When my husband delivered the news that we’d be moving from our beloved Emerald City to rural Missouri, my immediate thought was: ROAD TRIP.
I inherited my wanderlust from my mom. While most moms drove their kids to soccer practice, mine searched for national landmarks in an 18-wheeler, all the while homeschooling a bossy 13-year-old. This brief yet adventurous lifestyle resulted in my uncanny ability to memorize out-of-state mile markers and an insatiable desire to travel.
Luckily, my husband shared this passion. In fact, very shortly after the arrival of our first baby, we packed up the car and took a day trip to Portland oregon. Cue the headaches, screaming and diaper blowouts.
Fast forward a year, we were older and wiser and more than a little cynical about this road trip thing. Yet, I contemplated a 2,000 mile trek with a baby, two cats and a dog. My husband thought I was insane. Honestly, I kind of agreed, but how could I simply fly over the most beautiful wilderness in the United States?
In the end, we did make that trip and it was incredible.
Whether you’re willingly traveling across the country with your family or duty requires you to go out of your comfort zone, let me first encourage you; taking a cross-country road trip with a baby is an adventure that you should look look forward to!
Below are a few essential tips that can help you make this epic journey.
Hotel Room Considerations
Sleep is the key to success for any cross-country road trip. If your baby isn’t well-rested, he’ll fuss all day and night, which will keep you from enjoying this incredible experience. So, creating a great sleep environment is essential. Here are a few things to consider:
Hotel Room Layout: Does your baby cosleep? Try to find a hotel with a bed that fits all of you. Is he an independent sleeper? Book a suite with a separate living room. The idea is to emulate your baby’s typical sleeping environment.
Keep in mind your room’s furniture layout too. For instance, our daughter’s crib was situated against a wall and a dresser. So, at the hotel, we set up her Pack ‘n Play in a similar position. These small modifications make a huge difference!
Sound: Unfamiliar sounds can prevent or disrupt sleep as well. Before your trip, familiarize your baby with a white noise maker. On the road, you can use it to dampen noise and cue sleepy-time. You can also reduce sounds by avoiding rooms next to elevators or request a room on the top floor.
Sleep Surface: I highly recommend bringing whatever sleeping surface your baby is used to. If your baby sleeps in the crib, familiarize him with a Pack ‘n Play a couple weeks before the trip. This will make hotel-living much less of an adjustment.
Bring In Reinforcements
If you’re driving with your partner, take turns in the backseat. A little entertainment from mom and dad can make the hours fly by!
If you’re driving alone, it’s a good idea to snag a copilot. Not only will your copilot help you stay awake on those bleary-eyed days, but they can entertain baby during the drive and at the hotel.
For our epic cross-country trip, we called in my husband’s mom. During the day, she’d entertain the baby and at night she’d happily take the pets into her hotel room and love on them. Without her to shoulder some of the responsibility, the trip would’ve been a disaster.
Create an Itinerary
The days of hopping in the car and letting the road lead you are officially over! If you’re going to go on a cross-country road trip with a baby, planning your route beforehand is a necessity.
Creating an itinerary will ensure that your baby stays on schedule, you’ll never have to scramble to find the right hotel and you’ll always have some kind of entertainment during your breaks. Before you embark on your journey, make sure you know:
- Your route and backup route
- Daily stops
- Hotels and backup hotels
- Any toll roads
- Points of interest to explore along the way
Limit Driving to Eight Hours a Day
Driving cross-country with a baby is tough, for you and your little one. Yeah, you could drive straight through, but where’s the fun in that? If you set achievable, realistic expectations, you’ll transform this trip into something wonderful that you’ll always remember fondly. Isn’t that worth it?
So, try to commit to driving no more than eight hours a day. Some days you’ll drive a little less, others you’ll drive a little more. However, if you stick with this goal, you’ll develop a nice rhythm.
Just to give you an example, here’s what our “schedule” looked like during our epic road trip:
- 8 a.m. Wake up
- 9 a.m. Eat breakfast
- 10 a.m. Drive
- 11 a.m. First nap
- 1 p.m. Lunch—break time!
- 2 p.m. Drive
- 3 p.m. Second Nap
- 5 p.m. Baby Wakes Up
- 6:30/7 p.m. Stop for the night, eat dinner, playtime
- 8 p.m. Bedtime
There are two things that I love about an eight-hour driving schedule: it mimics a typical, daily routine and it results in no more than four to five hours of awake time for baby in the car. Obviously, this schedule wasn’t achievable every day, but it was a great guideline to strive for.
DO Stop to Smell the Roses
Exploring is the best part of road trips! When you’re planning your trip, keep an eye out for family-friendly activities. That might be a historical marker, natural landmark or maybe even just a quick trip to the park.
During our road trip, we actually visited three different local parks. It gave our rambunctious pre-toddler the opportunity to run crazy while we explored the local culture. Your activity doesn’t have to take up half the day; sometimes even an hour will do. The goal is just to give your baby real play time.
Whatever you do, avoid letting your baby sleep too much during the day. That’s the recipe for sleepless nights.
Are you feeling more confident about your upcoming trip? I hope so! A cross-country road trip with a baby can be a challenge at times, but don’t let that discourage you from taking the plunge. It’s the perfect time to expand your baby’s little world and stretch your muscles as a parent. Just take the time to plan what you can and be flexible with what you can’t.
Have fun making new memories!