If you are planning to go traveling by car with a baby or toddler, it takes a bit of planning and creativity to make it a good experience!
Let’s take a look at some ways to prepare for the trip and how you can make the car ride safe and enjoyable for all of you.
Traveling by car with a baby or toddler can mean that your child sleeps for hours and you have all the time in the world to drive, talk to your travel companion, read a book or sleep…
…it can be hell with a furious baby who cries non-stop as soon as you put them in the infant car seat and who completely refuses to sleep. Then you’ll plan to go by plane the next time or to stay at home for the next five years or so…
You can’t really know in advance what traveling by car with your baby or toddler will be like. You can’t even be sure that it will be like the last time you tried. Babies grow and change. But you can plan to make the best of the situation.
Here you’ll find tips to make traveling by car with a baby as easy as possible.
How to Plan and Carry Out Car Traveling with a Baby or Toddler
In this article:
1. Safety when traveling by car with a baby or toddler
Safety first, of course! Make sure you have a good infant car seat and that you install it correctly.
If you rent a car, ask about airbags, so that you don’t put your baby in a seat with an airbag by accident. And if you don’t bring your own infant car seat, ask about what type they can provide and how old it is. A car seat should never be older than five years.
Also, don’t drive if you are very tired. Take turns with your travel companion if you’re not traveling alone. If you are alone, stop the car and go for a walk if you get even the least bit sleepy.
If you are traveling alone with your baby, expect to make frequent stops! Also, try to arrange with a mirrors so that you can easily see your baby without losing sight of the road.
2. Frequent stops are key
When traveling by car with a baby, plan for frequent stops, and realize that the journey is likely to take much longer than if you were traveling without a baby.
Particularly newborn babies should not sit for too long in a car seat. It may hurt their backs and recent research (referenced below) indicate spine injuries, breathing difficulties, and even a higher risk for SIDS when premature and young babies spend too much time in an upright sitting position, such as in a car seat.
There is a 2-hour rule that is often reffered to – that babies should not spend more than 2 hours per 24-hour period in a car seat. There is no research to back up this exact time limit, but it is a clear signal to keep time in a car seat as short as possible for young babies.
So make frequent stops to let your baby stretch out on a blanket or in his or her stroller. Older babies and toddler need to get some time to use their bodies for crawling, jumping, or whatever they enjoy doing. Plan for some stops along the way where there are parks or places for your toddler to play.
3. Toys that are perfect in a car
Bring a lot of toys! Either take away a few favorites a week or two before traveling or consider buying some new toys. You find ideas on toys for each baby month here.
A tip is to tie things together on a string. This will make your life so much easier when your baby drops or throws their toys.
For old enough babies or toddlers, an iPad can, of course, be a great distraction.
4. Easy feeding
If you breastfeed, you must stop the car to feed your baby. Even if it can be tempting to pick up your starving baby to feeding him on the highway while someone else is driving, just don’t!
(Yeah, I know this sounds totally crazy, but with a baby crying at the top of his or her voice, you can get all sorts of desperate ideas!)
If you get very stressed by hearing your infant’s crying, don’t take any chances. Feed him or her slightly ahead of the usual schedule. Or bring formula, baby snacks, or finger foods if your baby is old enough.
It is quite convenient to teach a baby to accept cold food so that you can feed him/her on the road. If that doesn’t work, consider buying a bottle/baby food warmer, like this one at Amazon.
And don’t forget to bring a baby bib and lots of paper napkins!
5. Don’t forget liquid
Bring water for both you and your baby, if your baby is old enough to drink water! Getting dehydrated will only make you sleepy, and might impair milk production if you breastfeed.
But do not give water to a young baby. That can lead to water intoxication.
6. Shelter from the sun
Make sure you can protect your child from the sun with some kind of sunshade (example at Amazon) that you can attach to either your child’s car seat or a window. A hat for your baby may also be good to have available.
7. Music, music
A mom I talked to drove for six hours and had to play “Are you going to San Francisco” during the whole trip to keep her baby from crying. No other song worked!
Playing music for your baby may entertain him/her for a while (or for six hours…)
Fix a couple of Spotify lists before you go – one with energizing music and one with lullabies.
If your baby or toddler has favorite songs, for example from attending a music class, make sure to add it to the list.
And singing and making moves together is a great way to play together in the car. An older baby or toddler will enjoy songs like “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” as a fun game. Start signing it at home, so they have already started to enjoy the movements before your trips!
8. When to go
When traveling by car with a baby or toddler, a good time to start the journey is when it is either bedtime or nap time for your baby. That way, you’ll get somewhere before you have to stop, which is nice.
If you’re lucky, you and your spouse (or your travel companion) will actually have some quality time talking to each other while your baby sleeps. Not bad!
9. What to Pack in the diaper bag
Don’t forget to bring a towel in your diaper bag, as well as sanitary towels and diapers, of course. A foldable changing pad can be very convenient.
Also, bring extra clothes for your baby and an extra top for you and your travel companion (if he or she also attends to the baby). Feeding, as well as diapering, can be messy on the go!
10. Tips for playing together
Most babies and toddler, except for maybe newborns, enjoy playing with their parents. If you are two people driving together, then one of you can sing for your baby, tickle him/her, play peek-a-boo and try stimulating your baby while awake. That way you’ll have a happier baby and one that sleeps better later on.
If you need games tips related to your baby’s age, check out our Baby Development section, and browse the different months for games and toys ideas (as well as milestones). You can read about toddler development milestones here.
Driving at night
It can be very convenient to drive at night with a baby. He or she sleeps and your journey will be easier and faster. Of course, you need to stay awake and might be very tired the next day. (And your baby will be as active as any day..!)
If you do plan to drive when it is dark outside, bring a flashlight or poratble night light. Many babies get really scared by sitting in the dark and just seeing occasional weird lights (from other cars for example). To help your baby feel safe and be able to go back to sleep (or at least be content), make sure you can see one another.
Traveling by car with a baby or toddler can quite exhausting. I hope these tips will help you have a nice ride together!
And remember that many babies absolutely hate traveling by car! If your baby tends to be like the one in the video below, I would hold off longer car trips for a while… Plan a trip for next year instead!
If you have any thoughts or additional tips on traveling by car with a baby or toddler, please share by leaving a comment below. :-)
For many more baby travel tips, check out these posts!
- 9 Tips For Air Travel With A Baby Without (Too Many ) Tears
- Traveling With A Baby? 10 Helpful Tips for a Successful Trip
- 10 Tips for a Wonderful (Sunny) Vacation with Your Baby!