Ages & Stages: 0 – 5: Taking a Road Trip with Your Baby

To Grandmother’s house we go. And you’ll be in the car for five whole hours. How can you make the trip enjoyable with a baby along?

Learn About It
There’s no question: Marathon car trips with a baby on board take a good amount of planning and organization. But it can be done and yes, it can even be fun.

Planning the Trip
In the hustle that precedes a trip, it can be easy to let things happen, instead of make things happen. Be proactive in making your trip decisions. Contemplating these questions, and coming up with the right answers, can help make your trip more successful:
Does your baby sleep well in the car? If yes, plan your travel time to coincide with a nap or bedtime so your baby can sleep through part of the journey. If not, plan to leave immediately after a nap or upon waking in the morning. Don’t fool yourself into thinking your baby will behave differently than usual in the car just because it’s a special occasion.
Is it necessary to make the trip all at once, or can you break it up with stops along the way? The longer your baby is strapped in the car seat, the more likely he’ll become fussy. Planning a few breaks can keep everyone in a better frame of mind.
When estimating an arrival time, have you factored in plenty of extra time for unplanned surprises. A diaper explosion that requires a complete change of clothes or a baby whose inconsolable crying requires an unexpected 20-minute stop are just two of the things that can easily happen.
Do you have everything you need to make the trip pleasant? Items such as window shades to protect your baby from the sun can create a darker, nap-inducing atmosphere; a cooler for cold drinks; a bottle warmer if needed; plenty of toys that are new or forgotten favorites saved just for the trip; baby-friendly music on tape or CD; a rear-view baby mirror to keep on eye on baby (unless a second person will be sitting with your little one); books to read to your baby.

Preparing the Car
Take plenty of time to get the car ready for your trip. If two adults are traveling, consider yourself lucky and arrange for one person to sit in the back seat next to the baby. If you are traveling alone with your little one, you’ll need to be more creative in setting up the car, and you’ll need to plan for more frequent stops along the way.
Here are a few tips for making the car a traveling entertainment center for your baby:
Use ribbon or yarn and safety pins or tape to hang an array of lightweight toys from the ceiling of the car to hang over your baby. An alternative is to string a line from one side of the car to the other with an array of toys attached by ribbons. Bring along an assortment of new toys that can be exchanged when you stop the car for a rest. Just be sure to use small toys and keep them out of the driver’s line of view.
Tape brightly colored pictures of toys on the back of the seat that your baby will be facing.
If no one will be sitting next to your baby and your child is old enough to reach for toys, set up an upside-down box next to the car seat with a shallow box or a tray with ledges on top of it. Fill this with toys that your baby can reach for by himself. You might also shop around for a baby activity center that attaches directly to the car seat.
If you plan to have someone sitting next to baby, then provide that person with a gigantic box of toys with which to entertain the little one. Distraction works wonders to keep a baby happy in the car. One of the best activities for long car rides is book reading. Check your library’s early reading section; it typically features a large collection of baby-pleasing titles in paperback that are easier to tote along than board books.
Bring along an assortment of snacks and drinks for your older baby who’s regularly eating solids, and remember to bring food for yourself, too. Even if you plan to stop for meals, you might decide to drive on through if your baby is sleeping or content — saving the stops for fussy times.
Bring books on tape or quiet music for the adults for times when your baby is sleeping. The voice on tape might help keep your baby relaxed and it will be something you can enjoy.
If you’ll be traveling in the dark, bring along a battery-operated nightlight or flashlight.

Car Travel Checklist
Well-stocked diaper bag
Baby’s blanket
Car seat pillow or head support
Window shades (sun screens)
Change of clothes for your baby
Enormous box of toys and books
Music or books on tape or CDs
Baby food, snacks and drinks for your baby
Sipper cups
Snacks and drinks for the adults
Wet washcloths in bags, or moist towelettes
Empty plastic bags for leftovers and trash
Bottle warmer
Cell phone
Baby’s regular sleep music or white noise (if needed, bring extra batteries)
First-aid kit/prescriptions/medications
Jumper cables
Medical and insurance information/emergency phone numbers
Maps/driving directions
Baby carrier/sling/stroller
Camera and film

Excerpted from “Gentle Baby Care” (McGraw-Hill, 2003) by Elizabeth Pantley.