I wish I had read an article on ‘how to survive road trips with a baby’ when Charlie my eldest was a newborn. He was an absolute nightmare on car journeys as he hated his car seat. He would scream from the minute we put him in until he eventually fell asleep.
Fortunately, my youngest son Harry loves being in the car which is a blessing as our family all live several hours away and so we spend hours on UK motorways! On many occasions I have had to ask Charlie to poke the foot of his baby brother just to make sure he is still breathing as he sleeps without even a murmur for hours.
How to survive road trips with a baby, useful tips
1. Tire them out prior to hitting the road! I make sure my boys have a good play and lots of fresh air before being loaded into the car for a long journey.
2. Avoid sugar before and during any long journeys. It is so tempting to hand back some goodies to the kiddies in the back seat to keep them quiet but I save the Cadburys chocolate buttons hidden for absolute emergency situations…. toddler melt down during a 30 mile tailback? Reveal the chocolate!
3. Keep all of their treasures within reach. We have all been there…. constantly passing books/snacks/dummies/bottles to child in back seat, this is obviously unsafe if you are driving and annoying if you are the passenger driver! This backseat organiser is great for children sat in booster seats who can reach forward. For younger children in car seats, this travel pal works really well as it can be placed next to them.
4. Pull ups for toilet training toddlers. When Charlie was toilet training we used to put him in a pull up for long journeys. (We used to call them his special travelling pants and fortunately it did not seem to delay his transition from nappy to toilet). We also used to carry a potty because once he had got used to using a potty he (understandably!) did not like the idea of sitting in a wet or pooey pull up and would become very upset. This would result in him giving us a one second warning that he was about to “pee pee” or “poo poo”. We have therefore screeched into many a service station on UK motorways quickly throwing a potty on the ground followed by a bare bummed toddler!
5. Be prepared for travel sickness. Charlie was a great car traveller as a toddler. He could read his favourite books and colour in for hours whilst sat in his car seat. This all changed when he turned four…. the first time it happened we were driving along and he was announcing he felt sick and seconds later projectile vomit….. gross! Luckily, as we were enroute to a visitor attraction and I had packed a change of clothes for him plus I had several packets of baby wipes (aka a mums best friend), several bottles of water and lots of carrier bags. (So far he has not been car sick whilst I have been travelling on my own with the kids on the motorway…. that would be a nightmare!) We managed to get him cleaned off and rinsed the car seat out with the water we had to hand. Since then we have stopped him from reading or colouring in the car as looking down certainly brings on the car sickness and we always have a sick bowl which he can grab if he needs it. We also find that anti nausea / motion sickness travel wrist bands seem to do the trick.
6. Load the car with books, toys and IPAD. You know your child the best. My boys are very different. For baby Harry, if I give him a toy to play with it keeps him awake. He is much better being left on his own and as soon as we reach the motorway he is asleep. Charlie, who is four needs entertainment. If I do not provide him with something to play with he just talks, and talks, and talks! This is ok for a while and I am quite happy to play I-SPY etc for an hour or so but after this it becomes very tiresome. I used to download cartoons onto our IPAD but he kept asking for the next cartoon to be put on every 15 minutes or so and so now we try to download movies… ah peace!
7. If caught out, improvise! I will never forget a particularly bad journey from Charleston to Savannah in the USA (approx. a 2.5 hr road trip). Charlie was screaming and he did not seem like he was ever going to stop! Richard and I were getting increasingly fed up. We had already stopped the car and done all the normal things, nursed him AGAIN(!), teething tablets… you name it, we had tried it. I then put a penny in an empty water bottle and handed it to him…. I felt like super mum when the screaming stopped and instead was replaced with banging and shaking!
8. Be organised and avoid unnecessary stops. Be prepared to drive for as long as you can whilst your child/children are asleep. Of course I am not suggesting you driving for five hours straight as this is clearly not safe for you to do so however, from our experience whenever we have stopped to refuel, grabbed a quick coffee etc our boys have woken up the minute the car stops. Now what we try to do whenever feasible is set off after a good meal; put the kids in their pj’s (if we are travelling at night); ensure we have a full tank of fuel; a to go cup of coffee each and enough refreshments to get us through two/three hours.
I have tried setting off at 5am before now to avoid traffic with my two boys and ended up experiencing a ten hour drive home* for what is normally a three hour journey. Since then we have always travelled at fairly civilized hours and I pack enough food and drink to last us a full day… just in case of an emergency. (*I had a lucky escape and managed to pull off the motorway and spend a few hours chilling out with my boys in the beautiful gardens of a National Trust property whilst an unsafe bridge was maintained. There was however awful tales in the media of parents stuck on the M6 without milk for formula fed babies).
As always, I find that preparation is key to surviving a road trip with little ones, view my essential car accessories for road trips with a baby and/or young child. If you are looking for tips to survive road trips with older children check out this brilliant guide by Big Family, Little Adventures.
I would love to know if you have any other tips to survive road trips with a baby. Please pop them in the comments below.