We’ve begun our Christmas travel marathon, which includes three sets of grandparents in six days. Unfortunately, all of those grandparents live 5-6 hours away from us, and our remote location means it’s rare that anyone actually comes to us.
So Baby Y has become a seasoned traveler, and not just at the holidays. He stayed in his first hotel at 10 days old during a “get this stir-crazy mommy out of the house” overnight trip. And he was such a champ that we’ve hit the road roughly every other weekend ever since.
Every mile we've logged has taught us a lot about traveling with a baby. Here are some travel lessons and tips for anyone taking a car trip with a wee one for the holidays or beyond:
- A baby packing list is crucial – there are so many little things! I made one on my iPhone a few months ago and refer to it often. On the flip side, if you do forget something, don’t freak out! Stores exist for a reason.
- When it comes to baby clothing, overpack. I generally take at least two outfits for every day we’ll be gone. (We’ve found that a long trip in the car seat often invites a diaper blowout. If you’ve ever seen a couple stripping their baby naked in a public parking lot, it might have been us.)
- Accept that you will have to stop for breaks – possibly a lot of them. We usually figure on an extra hour for every three we’re on the road.
- Exploit your baby’s schedule. It’s easiest for us to hit the road early or late, when the kiddo is already primed for sleep, or after he’s been up for a couple hours so that it’s naptime.
- Know your baby’s limits. Even though Baby Y is a pretty good traveler, we cap driving time at five hours a day to give him a break.
- The right gear can be a great help. The Baby Bjorn travel crib, while pricey, has been worth the money. A nursing pillow has kept in-the-car feedings comfy, and white noise from something like the Cloud B Gentle Giraffe can be a good sleep cue in an unfamiliar place.
- If you’re staying with family, consider having them keep the essentials on hand – diapers, Pack ‘n’ Play, a portable swing – so you don’t have to pack as much. Bring the baby monitor so you can put the baby to bed and visit with family a little longer.
- If you’re staying at a hotel, research amenities in advance. If you’re breastfeeding, see if there’s a fridge for you to store pumped milk. Also see whether the hotel will put a “buffer” room between you and other guests to minimize noise if you’re worried about crying. You may even want to consider splurging on a suite that will let you put your baby to bed in a separate room, making it easier for you to stay up without disturbing him.
- It may take a day or two for your baby to get back on schedule once back at home, so don’t be surprised if you have a crankypants on your hands at first.
Above all else, maintain perspective. Realize that every stage of a baby’s life will make travel both easier and harder. Baby Y was most portable when he was really little because he had no schedule – but he ate a ton and required more stops. Now that he’s gotten a bit older, he no longer drops off to sleep automatically, which means more fussy periods in the car. But he also goes longer stretches between feedings, letting us drive longer and do more.
A baby doesn’t need to keep you under house arrest. But the most important thing to bring on your trips? A sense of humor.
After all, you may need it when you’re peeling poo-encrusted clothing off your child in a public parking lot.
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