How to Road Trip with an Infant or Toddler (without Screen Time)

On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again – but really, I can wait. Just thinking about sitting in a car for 9+ hours with your “might start having a tantrum any time” child is enough to give you cold sweats, but with a little preparation and advice you can do it!

When my husband and I moved to Colorado we knew that we would be spending a considerable amount of hours in a car traveling back to the Midwest to see family. Once we decided to start a family, those journeys instantly changed – it now takes more stops, more food, more entertaining, less listening to podcasts together, more one of us driving/one of us in the backseat with the child, etc. Needless to say, we have made more 9-12 hour road trips in the last 2.5  years (1.5 years with a child) that I can even remember so although I am not an expert, I do have some advice if you would like it.

1 → Make sure your carseat is comfortable for your little one. Adjust the straps as needed. Double check that it is level. Align the mirrors before you leave so you are 100% sure you can see your child. Take a test drive during the time of day you will be traveling and in the direction you will be traveling to see if the sun is shining on your child’s face (I 100% wish I would’ve known to do this before our first 4-5 trips – unnecessary stops to try to hang up a jacket or blanket to block the sun were a complete nuisance!). Take inventory of the vents – you don’t want cold or hot air blowing on your child’s face the whole trip!

2 → Invest in a portable sound machine – you may not think you need it, but taking naps in the car is not always easy for infants so something soothing is often necessary to reach a deep sleep. I didn’t need to use one with my first son because he was a champ in the car, but so far my second babe is having a little bit harder of a time falling to sleep in his carseat so I will definitely jump on this advice when we make the first trek to Iowa with the 2 kids.

3 → Plan your stops ahead of time. This can be challenging if you aren’t sure what’s along your route, but do your best to stop ONLY when you need to feed a child or change a diaper. Feed right before you leave which gives you 2-4 hours of drive time before an infant will need to eat (in most cases). Pump during drive time (if you’re the passenger of course). Never, I repeat never give a young infant a bottle while still in the car seat – not safe! Compound your stops – gas, food, bathroom break, diaper changes, feedings, toddler food, dog potty breaks, etc ALL IN ONE STOP. Yes, it will be a lengthy stop, but you will only have to exit the highway once and everyone will be happy and ready to roll again for another 2-4 hour block. We have managed to get a 9.5 hour trip down to 3 stops (and one is to grab a quick breakfast (<10 minutes) without the toddler even getting out of his seat). Sorry adults, you might have to hold it occasionally. 

4 → Snacks, snacks, snacks. Once your child is old enough to safely eat snacks while in his carseat, stock up! My son is 1.5 years old and we load a reusable shopping bag with Plum packets, applesauce packets, Cheerios, Goldfish, bananas, and freeze dried fruit. A hangry kid = a grumpy mama. We would not survive without these Munchkin cups. Take a lunchbox with milk – I usually just fill a coffee tumbler with milk and dump it into a sippy cup as needed on the road.

Toy Bag (+ dog)

Fisher Price Laugh and     Learn Puppy

5 → Make the toys you bring seem new. The week or two before you go, hide a few toys from your child so that when the trip rolls around they will be excited to see their toy again. Another great piece of advice – borrow toys and books from friends. Your child will think it is a brand new thing and it will automatically be twice as entertaining as his or her own stuff. I pack a Thirty-One bag full of toys and books and set it right beside the carseat. My toddler is old enough to reach in and grab a few things, plus it is easy access for me to reach back and hand him something. Not only does it keep things organized in the car, but you can easily take toys into grandma and grandpa’s if you need to because they are all in one bag instead of being strewn about the van. This was a favorite toy for us from about 8-14 months.



These are really the five things that have made our trips way less stressful and therefore shorter. I can honestly say I have only used screen time once with my son during our road trips, and it was because he just wasn’t having the car anymore during the last 45 minutes of our trip, and THAT’S OKAY. You can’t and shouldn’t expect children to love being in a vehicle for 9+ hours every time so do what you have to do mamas, but if you try to implement some of the things I recommended above, I promise you will want to shove your child at grandma a little bit less when you arrive.

