Tips for Taking a Road Trip With a Baby

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Having a new baby will force you to slow down in many ways, but that doesn’t mean you have to put everything else in life on pause. This includes travel! As a parent to a newborn or an infant, you might find yourself in a situation requiring you to pack up the car and hit the road at some point. Whether out of necessity or pure desire, traveling with a newborn — or taking a road trip with a baby of any age — can be nerve-wracking. There are a lot of details to consider when it comes to long car rides with tiny humans. So, here are my must-know tips for traveling with a baby by car and making your experience as manageable (and even enjoyable) as possible!

When Can You Travel With a Baby?

If traveling with a newborn or infant is on your agenda, your baby’s safety and well-being should be a top priority. According to Scripps Health, the three-month mark is typically considered safe for babies to travel for extended periods of time via car.1 That being said, it’s important to consider your own child’s temperament, health and needs when planning your next road trip. For added peace of mind, check with your pediatrician for the green light to gas up and go.

How Long Can a Baby Be in a Car Seat?

An Asian woman with glasses and a striped shirt places a baby in a car seat, preparing for a road trip with baby. The car door is open, and sunlight filters through trees in the background.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies don’t remain in car seats for any longer than two hours at a time.2 When does the 2-hour car seat rule end, you might wonder? Until your kiddo reaches their first birthday or can sit upright with control over their head and neck. If you’ve got a newborn in tow, the maximum recommended time limit in a car seat is just 30 minutes.4 Regardless, breaks are recommended between each stretch to ensure your baby’s safety and comfort.2 Plus, they’re a great opportunity to feed and change your little one . . . and soak up some rest-stop snuggles!

Can You Feed a Baby in a Car Seat?

It might be tempting to feed your baby as you wish while on the road. However, doing so while they’re in their car seat isn’t recommended. Babies should always be sitting up in a high chair or other safe spot for meals.3 Both eating and drinking while buckled in creates a risk of choking and aspiration. So, you’ll want to save snacks, bottles, and breastfeeding for those necessary breaks from the road — when your baby is safely out of their car seat and in your arms.

What To Pack for a Road Trip With a Baby

A major part of planning for a successful road trip with a baby is having everything you need at hand and within reach. I recommend being careful not to overpack, as vehicles can quickly become cramped with baby gear. You won’t want to dig for a diaper after an unexpected near-blowout! Speaking from experience, the items below are a must for traveling with a baby. They do not include all of the items that you will need to pack for your destination.

  • Ready-to-go diaper bag or car storage organizer stocked with:
  • A change of clothes for you (because nobody wants to travel in a spit-up-covered top)
  • A handful of gallon bags and/or several wet bags (for soiled clothing, dirty diapers, etc.)
  • A small baby blanket
  • Sun shades for car windows
  • A first aid kit with baby’s essentials (don’t forget the Boogie Wipes!)
  • Extra pacifiers (if your baby takes one)
  • Formula and/or breastmilk, clean bottles, and a cooler with ice packs
  • Breast pump and breast milk bags, if pumping (I prefer a wearable pump like the Willow Go while on the road!)
  • Snacks for baby (if they’re of age for solids)
  • Snacks and water for you
  • Toys, books, and comfort items for baby (I opt for lightweight options such as Indestructibles baby books or small board books, stroller toys, and favorite loveys)
  • A portable sound machine
  • A car seat mirror or car seat camera for keeping an eye on your little one
  • Baby gear and essentials for your destination (stroller, pack ‘n play, baby carrier, baby monitor, sound machine, etc.)

Note: If your little one has a favorite item that’s completely random but does the trick every time, bring it! When my daughter was an infant, we never left for road trips without a boxed puzzle. I kid you not; shaking it would keep her happy for hours. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather listen to that than a screaming kiddo!

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Other Tips for Hitting the Road With a Baby

You can’t always predict how traveling with a baby will go until the time comes. But you can keep a few tricks up your sleeve and hope for the best! While the above recommendations are an excellent starting point, it doesn’t hurt to be even more prepared for your road trip with your little one. Here are several helpful pointers:

Be Prepared, Yet Flexible

Have a plan ahead of time, but be flexible. It’s helpful to research rest stops and places to stop for meals before embarking on your road trip. That said, it’s equally important to be prepared to adapt as needed. For example, you might be used to eating lunch at noon on the dot at home. If your baby is extra fussy at 11:30 a.m. on your road trip, it might make sense to find the nearest exit a bit sooner and bend on your dining plans.

Plan for a Detour or Two

If you’re traveling a long distance by car, I highly recommend including at least one fun pit stop to break things up for everyone. Whether that’s a state park or historical site, an outlet mall, or a family attraction, this will make your trip even more memorable. Plus, it’ll give you a chance to stretch out and care for your most precious cargo outside the confines of the car. Win-win!

Consider Your Baby’s Sleep Patterns

If your little one doesn’t do well with typical daytime car rides, you might want to consider completing a bulk of your driving time during the night — when they’re likely to be tired enough to sleep more easily. If they need lots of snuggles at night, you might do the opposite. Every baby is different.

Sit in the Backseat, If Possible

When possible and necessary, sit in the backseat with your baby. If another adult is traveling with you, and your vehicle’s space constraints permit you to do so, take turns on “baby duty” beside your little one. This can serve as a comfort to your little babe (and you!) and make the trip feel a lot lighter. (Not to mention, it can alleviate a lot of unnecessary back pain . . . if you know, you know.)

Make a Space for Diaper/Clothing Changes

Keep a designated space open and clear for diaper and clothing changes. You never know when you’ll have to pull over for an emergency diaper change, so you want to be able to do so at any point of your trip. Aim to pack lightly enough that you’ll have no problem keeping some trunk space clear at all times for changes.

Maintain a Clean, Comfortable Feeding Space

Whether you’re bottle- or breastfeeding, doing so in a car (parked and stopped, of course!!) can be less than ideal for both baby and mom. Since you won’t get to cozy up like you’re used to at home, maintaining a tidy, comfortable space for feedings during driving breaks is essential. I always try to keep the space behind the front passenger’s seat clear so I can easily recline for feedings!

Give Yourself — And Your Baby — Grace

Spending hours on end in the car isn’t always easy for anyone. Roll with the punches, and remember, the road trip will come to an end. And it’ll be worth it!

Don’t Be Afraid of Traveling With a Baby

If I could give one tip to new parents when it comes to getting away, it would be this: don’t let the idea of traveling with a baby keep you from hitting the road and making memories as a family. With some planning and preparation, you just might find it easier than expected. I promise you’ll be glad you took the trip!