It's been over a month since we got back from our big U.S. road trip! We traveled more than 6,000 miles over the course of a month, from Seattle to Austin and back. A lot of people have asked us how we managed everything with a young baby, so I thought I'd share my best tips for road tripping with a little one. Ian was 2 months old when we left home and 4 months old when we got back, so he was on the road the entire time he was 3 months! Crazy, huh? But honestly, I think that was just the right age for a big road trip--he still liked being in his car seat, slept a lot during the day, and didn't need to be entertained constantly. If you're considering road tripping with a 2-3 month old, I say go for it. Especially if your baby sleeps well in his car seat, it's entirely doable!
1. Get a power inverter for your car. This is my number one piece of advice for road tripping with a baby. I got this one for under $30, and it was a game-changer. I was able to pump bottles in the car, curl my hair on the road, charge both of our phones at the same time, etc. SO helpful. I would go so far as to say this is a must-have for all road trips, baby or not.
2. Keep the back seat free. I know it's tempting to throw a bunch of stuff on the back seat, but if you can, leave it free. I promise you, it will be so worth it to have that space available to crawl back to if your baby starts crying, and to have a cleared off place for diaper changes and more.
3. Pump bottles to feed your baby in the car. I'm not gonna lie, it feels a little weird to pump in the car (especially when you pass by trucks--I always had Ben go as fast as possible). But it's sooo nice to be able to feed your baby in the car seat. Such a big time-saver and sanity-saver. We still stopped pretty often to change diapers, take bathroom breaks, and give Ian some time out of the car seat, but it was nice to be able to plan those stops and keep them fairly short, versus having to frantically find a place to pull off when he got hungry.
4. Bring Micro-Steam bags for easy cleaning. One of the challenges of road tripping with a baby is trying to clean all your breast pump parts, bottles, and pacifiers...without a dishwasher. We found these Medela Micro-Steam bags were a lifesaver in that regard. They disinfect and eliminate 99.9% of most bacteria and germs using just a microwave and water, and it only takes three minutes. Plus, they're small and mess-free which is perfect for travel. Most hotels have microwaves you can use, either in your room or in a common area, so you just need to rinse everything out in the bathroom sink and give them a good nuke. Easy! Another thing I started doing to reduce the amount of "dishes" we had to clean every day, was to pump each side separately using the same bottle and pump parts, instead of double pumping.
5. Make a list, check it twice. We made a big list of everything we wanted to bring, long before we actually started the trip. That way, we had time to add things as we remembered them, shop for anything we still needed to get, and check items off as we packed them. I've always made packing lists for trips, but it was especially helpful this time with all the added baby gear. A thorough list helped us feel confident that we weren't forgetting anything crucial.
6. Pack strategically, and keep the important stuff out of the trunk. Keep diapers, wipes, burp cloths, a car seat cover, an extra outfit or two, bottles, pump parts, and anything else you might need during the day readily available. The last thing you want to be doing when your baby has a blowout is digging through the trunk to get to the bag with the baby clothes. Pack the things that you'll only need a few times at the bottom of the trunk (like the baby bath tub) and keep the things you'll need every day (like the baby carrier) at the top. Also, keep plenty of snacks and water in the car for yourselves, so if your baby is sleeping happily, you can keep on trucking.
7. Get travel-friendly versions of the baby necessities. Speaking of packing strategically, don't bring every piece of baby gear that you own. Try to bring only what you'll really need and pick the smallest, most travel-friendly versions of whatever you have. For example, our Puj tub was so much more space-efficient than a regular plastic baby tub. If you have multiple strollers, bring the smaller one (or consider if you even need a stroller for your trip--maybe just the baby carrier will do). And if you have multiple sleep options for your baby (as we do), just bring one of them. One thing I wouldn't skimp on, however, is baby clothes. They're so small and you end up going through them so fast, it's nice to have enough so you're not forced to do laundry all the time.
8. Don't pack diapers for the whole trip. Diapers take up a lot of space and can easily be bought at grocery stores anywhere. Plus, by the end of your trip your baby may be in a different size than what he started in anyways! So if you're tight on space, just bring about a week's worth of diapers, and plan to buy more along the way. Same goes for wipes.
9. Think about how old your baby will be at the end of the trip. If you're going on a really long trip like we did, pack stuff for the age your baby will be at the end of your travels, not just the beginning. They change so much in such a short amount of time! At the start of our trip, Ian had no interest in rattles, but by the end he really liked them. I also brought a few 3-6 month clothes for him in case he grew out of the 0-3 outfits that he was wearing when we started.
10. Plan your driving times strategically. Build in more time than you think you'll need. Road tripping with a baby will be miserable if you try to cram in a bunch of loooong driving days. Go for shorter stretches, and leave yourself plenty of time to stop along the way. Also, try to avoid stop-and-go traffic as all that braking can wake up a sleeping baby. Aim to pass through big cities during non-commute times instead. Another thing to consider: if your baby takes naps at certain times, arrange it so you're driving during those times. It's always easiest to travel with a sleeping babe!
Those are some of the things that really worked for us! Other things to remember: make sure to hold your baby and give him plenty of tummy time when you're not in the car. Be willing to be flexible and let your plans change if necessary. Have fun, and take lots of pictures! I promise, road tripping with a baby isn't as scary as you might think.
If you've ever done a big road trip with a little one, I'd love to hear about your experience. Where did you go? What worked for you? Also, we still haven't flown with Ian so if you have any advice for that...I'm all ears! I'm kind of nervous for that milestone.