Navigate your first road trip with a baby
Atlanta to Sarasota and back again; this is a trip I’ve taken many times solo; this is a trip that I considered easy; this is a trip that’s only downfall is staying on the same highway for the entire length; and still, this is a trip that was painfully difficult with a two month old on board.
Now before I get into the nitty gritty details of the trip itself, let me explain how it came about to begin with. First, I am Catholic. It was very important to me that my son was baptized and be baptized in the presence of loved ones, but it was not realistic to request that my family and friends travel to us in order to make that happen. I also am no longer an active church-goer. I’ve sporadically attended random churches, but I wanted my son to be baptized in a church that felt like home to me. This is why I wanted it held at the church I grew up attending in my hometown where my family still lives. Once I decided that I would be traveling to Sarasota, I needed to think about when. I am currently on 12 weeks of maternity leave and I figured the best time would be during these 12 weeks so I wouldn’t have to take additional time off work.
Because Zay was still so little and had not received any of his vaccinations yet, I did not want to expose him to all of the germs and thousands of travelers at an airport. A road trip was really our only option. Luckily, only half of the trip was dreadful. The drive down to Florida went surprisingly smooth. Zay slept 90 percent of the 7.5-hour drive and only woke up to eat. He had one brief fussy period abut 45 minutes before we hit our destination so we just stopped at a rest area and walked around with him in the shade until he fell back asleep.
The trip from Florida back up to Atlanta though was extremely difficult. We left much later than we had anticipated and Zay was not having it from the get-go. He was whiny and fussy for a majority of the ride. My pumping times overlapped with feeding times and didn’t match up with stops for food or gas, so our 7.5-hour trip ended up taking us almost 12! Because of these delays, we ended up hitting both morning rush-hour traffic around the Bay area and afternoon rush-hour in Atlanta. I was completely exhausted by the time we got back home. There were some things I wish I had done differently, and then there are some things I will definitely 100 percent make sure I do again on the next long car ride. So learn from my mistakes and successes to smoothly navigate baby’s first road trip with these five tips:
1. Bring a driving partner
My mom flew up to Atlanta JUST to drive with me down to Florida. I picked her up from the airport with the car all packed at 7 a.m. and we just kept going south. Having her there was really what made the first leg of the trip so easy and what was our saving grace on the much more difficult drive returning home.
With a driving partner, one of you can sit in the backseat with the baby to pop the pacifier back in, bottle feed, interact with or soothe him while the other, ya know, drives. If you’re a single mom like I am, recruit a friend or a family member to take the trip with you. Offer bribes of baby kisses and snuggles and you really shouldn’t have a problem. Even if you do what I did and have someone fly into town just so they can drive with you to wherever your going, do it. An $80 one-way flight is worth it, trust me.
2. Pump on the go
Once you lock in your driving partner, use the time while baby is sleeping and the other person is driving to pump. Even if you are exclusively breastfeeding, it might be beneficial for you to pump just so you don’t need to stop for the entire duration of a feeding. Yes, you may still need to stop to burp your little, but a short stop to burp is still better than a much longer stop for a full feed. If you are an exclusive pumper, then you know the importance of not missing a pumping session. Your baby may be able to sleep longer than typical in the car given the snug carseat and vibration of the drive, but don’t let a sleeping baby stop you from sticking to your pumping schedule. Let your driving partner take the reins while you hook up. Or if you’re udderly amazing (ha! get it?!) like this one woman, you can pump and drive at the same time. I have not mastered this art, but it’s worth a try particularly if you can’t lock in a driving partner.
3. Coordinate feeding times with stops for gas / food
Whether you are bottle feeding or breast feeding, try to plan your stops for gas around baby’s feeding schedule. If he wakes up and you still have half a tank left, fill up anyways. You know how to multi-task, after all you are a mom, so use those skills to save time during necessary stops. It may not seem like much when it only takes 5 minutes to fill up the tank or to go through a drive-thru, but you also have to factor in the time it takes getting on and off the interstate for each of these things plus the time it takes you to do what you need to do. If you’re stopping separately for gas, food, bathroom breaks and feedings, all of those 5 minutes will add up and you’ll feel like you’re stopping more than your traveling; and the goal of this journey is NOT to enjoy the ride, but to get there as fast as possible.
4. Know where the next rest stop is
Even though you’re doing your best to minimize stop-time, you may have no choice but to pull over if baby needs you to. After all, baby is running the show these days. Because of this, always know where the next rest stop is along the highway. If your little starts stirring and there’s a rest area in 2 miles, pull off and try to calm the melt-down before it happens. Don’t wait until you’ve got a screaming baby who just wants to be consoled before you start looking for a safe place to get out and hold him. This is complicated for two reasons: 1. because you will be distracted by your crying child to drive safely and/or to thoroughly look for a safe place to pull over and 2. because you may not have a rest area for many more miles.
5. Pack light
Ok, so much easier said than done for first-time moms on first-time road trips with baby. He NEEDS his bouncer, his toys, his stroller and alllll of his clothes; and you NEED all of your shoes, hair supplies, and entire contents of your medicine cabinet. But in actuality, all you both need are the bare essentials. (I know, I know, those ARE the bare essentials!) But really, combine your clothes and his into one suitcase, stock up your largest diaper bag with only the necessary medicines and baby supplies you’ll need for the duration of the trip, choose one (or two, max) toys, and forego any large or bulky baby items that you can do without for a few days (or weeks depending on how long your vacay is). The less you pack, the less you need to keep track of and the less you have to worry about unloading at the end of the trip. Nothing hurts more than having to make 15 trips up and down a flight of stairs to empty the car after a grueling 12-hour, 500-mile car ride. Well except maybe labor and delivery, of course.
So whether its just you and baby, or you, baby and a helper, it is possible to navigate baby’s first road trip as long as you keep a few of the above tips in mind. And remember, don’t stress, you’ll get where you’re going whenever you get there.