After living 10 hours from family for most of Ada's first year of life, moving across the country, and frequenting my in-laws' out-of-state lake house, I'd like to say I'm an expert in baby travel. I wish I could say being an expert means my little loves never fuss and they are perfect little angels but unfortunately kids will be kids, man. Although their behavior is out of my control to an extent, I do feel like I've developed a few #momhacks along the way! And with Memorial Day weekend coming up, I want you to be prepared for travel with your little one, too! Especially since the recent quarantine has probably made you a little rusty with your own trip routines.
1. Keep baby cool and comfortable: Those carseats are like little heaters and if you combine that with an angry baby, it turns into an inferno situation real quick. I try to always dress baby in just a onesie and add layers of blankets as needed! We love to use these swaddle blankets for warmth that prevents overheating. I'm also obsessed with this travel fan --often even with air vents in the backseat, there isn't enough airflow. We have used this in the car and it is able to be charged and used for outdoor events! Clips right onto the stroller or carseat--obsessed. I may or may not have also used this when pregnant to cool off faster in the car.
2. Try to leave about 20-30 minutes after last feed: I give the 20-30 minute buffer because I've made the mistake firsthand of putting a just-fed baby in a carseat. That's a one-way ticket to Blowoutville and Tummy Ache City. Feed, do your diaper change (see below for a diapering hack), burp, do a little floor time (it's great if Dad can be loading the last of the stuff while you do all this with babe) and then pop them in their seat. I also say to put them in after a feed and not at nap time because it allows you to get further down the road without having to stop to feed.
3. Put them in a nighttime diaper: This is a game changer, y'all! I only recently started doing this and have seen a huge reduction in road trip blowouts. There's something about the way their little bottoms are smushed in the harness that is the perfect storm for an outfit change. We have been loving these diapers and they recently came out with a Nighttime version --use that link to get $15 off your first order!! If you can't get your hands on those in time, try these. I always recommend sizing up in an overnight diaper, too!
4. Make the sleeping situation as close to their "normal" as possible: For us, this means White noise + Dark + Pacifier. We use this portable white noise machine every time we travel and it has been great for outings (remember those?) if he is napping on the go. Just make sure to pack extra batteries. To create the dark environment, I love to put this baby quilt in their window (only do this if they're behind the driver's seat, which I recommend if they're not in the middle--it will block your view if it's in the passenger back window...Ada June also uses this quilt to cover up with on car trips!). I also have been using my nursing/carseat cover for bright daytime naps in the car--just be sure it's pulled taut to avoid worrying about it being in baby's face. I also can't recommend enough these pacifier clips--I wish I could say I was not that mom cranking my arm around my seat to desperately try to find the pacifier, but I am. This whole process has been so much smoother now that I've been clipping his pacifier to his harness so he can't wedge it in the hardest-to-reach spot. It also makes it easier for him to find it now that he's getting older!
5. Prepare to entertain: Depending on your baby's age, you will have to adapt this to fit their needs. For 0-3 month-olds, I recommend one parent sitting in the backseat. They are too little to entertain themselves and are often scared in this new environment. A familiar face there to comfort them goes a long way! I've submitted my prone-to-carsickness self to this routine many-a-time and let me tell you, it's way better than a screaming baby. For 3-6 month-olds I love to use these linking rings to attach toys to their carseat handle for easy access! For 6 mos+, grab a bag and stuff it full of toys and books! This is the stage where they think it's hilarious to throw things out of their seat and watch you scramble for it--so either use the linking rings or be prepared to hand back a new toy approximately every 30 seconds. A travel mirror is also a must-have item in my book--both for you to see baby and for them to enjoy looking at themselves! I have found that during nap time it's best to remove it though, otherwise it can be a distraction.
6. Have supplies easily accessible: I am obsessed with this clip-in backseat organizer. It's great for keeping important items easily accessible and will be beneficial through the toddler/young child years. I also love to travel with our diaper caddy --trust me when I say it is way easier than digging through a diaper bag and we constantly use this around the house to have necessary supplies close-by. We love the wipes from Hello Bello and I try to keep an extra pack in the car just in case.
7. Prepare for the worst but hope for the best: Depending on the length of your trip, you might need to pack more than one change of clothes in case of a blowout. One road trip will forever go down in history in our household because Ada June threw up not once, not twice, but THREE times. She had a tummy bug and we had no idea and I was ill-prepared for such a catastrophe. And speaking of being sick, I ALWAYS keep Tylenol and Motrin in my diaper bag, as well as my favorite all-natural teething oil.I typically pack baby's emergency change of clothes in the diaper bag inside a grocery sack. This way you have something to put the poop or milk-stained items in--just don't forget to take them out and wash them (been there, done that..it's not pretty).
-Expect the trip to take much longer than usual: I feel like this is a no-brainer but something I continually had to wrap my brain around as a first time mama. With feedings + diaper changes + food stops + bathroom breaks for Mom & Dad, it can add a significant amount of time. If you're on a 3+ hour trip, try to lay out a blanket in your backseat, cargo space, or in the grass at a gas station and allow your little love to stretch out! If this isn't possible, try holding them or baby wearing and walking around outside to get some fresh air and a change of scenery. I promise you even 5-10 minutes of this makes a huge difference in their ability to tolerate getting back into the carseat.
-As for when you reach your destination, you want baby to feel as close to home as you can--this not only sets them up for sleep success but hopefully allows you to have a more relaxing stay, as well. We adore our travel crib and I am obsessed with the Slumberpod--which creates a nice dark, quiet space wherever you are! There's nothing like getting to the room baby will stay in and realizing it's the brightest room in the house. Or if you have to room-share with baby, the Slumberpod is also great for keeping them from seeing or hearing you sleeping next to them--for older babies this is crucial to a good night's sleep and parents being able to get ready in the morning or watch TV before bed!
8. My holy grail tip: Baby Einstein-Baby Mozart...I am very anti-screen time for babies under 1 and try to avoid it as much as possible until 2...but let me tell you--this one is a life-saver. It's basically a video with classical music (aka not a nightmare to listen to over and over) + baby toys being activated. It will put your child in a trance and give you the moment of reprieve you all need if baby has been super fussy. It's about 25 minutes long and I am not ashamed to say we have played this on our phones at the end of road trips more often than not. It's from 1998. It's very poor quality footage of a VHS tape. It's amazing. Just watch it. It is my gift to you. If you don't want to use your phone, we love this iPad headrest holder for hands-free screen use. This is another one that grows with baby throughout the years.
I hope this helps set you off on the stairway to heaven rather than the highway to...well, you get the point. I can't promise a cry-free trip but I can promise you it's a lot more likely with these tips.