stops at cute little towns. As a family who loves to hike, we plan our stops around hiking places.
You also want to be prepared to carve out a couple of hours on your road trip for diaper changes, breastfeeding, and walks. Honestly, these stops are so healthy because a nice break is beneficial for both the parents and child when the baby gets fussy.
Plan for Itinerary Changes
With that said, you can also expect to change your itinerary. Going on a road trip with a baby is not always easy. You may get behind schedule. That is OKAY!
I recommend setting a goal for Plan A, knowing you most likely will end up with Plan B. This could mean taking an activity (or two) out of the day, going to a drive-thru instead of dining inside, taking the highway instead of a more scenic route, etc.
If planning road trips is daunting for you. Do not worry! There are awesome apps for road tripping planning that can help you.
I am probably one of the most impatient people in the universe, but I had to find the patience to succeed when road tripping with a baby.
As you may have already gathered from my previous tips, a typical 2-hour road trip may take up to 4 hours. So take deep breaths, and remember it’s about the journey and the memories you create with your family. It is not a race to the finish line or, in this case, the destination.
Once you can find patience, your road trip with a baby will be so much more enjoyable.
Plan Driving Around Naps
If possible, plan the driving around your baby’s sleep schedule. We always try our best to drive 30 minutes before our son’s scheduled nap.
If you do not already keep track of your baby’s sleep schedule, now would be the time to start. Our favorite baby app is Huckleberry because it keeps track of sleep, feedings, medicine, and more.
Another tip for road tripping with a baby and their naps – pack a swaddle blanket with patterns and keep it in the car. We use swaddle blankets for three things. Of course, we use it to wrap our son, but we also use it for two road trip tips.
We place the swaddle blanket over the car seat to help provide more shade and a quiet space for our son to sleep while on the road. We also use it to keep our son calm and engaged by looking at the patterns. He would always stare and try to touch the patterns on the swaddle blanket.
Be Prepared to Pack MORE Than Ever!
My goodness, I think we had a full-sized suitcase packed to the top just for our son. From the 2 – 3 clothes per day to diapers, baby wipes, towels, and everything else – our son had more stuff than the two of us combined.
Not to mention, the car seat, the stroller, the pack-n-play… everything will quickly add up. So if you are renting a vehicle for the road trip, I suggest an SUV.
Pack the Car with Easy Access
What is a road trip without snacks, right? I think this tip works for any road trip – make the snack bag easily accessible. More importantly, when road tripping with a baby, you want to make sure all the essentials are also easily accessible.
Whether that means a cooler with baby bottles, a bag of toys, or a diaper bag, you want to make sure you can easily reach these items.
Pack Extra Batteries
Today, so many of the best ways to keep a baby happy and calm require batteries. Therefore, you do not want to forget to pack extra batteries.
Before your road trip, check all electronics that require batteries and either replace them with new batteries or pack extra batteries for them.
Stretch and Massage Baby
Just like adults, a baby’s body and muscles will get stiff and sore after sitting in a car seat for long periods of time. So it is recommended to massage and stretch your baby when you take breaks or at night in your accommodations.
The benefits of massaging and stretching your baby are significant. It can help calm a fussy baby, ease tummy troubles, boost muscle development, and most importantly, soothe babies to sleep.
Baby Wipes are like Gold
One of the most important things I have learned as a parent is that baby wipes are gold! We use baby wipes for EVERYTHING!
We use baby wipes to change diapers, clean spills in the car, wipe dirty hands, clean hard surfaces or utensils, and more. With that said, at least two stacks of baby wipes are essential when road tripping with a baby.
New Toys or Rotate Toys
Something we learned from the Montesorri Method is rotating toys. We do this at home and find it useful for road tripping with a baby.
Before a road trip, we will remove a few of our son’s favorite toys. Then when we are on the road trip, we reintroduce the toys (one at a time) so that the toys are “new,” exciting, and engaging. Of course, you can also buy new toys for a road trip.
It is essential to give the baby only one toy to focus on at a time. This way, when they get bored with one toy, there is a new one to play with because, let’s be honest, babies LOVE NEW things!
