Summer is the best time for taking road trips. We love getting out there and exploring. My husband and I have always been into discovering what’s around us. In China, it was more difficult since we didn’t always have a car there, but here, we love taking the girls to see new sights.
We had them on planes from the time they were newborns though, and I talked about that in this post.
Now I’m going to focus on road trips. My youngest had just turned one when we moved to America, and we had to take her on road trips back and forth from my parents’ house to where we were looking to settle down and live. I thought it was going to be a disaster, but it turns out, it was great.
With a newborn, though, they do have a bit more needs. But that’s ok because it’s all a learning experience. And you’ll look back and laugh on those trying moments.
How soon can a newborn actually travel long distance by car?
In a car, you can take your newborn for a journey at any time after birth. After all, you’ll need to drive your baby home from the hospital. As I mentioned in my post about flying with your baby, some airlines even allow it at just 2 days old. So you’ll be fine to take your baby along for a road trip as long as your doctor says your baby is in good health.
And as long as you are too! Remember, if you’ve had a c-section, you’ll need to wait to drive the car yourself. If your husband is driving though, you can sit back and relax, and use the following tips to help you plan your road trip by car with your newborn.
Tips for Traveling by Car with a Newborn
Before you even pack your bags, USA Today advises that you have your car checked out thoroughly. Also, if you didn’t have an infant road trip companion, you should always make sure your vehicle is road-worthy. Breaking down on the roadside is one of the most irritating experiences known to mankind. I can’t imagine doing it with an infant.
Have the tires inspected as well as everything under the hood. Ideally, you should do this at least 2 weeks before you hit the road so you can have any necessary repairs made.
The other thing advised by USA Today is to be sure your child safety seats are properly installed. Heaven-forbid you get in an accident, and they’re not! You can go to your local police station or firehouse and have them help you.
Once you have that peace of mind, here are other things to do as you get ready to hit the road:
Plan your route in advance
We all have smartphones with GPS, but I can’t tell you how many times mine has rerouted us into some strange place. If it wasn’t for my knowledge of local landmarks, we’d have never figured it out. With construction zones, sometimes the exits and roads you’re looking for aren’t available.
The best thing you can do is print out your route options from your computer as a backup should your GPS falter on you. You should also do what my dad STILL tells me to do which is keep a map in the glove box.
Put stick-on mirrors on the car seat
When you get your car seat installed, you’ll be told rear-facing is the safest for infants. You should always know the best position for your brand car seat and the age and size of your baby. When you have your baby facing to the rear, a car seat mirror can be a huge blessing. My friends who have used them say this helped keep them from panicking on drives with their babies.
Plan on making stops
A newborn needs to breastfeed every couple of hours, so be sure you stop frequently. It will help you to stretch your legs too, which is better for your health. You can take some pumped milk along if you would like, but newborns can’t grasp the bottle. You’d have to sit in the backseat next to your baby while your husband drives.
It’s just better to stop and see the sights and enjoy them during those pit stops. You’ll make more memories and be able to show your baby new things along the way which is excellent for their development. Yes, even at this stage!
When on a road trip with an infant, or even an older baby or toddler, taking along all the necessities is a must. Those diapers, wipes, change of clothes, blankets, socks, hats, pacifiers, baby toys, and other essentials should all be in the main cabin of the car with you.
Don’t forget snacks for you either. If you take a small cooler, you can keep from eating unhealthy options and instead of fruits and veggies. When you have toddlers, snacks are even more important. You can mix it up with crackers and those types of snacks, but having fresh foods will be helpful.
A picnic is a great way to eat whether you have an infant or an older child. This saves you money on restaurants plus allows you to have more of a comfortable breastfeeding experience in nature. And picnic blankets allow for a safe space for your baby to wiggle while you eat your food.
Don’t drive straight through
If you think a road trip is exhausting to you, it’s definitely tiring for your baby. Some babies handle the car better than others. The best way to handle it is to make efficient stops. Never try to drive straight through to your destination. You need to stop at the bare minimum to feed your baby!
