There is no way around it, traveling is different once you have children. There is no easy, jump-in-the-car-and-go anymore. You need to plan and prepare to have a successful road trip. I’ll tell you the secret:
That’s it. You must have patience. This may be a very hard trait to pull from yourself, but I assure you that the absolute only way to enjoy the trip will be with patience on your mind.
Repeat after me: This trip is going to take significantly longer than planned, and that is okay.
The timing of this piece could not be better. I am preparing to drive 17 hours from Northern Virginia to South Florida this holiday season – just me and my three children: 6,4, and 2 years old. Oh and I’ll be 26 weeks pregnant. The truth is that this is not my first rodeo. I’ve taken this circus on the road multiple times; and on this specific journey at least four times in the past two years. My husband cannot take the extended time off work to join us for the two week vacation, so he flies in for the last week and drives back with us. Most people think I am plain crazy, but our family is all in Florida – and it gets down right COLD up here. So a 2-3 week vacation on a Florida beach isn’t so crazy. This brings me back to my secret of road tripping with my children: PATIENCE. I am still sane, even after all of these trips. If I can do it, so can you.
Whether you are driving alone with your baby or children, or your partner, awesome family member or best friend is making the trip with you, there are ways to help make the trip a smooth one (Well, there will be bumps in the road, I’m sure).
Invest in AAA: I cannot imagine breaking down on the side of a highway with my babies in tow and no way to get (free) help. Eh, I’m lying; I’ve totally gotten a flat tire and had a dead battery while on trips. I will go kiss my AAA card right now.
Clean out the car: I mean vacuum it and empty it out completely. Start with a blank canvas. Yes, you will need to do this again when you get home, but starting your trip with a clean car will just make you feel lighter and happier.
Trust you child’s carseat: Check the installation, making sure the latches or belt are being used properly. You child should be rear-facing for as long as the carseat manual states is safe. (PLEASE do not forward face your child before the recommended point!) Babies, toddlers, and kids grow overnight, so make sure that the carseat straps are at the appropriate level: below the shoulders if rearfacing and just above if forward facing. The chest clip needs to be across the chest (imagine that!), NOT near the belly button. Straps should be tight enough so that you cannot pinch them at all. Also, do not place your little one in his carseat while he’s in a jacket. This prohibits the carseat from performing at its optimal level if you are in an accident. Cover him with a blanket after he is safely buckled.
Make sure to fill out the safety card under (or on the side of) the carseat. There is a sticker or card that asks for your child’s information. In case of a crash, rescuers will know your child’s name, age, etc. Also, by keeping a “Baby on Board” sign in your window, you are telling rescuers that you are traveling with a child. This is important because there is a possibility of the carseat being ejected from the car. (Again, PLEASE check the installation.)
Map Your Trip: Take the time to figure out the estimated drive time. You know your child, about how long does he go in the car before he wants to nurse, be held, or just need out? When I took a 4 hour trip with my first baby at just 4 weeks post-partum, it took us 6 hours. Between stopping because my heart may have exploded due to newborn crying, her needing to breastfeed every hour or so, and me needing to pee, the trip timeline was thrown out the window. Have an idea of where decent hotels are along your trip. Stopping for the night may be your best option, especially if you are the only driver. OOOOH side note: Call ahead and make sure the hotel has a happy hour, or at least a room service that will deliver a glass of wine to your room. You totally deserve it.
GPS or Other App: You will want to be able to pull off the road for bathrooms, food stops, gas, or just a safe place to get baby out of the car. Make sure you have a GPS or a quality app on your phone that will provide trusted information about these places.
Plan for the (un)Expected: Wipes are your best friend. You can clean a mess, clean a baby, clean yourself, wipe the mascara from your crying eyes, etc. Keep them handy. Babies leak through diapers all the time. Or worse, they blow out their diapers. There is nothing that will ruin a trip like poop that is not only all over your baby, but all over the carseat. Keep a waterproof carseat pad under baby – or even just a prefold diaper. This will help mitigate the mess potential and can be tossed into a ziplock bag (or trash can). Keep changes of clothes for your infant, and yourself, in ziplock bags nearby. The bags will hold the dirty clothes if a change is needed – and keep any stinks from ruining the trip.
Good Music is Needed: Radio can get spotty. Music may be needed to soothe baby – or soothe you! Upbeat, happy, make-you-smile music is your best option!
Pack Well: This goes back to starting with a cleaned out car. Try to keep the interior of the car as clear as possible so you have room to sit by baby, change a diaper without moving things, and keep the car free of possible accident debris. Utilize your trunk space the best way you can. I completely understand that “stuff” is unavoidable as a mom. My three little ones travel with pillows, blankets, and toys. There are some moments that you have to choose sanity and pray for good drivers on the road.
Bring the Favorites: Don’t leave behind baby’s lovey, favorite binky, or other item that he loves. (This has never been a problem for me because my children attach themselves to my boobs no matter how hard I try for a lovey. Every.Single.One.Of.Them.)
Snacks: Bring food with you. Pack a small cooler with healthy(ish) snacks that will keep you awake and prevent you from stopping when it’s not needed. Keep a trash bag handy for easy disposal.
Travel around Sleep Times: If your baby is napping or sleeping regularly, try to plan your drive around those hours.
Do NOT text and drive, type and drive, check social media, or even hold your phone to your ear. You are carrying the most precious cargo in the world. NOTHING is worth losing them.
Have a VERY safe holiday travel season! Enjoy your road trip the best you can. Remember that in the scheme of life, this is just a blip on the radar screen. You can do it – and your family or friends will be SO happy that you did!