Okay, this tip is from personal experience. I am not sure of any scientific research to prove this works, but it does for us – and I hope it does for you too.
During my pregnancy, I listened to this one trance album that I found calming and peaceful while I worked. Adam read that the music I listened to during pregnancy is what the baby would find relaxing after birth. It turns out it worked at least 80% of the time for us.
On our road trips, we would listen to this one trance album on repeat until our son was fast asleep. I swear it made our son calm and fall asleep almost every time.
Now, fast forward to when our son was 9 – 12 months old – things changed. Children’s music that we listened to at home helped our son stay calm during road trips. It was not music to our ears like our favorite trance album, but it kept our son happy, relaxed, and quiet – and that IS music to our ears.
So, music that is familiar with the baby at home will most certainly help put the baby at ease during road trips. You can also use a portable sound machine or play white noise from the car speakers.
How to Feed a Baby on a Road Trip
Whether you breastfeed your baby, bottle feed your baby, or are in the stage of providing snacks/solid foods – here are a few simple tips for feeding a baby on a road trip.
Breastfeeding a Baby on a Road Trip
First and foremost, do not breastfeed your baby in a moving car. This is very dangerous in the event of a car accident. Therefore, allow extra time to stop the vehicle and breastfeed your baby. If possible, utilize this time for restroom breaks, to get gas, food, etc.
If you pump, pack a breast pump car charger, breastmilk storage bags, spare parts, and a cooler to store pumped breastmilk. Moreover, continue to practice good nursing hygiene and habits as if you were at home.
Bottle Feeding a Baby on a Road Trip
Whether it’s breastmilk or formula, you want to pack a cooler to bottle feed your baby on the road.
Make sure you pack enough bottled water and formula powder (if you use formula). To help with space, I recommend pouring a small amount of water into the baby bottles and adding the formula when needed.
Furthermore, a formula dispenser can come in handy in the car. Then store a large container of formula in a suitcase.
Feeding Snacks to a Baby on a Road Trip
Once your baby can eat solid foods and/or pureed food, it can make feeding on the road a lot easier. I recommend packing snacks/food that your baby is familiar with, will enjoy, and is easy to eat on the go.
A few snacks that are easy to eat on the road are the squeezable veggie and fruit pouches, yogurt pouches, and Cheerios.
How to Change a Baby on a Road Trip
Honestly, sometimes there is no easy or right way to change a baby on the road. Through trial and error, find what works best for you!
For us, we have stopped at gas stations, rest stops, and have even needed to pull over on the side of the road to change our son. If a changing table in a bathroom is not available, we utilize our car. Moreover, a travel changing mat has been the key to our success because we can use it on any hard surface.
What to Pack for a Road Trip with a Baby
Believe me when I say you will probably pack your entire nursery when you road trip with a baby. Babies need soooo much! So do not feel like you packed “too much” because you will probably use everything.
Here are a few essential items to pack when road tripping with a baby.
- A car seat, obviously
- Pack n Play for sleeping
- Stroller (if you find you will need/use it)
- Plenty of diapers (if you run out, you can always buy more at a store)
- Plenty of baby wipes (again, if you run out, you can always buy more at a store)
- Portable changing mat
- First aid kit
- Baby Tyenol and Benadryl (approved by your pediatrician)
- 3 sets of clothes per day
- Swaddle blankets and/or sleep sacks
- Batteries for any toys
- Portable white noise machine
- Baby bottles
- Travel sterlizing bags for bottles
- Bottle soap and brushes
- Travel high chair
How Long Can You Go on a Road Trip with a Baby?
There is no exact number of hours that you can road trip with a baby, but it is highly recommended to give your baby plenty of breaks. Just like adults, our bodies can only take sitting in a car for so long. So imagine how a baby feels.
From personal experience, when our son was 2 – 4 months old, we could only go on 3-hour road trips. From 5 to 12 months old, we have only been able to drive up 8 hours a day. When we would drive 8 hours, the day would get divided into several stops at different cities. So really, it was two, 4-hour drives in one day and even then we had to break that up at times.
To figure out what is best for you and your family, I would practice around your city first, especially if you have been nesting for the first few weeks/months. Start with a short 30 minute to one-hour drive.
