My experiences driving long distances with a tiny human

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

For us, bedtime works best. My Fiance is comfortable and confident driving at night to Sydney or Melbourne, having done the trip countless times for work. When he gets home from work he has a sleep while I pack the car with last minute items. We feed, bath and dress our daughter as if she’s going to bed, and then try and put her into her car seat at the time she’d normally be going into bed. She used to breast feed immediately before getting into the car, and now she’s weaned I give her a bottle of warm milk after putting her into the seat. She’ll usually grizzle a little bit after finishing her milk, and then fall asleep almost immediately.

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.

Stay Hydrated

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!

About Sophie

Sophie. Mamma to Eden and one on the way. Peanut Planner contributor and lover of all things Baby. All about family life and finding the happy.

7 comments on “My experiences driving long distances with a tiny human

    December 29, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    what an awesome post! long distance with small babies is no mean feat.

  2. Esther @ The Cuteness
    December 29, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    Traveling with my 2yo is one of my least favorite things. She hates being strapped into the car, especially for long periods of time. We drove to see family for Christmas this year and she pretty much cried the whole way there and back, unless she was eating!

  3. Christy
    December 30, 2015 at 12:29 am

    Long distance or short drives with a little one are difficult. Especially when you run into traffic, and end up sitting on a highway for hours. Great post!

  4. Crystal
    December 30, 2015 at 3:41 am

    Great post and tips! I’m so impressed with how many times you’ve done this! We’ve only done this a few times in comparison, but have done much of the same.

  5. Kim @ When Caterpillars Fly
    December 30, 2015 at 3:57 am

    Great post!! My daughter has a complete hatred of car rides so we’ve always had to keep them short but now that she is almost 2, she’s at an age where we can reason with her more and explain where we are going, how long until we get a break, etc. Its so much nicer! I giggled at your “You made it through labor” line, haha! Labor feels like nothing when compared to a kid that doesnt want to be in the car ;)

  6. Sarah Bradford
    December 30, 2015 at 4:09 am

    I haven’t done a long trip with my little one yet, but he HATED the car the first few months of life. Luckily now he does pretty great, but I’m so glad I came across this post so I’ll be prepared when the time does come for a road trip, which will be in a few months. Thanks for the great info!

  7. Ashley
    December 30, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Having survived many road trips with one, and then two, kids; I would say all of these tips and experiences are spot on. We also took our first trip with our baby girl at 8 weeks and the experience was pretty much the same as yours. We took our first trip with our son when he was about 3 1/2 months old and it was a very different story. They did pretty well, but they did not sleep and that made for a very rough start to vacation. However, it is all survivable and I am glad that we started them so young. They are road trip lovers now at the ages of 1 and 3 and I couldn’t ask for better memories.

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