When David called on Friday to check in on his way home from work, and I told him, “You’re off the hook. I think you should stay home and relax.”
We had planned a road trip about 325 miles north up the coast of California to the Monterey area for the wedding of one of my oldest and dearest friends. But I knew hubs was tired, and I assumed this undertaking—our one-year-old twins’ first major road trip—would be utterly exhausting. It might be better if he stayed home and recouped some rest instead. “No way,” he said, if wearily. “I wouldn’t miss the babies’ first road trip!” So it was on.
And you know what? It turned out to be far from the fatiguing experience I feared it could be. In fact, it was manageable enough that I actually wondered why the words “baby’s first road trip” strike such terror in new parents’ hearts. We’re just back now, and I’m here to correct the record: Baby’s first road trip can be a ton of fun!
Along the way, I picked up some tips for road tripping with babies that will make our next one even better—and can inspire you to get out there, too!
1. Pack the car the night before.
It’s true that babies come with gear—and all that schlepping is for sure one reason people chicken out about travel of any kind with the littles. But preparation really mitigates the stress here. I packed the car after the babies went down the night before, which both reduced the stress at departure time, and also helped everything move along swiftly. Further, it allowed me to be more organized and reduce the chance I’d forget something. (My go-to app for packing—and a million other things—is Wunderlist.)
2. Keep important stuff out of the trunk.
Pack the trunk with the stroller and all the other bulky necessities—but keep out some of the essentials you’ll need on travel day: toys, bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, snacks, and the like. If you keep these within the car, you won’t have to pull over every time you need something basic.
3. Stockpile stuff in arm’s reach.
My babies—and I assume yours, too?—tend to chuck stuff out of their car seats for sport. So you can hand over one toy and hit the highway… only to have to get off at the next exit to retrieve it from its new position wedged between the seat and the door. Or you could do what we figured out after the first 150 miles: stockpile a little basket of toys somewhere within reach, for instance the center of the backseat or the floor under it, so you can hand back a new diversion whenever it’s necessary.
4. Keep your own stuff handy, too.
Of course you’ll find yourself hungry just as soon as the baby’s eyes close… but that’s probably not the best time to stop. So keep snacks and drinks handy for yourself, too. That way you’ll be able to hold yourself over until everyone’s ready to pull off the road for a proper meal and some fresh air. (Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for bathroom breaks, but it’s a start!)
5. Bring a friend.
My idea to liberate my husband for some rest was a bad one. First of all, he would have missed out on the fun, of course. But second of all, it helps to have a buddy in the car… and at the destination, if possible. Deciding to make a trip out of it in celebration of my mom’s birthday, my parents hopped in their own car and met us up north. With two super-mobile babies, my parents’ support allowed us some grownup time to enjoy a different sort of vacation.
Here’s an example: The babies were invited to my friend’s wedding, but my daughter woke up the night before and cried for an hour—likely because she didn’t recognize where she was and got scared. (I’d characterize this as the biggest hiccup of the trip… and it wasn’t huge.) This meant she was especially tired the next day (OK, we all were!) and wouldn’t have made the best company during a quiet ceremony, or at a dinner alongside old friends with tons to catch up on. So they spent the evening with their grandparents instead—a scenario for which I was super grateful. (Just as I’m grateful every day for four doting grandparents at home in Los Angeles!)
6. Relax and enjoy the journey.
Even writing that pat, cliche subheadline above makes me cringe. It’s not easy to remain calm in stressful situations, and I know that I contributed a lot of stress to our departure morning when I woke up in a tizzy. Assuming we were in for a day of chaos, I actually created my own, casting a negative tenor over what turned out to be truly only a positive experience. Bad mommy! I’d bought into the pervasive negative culture around traveling with babies and was perpetuating it.
In fact, trite as it is, it’s all about enjoying the (literal) journey. (Especially because, yes, a road trip with babies will probably take a bit longer with an extra stop or two.)
Get out there! And ease into the romantic, joyful notion of barreling down the open highway in a capsule filled with most of what you love most in the whole world.