Make sure baby is full before you hit the road
To keep from having to stop as soon as you set off, make sure you fill your baby up before the drive. Hungry babies will fuss, and doing this will make your car rides a quieter experience.
Keep the temperature comfortable
If it’s cold out, make sure you’ve dressed baby for the adventure. The same goes for when it’s hot outside. Proper attire and heating or cooling will help keep your baby comfortable. And honestly, keeping a newborn comfortable is the best way to have a pleasant road trip with them.
Make bigger kids happy
Some parents wait until the baby is bigger and eating solids before taking a road trip. If you’ve got an older kid, having snacks in their hand as you start the drive will keep her occupied. Also, good music, their favorite toy, and a positive demeanor from the adults in the car will go a long way.
Play a game:
See if you can make a game of how many cows you can spot on the side of the road or anything else you see. This trick always keeps kids busy. Even though mine are much bigger now, they still love to look out the window and tell me everything they see. On our most recent adventure, my eldest told me she saw 10 people picking their noses! Ew!
On Your Own with Baby on the Road
If it’s just you and your baby, it doesn’t need to be as frazzling as you imagine. Plan with everything as you would if you had a partner along. Make sure you follow all the tips above, though when it comes to stopping to feed your baby, be sure you go somewhere safe.
I’ve written about your rights as a mom to breastfeed in public before. If that makes you uncomfortable, bring along bottles of your expressed milk so you can feed your baby comfortably even if you’re somewhere inconvenient. The same goes for bottle-feeding. I was lucky that in China, no one ever said anything to me about breastfeeding except some older women who told my husband I was doing such a good thing for my babies.
When behind the wheel, try to narrate everything and make it fun. Your baby will eventually fall asleep, leaving you to drive without entertaining.
All in all, driving with your newborn gets easier the more you do it. I felt comfortable driving with my youngest for long stretches because I’d taken her around town a bit, so I’d driven with her before. I also had my eldest to keep her entertained, and my husband would also give both the girls whatever they needed while I drove until we needed to make an official stop.
Don’t worry…you’ll get the hang of it!
But what if you don’t have a car and are hitting the road on a bus or train? Let me help you with that!
Can I travel with a newborn baby on a bus or train?
You can definitely take your newborn baby on the bus or train. If you are using the city bus, it’s best to wear your baby in a carrier. A stroller can be cumbersome, and city buses don’t have latches for you to lock in the car seat.
When we lived in China, we took the bus often with our little ones. We’d use the baby carrier and take them along. The biggest concern for me was germs so I’d do my best to keep well-meaning curious strangers from touching my kids’ hands or faces.
Always take sanitizer and cleansing wipes with you on the bus! The same goes for the city subway!
The advantage of a city subway, if you have one in your city is that you can easily roll a stroller onto them. Some elevators make it easy for parents with strollers or anyone with disabilities to get on. But if you live in a crowded place, a stroller can be a pain to take with you when you need to go somewhere with baby during rush hour travel.
What if you want to take your baby on a cross-country bus?
Here, you may be able to bring a car seat for your baby. On city buses, they travel so slowly and are so big that they rarely have collisions. But buses that go on the highway may have seatbelts. The best thing you can do is call the bus line and ask before booking your travels.
Greyhound, one of the most famous long-distance bus lines, has three-point seatbelts on their newer buses, making it easy to secure your child seat. But on the older models, they don’t. Concord and Peter Pan don’t have seatbelts though. So, a quick call to find out what to expect is encouraged so you don’t lug a car seat that you can’t use.
For trains, there is no way to use your car seat. You should wear your newborn in a carrier and bring a folding stroller if your destination is ideal for it.
For all of these modes of transport on the road or rail, remember to protect yourselves from germs. And if your baby does get fussy, remember that most people will be kind to you, especially if you’re struggling to calm your baby down. Most of the time, your baby will settle down when you nurse her. Other times, she might have a dirty diaper that needs changing.
When you have your bags packed and ready to go, make sure you’ve got all the necessary items. If you’ve forgotten something, so be it. It will make for a fun story down the road, pun intended.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.