Traveling a long distance in a car with a newborn for the first time can be pretty stressful for new parents. My wife and I just finished our third 600-mile (one-way) trip from New York to the mountains of western North Carolina with our three-month-old baby girl. We have done this trip each month of her life. The first one was hell on wheels. There was poop, pee, spilled food, old milk, and crying – lots of crying (from all parties). That said, we have since figured a few things out. Here are seven tips for traveling with a newborn baby from new parents.
Can you take a road trip with a newborn?
Despite the endless trepidation and clear difficulty, you certainly can travel with a newborn baby. All it takes is a few little tricks, a plan, some flexibility, and, of course, an iron will. This last one is particularly important. While every baby is different, there are some things that are true about them all, and if you can keep these things in mind, the road trip begins to get easier with each trip. All babies want to feel secure, warm, and full. Start by having a good car seat that is secured properly.
Tip #1 for traveling with a newborn: Have your supplies easily accessible
Babies require an insane amount of stuff. As a New York resident, this was something I tried to fight. I have lost. At any given moment, your newborn could need a diaper, clothes, a burp cloth, a blanket, socks, medicine, a bottle, wipes, a pacifier, and any combination of these simultaneously. These needs can feel particularly pressing in a car, so it will behoove you to have all of these items on standby.
My wife and I keep a shallow felt toolbox of sorts stocked with multiples of each of these items organized and easily accessible directly next to the baby’s car seat. Can you imagine if Batman had to fumble around for his Batarang in the heat of battle? Yeah, it’s like that.
Tip #2: Don’t pack everything away
This rides off tip #1, but it can be easy to remember that babies need multiple changes of clothes throughout the day. As a new parent, it’s easy to forget when packing for your child that some of their clothes must be left out for the trip.
Here is your reminder to pull out an extra two or three outfits for the road trip. Trust me when I say you don’t want to unpack the car on the side of the road to find baby clothes when an infant is covered in poop inside your car. It ain’t a great time.
Tip #3: Plan some entertainment for yourself
New parents often forget they, in fact, still exist as individual human beings. Babies require so much that our needs often melt into a puddle of slobber and pee. For the most part, this is the way it’s meant to be. However, taking care of yourself and your partner is one of the best ways to take care of your baby.
Find yourself a great album, book on tape, podcast, or any digital media that can occupy your mind while driving and riding on a long road trip. On our first trip, before we did this, I found myself extremely exhausted after only a few hours of driving because I wasn’t just paying attention to the road but also to every noise our baby made. Even when she slept, which she did a good bit, I waited anxiously for her to wake up. This is not good. It’s exhausting, and being exhausted and driving is bad news. Find something that engages you and takes your mind off the baby for a little while. Again, let me be the one to tell you this is ok. You’re allowed to enjoy yourself as a new parent.
Tip #4: If possible, have someone ride in the back
If the baby gets fussy, it doesn’t mean you have to pull over. Having one parent or friend ride in the back with the baby when it fusses can extend the amount of time you can stay making progress. You’ll learn that time spent on the road is the ultimate goal. There is no shortage of good reasons to stop when traveling with a baby, but this can keep things going a bit longer.
Tip #5: Get your baby comfortable with the car seat
All babies are different. Some like the car seat from day one and others don’t. Ours didn’t. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t. We spent the week leading up to our first road trip putting her in the car seat while we did things around the house or would go for a short drive around town to get her used to it. It worked! Babies are learning everything for the first time, so let them learn how to like the car seat with smaller stakes than a 10-hour haul.
Tip #6: Don’t forget to check your mirrors
It’s a small but necessary bit of gear, but the baby mirror will give you peace of mind. Newborn car seats have to face the rear, which makes seeing the baby’s face from the front impossible. Strapping a small mirror to the headrest of your back seat makes it so you can check on your baby without having to pull over. This is huge for the baby’s safety and peace of mind for the parents.
Tip #7: There is no such thing as “making good time” anymore
The best advice I got before taking our first trip was to relax and let it take as long as needed. It turns out, according to The Washington Post, this is a known thing. Babies slow everything down. Tips can help, but no amount of tips can make road trips as efficient as they used to be. Once that baby comes, you better slow it down and be cool with it.
I’ve gotten this trip from NYC to NC down to an even 10 hrs. With a baby, that trip is now 12 hours at best. Sometimes it takes 14 hours. C’est la vie. As you’ll be told 10 trillion times, “you’ll never get this time back,” so you might as well enjoy it. Once you drop your shoulders and lean into the fact that your road trip will be slow and messy, it then begins to be fun again. So, relax. You’ll get there.
Bonus tip for traveling with a newborn: Get AAA
As we found on our first trip, car trouble with a newborn is hell with the heat turned up. Get AAA. It starts at only $59.99 a year. I am not sponsored or affiliated with them in any way. I’m telling you, just do it. Thank me later.