How To Survive a Long Car Ride With a Baby

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Last month we took our baby, 8 months at the time, on a long car ride down south to visit my family. This was our first long road trip with our daughter and things went way better than we expected. I think we got lucky when it comes to babies and got one that is totally chill (for the most part). She did get fussy at times, usually when her diaper was dirty or she was hungry, but she never wailed in the car.

According to Google maps, the trip down would take 6.5 hours with no stops and the trip back home would take 9.5 hours with no stops. We stayed with my cousin for a night on the way down before driving another 3 hours to visit my grandpa, but we didn't stop anywhere on the way back home, so the trip down would have been the same as the trip home had we not stopped for a day. 

Let's just say that with a baby and a dog, we had to stop a few times for diaper changes and feeding, which added about 2 hours to the trip, so the way down ended up taking close to 8 hours (going to my grandpas the next day only took the suggested 3 hours as we did that drive with no stops) and getting home took close to 11 hours.

I had originally planned on flying down to avoid these long drives, but the hassle of getting to the airport and on a plane, plus the cost of flying, just made driving make more sense and we will most likely drive down again next year. 

Here are some of my tips for surviving a long car ride with a baby:

1) Rest Areas Rock!

Rest Areas are way more baby-friendly than gas stations and fast food places. The bathrooms are always cleaner and the changing tables way nicer, at least in our experience. There is almost always a family restroom, which will allow dad to change baby's diaper if you need a break. However, if your baby is like our baby and hated the public bathrooms, Rest Areas are great because there is plenty of seating, so you can always change your baby outside on a table instead, weather permitting of course. The availability of seating also makes feeding your baby easier than being cramped in the car.

2) Ready Mixed Formula Makes Feeding Easier & Faster

If you are not breastfeeding, I highly recommend getting the ready-made formula for the car rides so you do not have to deal with mixing bottles in bathrooms, making feeding time faster.

3) Cereal Puffs Help Keep Baby Calm

If your baby is old enough for solids, then you will want to bring puffs! Our daughter loves puffs, so I made sure to bring two containers, one in the diaper bag and one in her suitcase as a backup. Whenever she began to get cranky and we were not near a rest area, I would dig these out and hand her a puff at a time. It was the perfect distraction and helped keep her calm till we could give her a proper meal at a rest area. Plus she gets to practice feeding herself!

4) Bring Disinfecting Wipes & Paper Towels

Maybe it's because I am an over-packer or just a great planner, but my husband was thankful that I had thought to bring these items! Babies are messy and thus, will make messes so you will want these in your car to clean up those messes. We also used the disinfecting wipes and paper towels to clean the pack n' play and her toys while we were staying with family. 

5) Soft Toys For Baby In The Car

We only let our baby play with soft toys in her car seat as if we happened to get in an accident, it would be less likely to hurt her. I would make sure to choose toys that your baby loves or even give them a new toy at this time so they are distracted. We had a stuffed animal that she loves to snuggle and a rubber teether so she had something to chew on. 

6) Have Someone Sit Next To Baby

My husband and I took turns driving, but instead of sitting the passenger seat, the one not driving would sit in the back with the baby. This provided a distraction for her and gave her someone to play with. It also allowed us to see her so we knew when she was getting cranky. This made it easier to know when to look for a rest area.

This is the one thing I think that prevented her from wailing in the car. The only time she actually cried during the trip was in the bathrooms when getting changed due to the loud noises of flushing and hand dryers. 

7) Make Meals Ahead Of Time

This was one mistake we made on the way down. We had to stop at fast food places to eat, which takes a lot longer, especially since we had a dog with us, so we had to order food, then stop at a Rest Area to eat. 

For the way home, we decided to make sandwiches in advance, which was the best idea ever. This allowed us to avoid stopping as we could eat in the car or we only had to stop at a Rest Area, no extra stops at restaurants. Plus it's also healthier, so wish we had thought to do the same for the way down.

8) Do Not Commit To Anything

With a baby, you have to be flexible which is why when my cousin asked if we would like to do dinner with them, we chose to not commit and replied with we will join you if we can make it, but do not wait for us.

The stress of traveling with a baby is enough, do not add to it by making plans to arrive at a certain time. I guarantee you will not arrive and your family and friends may be upset because they are waiting on you.

We, of course, as predicted did not make it to dinner and everyone was okay with that as we had let them know in advance that we would most likely not arrive in time to join them. We had our own quick meal and then met everyone at the house instead. There was no stress or pressure on our end to arrive at a certain time, making the trip worry-free!