Traveling Without Your Infant

My husband and I recently took our first trip without our baby. As nerve-wracking as it was, I didn’t feel quite as anxious as I thought I might, and I attribute that to being (overly) prepared. I might have overdone the lists and instructions for my parents, but I think it ultimately helped to ease my mind more than it assisted them while we were away. I’ve had a few people ask me for some tips for traveling without the babe, so I thought I would share.

My son was 8 months old when we traveled so he’s at the point where he’s eating 3 meals a day but also relies on breastmilk 5-6 times a day. Unfortunately he’s not fully sleeping through the night by my definition (another post for another day) but he is by the “official” definition (i.e. he sleeps for 8-9 hours in a stretch, gets up wanting to nurse, and then goes back to sleep for 2-3 hours). I feel like the sleeping part was what gave me the most anxiety. I am used to getting up with him at 3 or 4 AM but I didn’t want to burden my parents with that (if you’re reading this GramTam – I know you didn’t mind at all, but still).

Another aspect of the trip was trying to pump and keep my milk supply up while we were in the airport, out all day, at baseball games, etc. This part was actually very comical throughout the whole trip. I honestly hadn’t pumped in a few months prior to the trip because my milk supply had leveled off to the point where I was only making what R needed during the day and no more. Thankfully, I had a good supply in the freezer from the early months so he had plenty while I was gone. (Note to self: pump more during months 1-4 next time). Since we only took a carry-on and I wasn’t traveling with the kiddo, I had to dump my milk during the trip – wah wah wah – I hate doing that especially when I have had so many struggles with milk supply throughout the past nine months.

Here’s the breakdown of the lists I made for my parents (sorry, I didn’t think about taking pictures):

  • Medical:
    • Pediatrician – name, phone number, address, emergency number
    • Closest Urgent Care and Emergency Room – address, phone number, hotline number
    • Copy of R’s insurance card
    • Signed statement from Nick and myself giving permission for R to be treated if medically necessary
  • Schedule:
    • Sleeping – including naps and bedtime tentative times to put him down
      • pointers to get him to settle down as well as our bedtime routine (bath, lotion, jammies, nurse, books, bed)
    • Meals – tentative times as well as what he eats and how much (I actually set out and labeled all the food for each meal)
    • Bath – mainly just locating everything
  • Medicine:
    • Tylenol – how much
  • Other:
    • Meal ideas for my parents – I prepared 1-2 meals for them in advance, but I also left them with a list of local food places
    • Garage code

Pump N’ Dump:

Ugh, this was way different that I anticipated when we left. I decided to just take a hand pump (used a Medela one located here) because we only took a carry on bag. I don’t regret this because it was easy and I could stick it in my purse while we were out and about – you should have seen the look on the security guard’s face when he searched my purse as we were going into the game. I would’ve given anything to read his mind right at that moment!

I tried to pump at least every 3-4 hours to keep on R’s schedule, but it was tough. I pumped in bathroom stalls multiple times including once in the hotel lobby bathroom because our hotel room wasn’t ready yet – it really was a moment where I just had to laugh it off. I was in the 2 stall bathroom and another woman came into the other stall right after I started pumping. I was trying to pump quietly because I guess I was a little bit self-conscious but we ultimately ended up playing the “wait it out” game with each other – you all know what I’m talking about. Eventually I just stopped pumping because it had literally been 10 minutes of both of us sitting there, turned around and dumped the milk in the toilet. Only after I did that did I realize that she could for sure see my feet and probably noticed that they were facing the toilet while 6 ounces of liquid splashed in – I can’t even imagine what she was thinking. But hey, this isn’t the most embarrassing thing that has happened to me since having a baby.

I will admit it was nice to have a drink without worrying about having to feed R. Not going to lie though, I had to pump the brakes after 1.5 beers because I’m apparently a light weight these days!

I hope these starter tips help any of you who are getting ready to take your first trip away! It is very scary leaving your babe for the first time, but a little preparation goes a long way. I found myself not once worrying about – “oh I hope I told them about ____ ” because I knew I had covered most of my bases and because they are his grandparents and have obviously raised kids before. Don’t sweat it and don’t feel guilty about taking time for you and your spouse – you need it! Your family is only as strong as the relationship that started it so take time to nurture your marriage.

This entry was posted in Oh Baby.