Then gradually work towards a 2 – 3 hour day trip. Eventually, you will learn your baby’s road trip habits to plan for a weekend getaway with a 4-5 hour road trip.
Road Trip with a Baby ( 1 – 4 Months)
The first few months of going on a road trip with a baby are the easiest and the toughest because everyone is still learning their roles. On one hand, a baby sleeps the most at this stage, so driving through naps is easier. On the other hand, this might be the most challenging stage because, as first-time parents, we are all just trying to survive, right?
Moreover, I recommend waiting at least two weeks before going on a road trip with a baby because the first few weeks as a parent are the hardest!
Additionally, I went with my pediatrician’s recommendation and waited for our son to receive his vaccines at 2 months before we traveled outside of our city. I would always consult with your pediatrician and do what is best for you and your family.
After we figured out the amount of time we could drive without stopping, this was the easiest and best time to road trip with a baby. Our son would sleep for the majority of the time. We would engage him with black and white toys and books when he wasn’t sleeping.
Here are a few products that I highly recommend for road tripping with a baby between 1 – 4 months old.
Road Trip with a Baby ( 5 – 8 Months)
At this stage in life, if your baby is becoming mobile, independent, and napping less – road tripping with a baby might become a little more complicated. Mainly because you may need to help entertain your baby.
In our experience, once our son became mobile and napped less, we had to entertain him more on road trips. It would require one person to always sit in the backseat to play with him. It also meant stopping more frequently to keep him active and happy.
Furthermore, rotating toys will become essential during this stage because of the developmental leaps. A baby will want to be constantly engaged and challenged. At 5 months, a baby should also start seeing colors well.
Therefore, I recommend these colorful toys for road tripping with a baby between 5 – 8 months old.
Road Trip with a Baby ( 9 – 12 Months)
Road tripping with a baby at 9 – 12 months old may or may not be the most challenging time. It could be the hardest if your baby is mobile, enjoys being active, and just doesn’t like car rides – period. If you’ve been road tripping with your baby for several months, it might just go as smoothly as one could hope.
For us, it was hard, but not that bad. Our son had grown used to traveling and taking road trips. So he would be okay for 3 – 4 hours at a time. Granted, we made an epic 2-week road trip through West Texas and New Mexico. Therefore, we had plenty of overnight stays in fun towns such as Fort Davis and San Angelo with fun activities to keep everyone entertained.
The best way to road trip with a baby between 9 – 12 months old is to keep the baby active and entertained by exciting roadside attractions and pit stop destinations. Let your baby be mobile, and your road trip just might be the most enjoyable family vacation you could ever imagine!
We mostly entertained our son with activities at different destinations along our journey, but here are a few products that I also recommend for road tripping with a baby between 9 – 12 months old.
And that’s a wrap! I hope you have found my guide on road tripping with a baby helpful and insightful. Like all parents, I wish I had all the answers, but my knowledge and experience are all I have. I hope it is enough to help you and your family have successful road trips for many years to come!
Sunday 19th of March 2023
Since my baby is 8 months old and we live in San Diego, I appreciate all of your advice. We are preparing to drive to San Francisco so that our baby can meet the family. Many people advised us to travel after the baby has gone to sleep. Then I came across your essay, which has been a huge assistance to us with all of our issues. Many thanks
Sunday 19th of March 2023
Aww thank you. I’m glad my post has been helpful to you. I know some say to drive at night when the baby is sleeping, but that never appealed to us. And every baby is different! If you can, I would try a day trip to get some experience. We now have twin babies and the same has applied with them. We drive an hourish before nap and they are out for at least 2 hrs. And have learned that they really can’t do more than 5 hours without getting out of the car for a break. If you have questions, feel free to ask.
Tuesday 7th of June 2022
Thank you for all the tips; my baby is 9 months we live in San Diego and are planning to drive to San Francisco so our baby can meet the family. A lot of people told us drive at night when the baby is sleeping. Then I found your article and help us a lot with all our concerns. Thank you
Wednesday 8th of June 2022
Hi Emma, thank you for your comment. That makes me so happy to hear you found my guide helpful. I hope my tips help you for your family road trip!