Since embarking upon our travel adventure whilst on maternity leave, we have driven from Texas to New York; Seattle to California and all across Europe. From a car, to an RV to a converted camper van – we’ve done it all. Having spent more than two months on the road, with a then 4 month old George, I’ve got excellent ideas, tips and advice for parents planning on taking a road trip with a baby. And enjoying it!
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Be proactive in making decisions around your baby. Ask yourself, ‘Does my baby sleep well in a car?’ This will have a big impact on the amount of time spent in your chosen vehicle. If you don’t know, have a little ‘test drive’ at home. Drive an hour or so and you should be able to make a judgement. Is it necessary to make the trip all at once, or can you break it up with stops along the way? The longer your baby is strapped in the car seat, the more irritable they may become.
Looking at the map, can you break up your journey by including small breaks in different areas along your route? We usually draw a line from start to finish and then circle towns or areas that can be used as mini-vacation places. Having a system like this, allows you to react quickly, should your baby become frustrated, upset. Point and enter new GPS co-ordinates! This is also a great way to explore and discover new places.
TAKE REGULAR BREAKS
Keep hydrated and have regular breaks, stop off at the services for a snack or to use the bathroom. You will have to stop driving to feed your baby and you shouldn’t keep your baby in their car seat for longer than two hours (up to the first 6 months). We aim to take a break from driving every couple of hours for around 10-15 minutes. Be sure to remove your baby from their car seat and interact with them outside of the vehicle so they can get fresh air. Remember to take regular breaks into account when planning your drive. It has a big impact on arrival time and length of time spent on the road.
DRIVE TO YOUR BABY’S ROUTINE
Take advantage of nap time and plan to drive when you know they tend to fall asleep – you know your baby’s routine. Pull over for feeds and try to combine them with your own feeds. Where possible, we avoid driving at night in foreign counties. Aiming to arrive at our accommodation by 5.30pm at the latest, so we can keep consistency with George’s bedtime routine. Ideally, you want a few hours driving, followed by a break, walk or exploration. Your baby needs to stretch and be out of their car seat. I prefer to be sat next to George in the back when he’s awake. As a first time parent, it gives me piece of mind and allows me to play, interact and be there if he needs me. When he’s napping I sit upfront and hang out with Daddy!
In the 21st century there are plenty of gadgets available for parents. Up to 3 months old, your baby won’t have formed attachments with toys and requires far less, product wise, to keep them entertained. When your baby begins to develop hand/eye co-ordination then you will want to purchase and bring along a few toys to help them develop their skills. We tend to take toys that double up as teething tools for George. We are big fans ofNuby Icy Bite keys, and Nuby Bug A Loop Teether, Multi-Colour – both are easy to clean, small to pack and can go cold if your baby requires it. At night and during George’s nap times, we use a comforter as a means of him associating it with sleep (this helps when you are in a different location every day).
Pram or stroller toys that hang down are a great purchase. They can attach to the handle of the car seat, pram and be used individually. Use your mobile phone or iPad, to play nursery rhymes or baby sensory videos via YouTube. I do not travel without my iPad Pro, I use it for a laptop, GPS, to Skype family when we are away and for George. Download child friendly Audio books and apps such as Spotify for white noise and friendly, relaxing voices.
The bulk of your luggage will live in the boot or trunk of your vehicle. In close proximity to your baby, you should have the basics, muslin cloth, toys, dummy/pacifier etc. Your nursing bag should be readily available either in the main vehicle or at the front of the boot.
If you are travelling around Europe, you can use your own mobile data plan and turn on data roaming for no additional charge. Outside of the EU, we recommend purchasing a SIM card and data plan of that country to last you for the duration of your trip. Other essentials include a GPS, a double phone charger, car mirror and a sunscreen. For a more detailed list of car essentials for a road trip, click here.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CAR
You’re going to be spending A LOT of time in your vehicle. And it’s not just you. You’re sharing it with all of your luggage and pram/stroller. It becomes your second home. Doubles up as a changing station. Food station. Bedroom. Take into account how many bags you have with you (to decide on the size of car). Remember your pram/stroller will need to fit into the boot so don’t get a car that is too small! Measure the length of your pram and compare it with length of the boot to avoid any issues.
You will need a four door vehicle for access to your car seat. If you want to be economical, focus on the engine size. Smaller tends to be cheaper, but has results in minimal boot space. Some website will charge you per day, others per mile. Work out roughly how many miles and days to help get you the best price and package that works for you. We use Skyscanner to get an idea of price before comparing with Budget and Travel Super market. If planning to hire an RV in America, we recommend Cruise America.
Most rental companies require you to be over 25, have a valid drivers license and a valid credit card (not debit card). They expect a deposit, which you will get back upon returning the vehicle unscathed. Be sure to take pictures of the vehicle before leaving the compound and assess for any faults. Check your existing insurance policy (we have World Family Travel Insurance through our bank Nationwide) to see if you are already covered. If not, then you need to ensure the policy covers you to drive abroad.
You can take your own car seat on board most flights from the UK free of charge. If you have never flown before with your baby, you will find my post on flying with a baby helpful. When renting a car, most companies will provide you with the option to rent a car seat. If renting a camper van or RV, check whether the vehicle is fitted with either a 3 point or lap sash. This will affect which car seat you rent or buy for your trip.