Our first interstate trip occurred when our daughter was 8 weeks old. Foolhardy, sleep deprived already and mad keen to be at my mother in law’s house with an extra set of eager-to-help hands, we left at 6pm and arrived at 2am.
Our daughter woke once. In fact she didn’t even wake – I woke her, lovingly staring down at her face in her capsule while hanging my upper body over the passenger side seat while my Fiance refueled the car. I guess my heavy breathing and heavy-psychic vibes of ‘wake up, my boobs are beginning to hurt, you chose a hell of a time to start sleeping well’ were enough to stir her. We fed in the front seat, she celebrated draining both of my boobs by doing a massive poo and then prompting fell asleep while I changed her on the back seat of the car.
Buoyed by this experience, we decided to attempt the trip again when she was 15 weeks old. Fact: the bigger a baby gets, the bigger their expectations of the world become. This includes their expectations of being amused, being provided for, and being paid attention. At 8 weeks what was a nerve-wracking although ultimately successful road trip turned into a nightmare at 15 weeks. We stopped roughly 10 times, one of which ended in a 30 minute power nap with my daughter feeding to sleep in my arms while her father power napped in the reclined driver seat.
I’m telling you this to make you realise there is no easy answer to driving long distances with a baby – sometimes you luck out and they’re just tired enough to behave themselves. Other times they interpret being strapped into a seat by a five point safety harness as a personal challenge, the likes of which can only be conquered by pooing through their clothing and screaming themselves purple. Kids happen.
Our daughter is 17 months old now. We’ve driving interstate 15 times since she was born, and we always (with one exception when circumstance forced us to leave early) drive at her bedtime. Here are my tips to make road trips with a baby as simple and stress free as possible – not just for your baby, but for you too.
Pack with intention, and amaze yourself with organisation. This includes a car bag for you and your partner, a car bag for baby, and a car bag.. for the car.
We pack all three bags on the back seat, within arm’s reach of the passenger.
Take the extra time to plan how you’re going to pack your car. Put the things you’ll need easy access to closer to the front of the car, or on the top of the other packed items. If you’re stopping in a hurry, you don’t want to waste time searching for a needle in a haystack.
Choose the time you leave strategically
Stopping During the Drive
Stop, revive, survive has never been more important than it is when driving with a tiny person in your car. Take care of yourself, stop regularly. Buy that extra cup of tea or that extra coffee to make yourself comfortable. We identify the places we’ll stop before we leave, so we avoid missing turn offs and know how long between stops it will be – trust me, this comes in handy if you’ve got a tantrumming toddler sitting in the back asking inexplicably and loudly for “SHOE. SHOOOOOOE. That That THAT.” – being able to say to yourself “if we can last five more minutes” is much more comforting than saying “at some undetermined point in the not too distant future we might stop”. The struggle is real.
When you stop, stretch. Not just yourself, but your baby. We like to take our daughter out of her seat and give her a gentle massage while she’s feeding or being changed. Babies get sore sitting in one position for too long, just like adults do.
Pack enough water or hot drinks for you and your co-pilot. Pack an extra bottle or drink bottle of water for your baby too!
Stay calm, stay gentle
You got through labour, you’ll get through this. Long trips are a trial for everyone, child and adult alike. Respect that your baby has limits just like you do – even when they’re very small, they understand something unusual and potentially unexpected is happening. That unsettling change to routine can be enough to make an otherwise calm and rational baby lose the plot. Be gentle, be understanding. The journey might take longer than it normally does, but you will get there!
Finally, be grateful
Not to diminish your experience, but this has been mine: travelling with a truly tiny baby is stressful. If someone had told me what travelling with a toddler would be like… it’s a trial you have to go through to understand. Take the opportunities to travel when your baby is tiny. Sure, it might be unsettling to their routine, or nerve wracking for you, but you’ll look back on those first family holidays and adventures with fondness. Once your baby turns into a running, tripping, illogical eating machine (for us, around the 13 month mark), contemplating 10 hours strapped into a car with your little angel might not go as smoothly as you’d hoped. Bonus points can be won by packing an ipad preloaded with Peppa Pig, or balloons tied to string. However remember this golden piece of Toddler Wisdom: Whatever distraction you give a toddler to stop him or her from crying, you will eventually have to take away. Be wary of the chaos that may ensue.Happy and safe travelling!