7 Tips for Road Trips with Babies
Updated: Mar 11, 2019
A wise person once said, "A vacation with your young kids isn't a vacation - it's a trip." I have to agree. I lovvvve traveling. However, I don't love the idea of traveling with two grumpy babies, messing up their sleep schedules and getting such little sleep yourself that it makes it impossible to do the activities once you finally reach your destination.
But, it's so important to us to continue the things that we love and introduce our kids to travel and different cultures at a young age. As a military family, it's guaranteed that cross-country moves and trips to see family are in their future. So why not make the most of it?!
We will fly with our littles (a toddler and an infant) when it's absolutely necessary, but after traveling by plane and car, we've decided road trips are the way to go right now because a.) We have control over the transportation situation b.) The car is a much more private space for tantrums; and c.) We can load up all of the 1,208 baby items in the car instead of hauling them through the airport.
After two long road trips from Clarksville, TN to Tampa (13 hours without traffic) and Boone, NC (6 hours without traffic) and frequent trips to see my parents in Indiana, we feel like we have road trips with babies down to a science. Of course, there's always variables we cannot foresee, but these methods have worked for us thus far:
1. Stay at an airbnb versus a traditional hotel. Not because we are hipsters, but because we love sleep. This applies to long road trips that turn into multiple day excursions. We've tried staying in hotels, but once our toddler turned 1, it became nearly impossible to get her to sleep in the same room as us.
We've heard of crazy stories from other parents camping out in the bathroom until the kids fall asleep. But, if you're not comfortable letting your child cry it out when strangers are sleeping in the room next door, opt for a vacation rental. They are usually cheaper than hotels in the area (especially if it's rural and not on a holiday), and you can get as many rooms as you want to adhere to a semi-normal sleeping routine. Plus, it's fun to experience local neighborhoods you might otherwise have missed. My favorite so far was this gorgeous Victorian in Columbus, GA built in 1907. Our one mistake was watching BirdBox in a creaky old home 😬.
2. Bring a cooler with plenty of snacks, milk, etc. This one might seem like common sense, but it is so important. It's much cheaper and healthier to bring your own food instead of relying on gas station and rest stop snacks. And it could save you a stop along the way when the toddler is screaming at the top of her lungs for graham crackers!
We also plan our meals and either make sandwiches or grab subs from Publix the night before our departure. Pro-tip: bring some beer or wine in the cooler so you can de-stress after the journey without running to the liquor store! Seems like alcoholism, but trust me, you'll need it 😂.
3. Plan out your stops in advance near healthy restaurants and parks. Similar to bringing snacks, but researching potential stops and healthy restaurants is so helpful. Of course, there are always emergency stops, but these should be your main breaks in the journey. For example, we were trying to avoid fast food and found a Panera on our way to North Carolina. While driving to Florida, my hubby found a nice park along our route so our toddler could burn off some energy. Only issues were the bathroom was locked, and it was too cold to play!
4. Skip the expensive car TV accessory and use an iPad holder instead. Car TV's can get expensive these days. My parents bought us a simple iPad holder for $30 on Amazon, and it works like a charm. We stream Netflix on there, which is a smart idea to do the night before the trip. We worry that Addie will become dependent on the screen for short drives, so we just turn it on when she gets fussy.
5. Pick your routes carefully based on traffic patterns instead of relying on what Maps says is the fastest route. For example, from Clarksville to Tampa, it's technically the fastest route to go through Atlanta and take I-75 all the way down. But, we got stuck in major traffic when I was pregnant and added almost 2 hours to our driving time. When we took the kids, we were more strategic and took what maps said was slightly longer, but we actually saved a ton of time (and spared tantrums sitting in traffic).
6. Wear nursing-friendly clothing. Obviously, only applies to nursing moms, but plan out your travel attire the night before you depart. Nursing in the car will likely happen, and that warm sweater dress isn't going to cut it, even though it's so cute and comfy! I stick to layers with tanks underneath with cardigans, button-down plaids or shawls over them in the winter.
7. Lower expectations for your ETA. If our maps say a drive takes 6 hours, we know to plan for approximately an 8-hour day with stops and traffic. Babies 💩, cars run out of gas and sometimes you just need a break. Try to enjoy the journey with your babies 🚙👶👧.