RoadTrip America

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Baby on Board: 10 Tips for Road Trips with the Baby
by Anne Sponholtz

A baby in the back seat does not mean that your road trips are now limited to visits to the grocery store and the pediatrician. As a mom, grandma and experienced road tripper, Anne Sponholtz has earned a diploma in "Traveling with Baby 101." She offers a few tips that can help make your road trips with baby memorable in all the right ways. Parents, you may start your engines.

 

When my youngest was 6 months old, my husband and I decided it was time to take off on a 379-mile road trip to Key West, Fla. Friends and family shuddered at the idea of such a venture with a baby, but we were road trippers, and hitting the road was part of our life. Since then the odometer has ticked off plenty of miles with babies on board. Sometimes it gets crazy, but it's always an adventure.

Here are 10 tips to smooth the way.

 

1. Be flexible

When baby is on board, you never know what is in store for your travels. Sometimes baby is happy, other times fussy, and being prepared to swing with baby's moods can make traveling a lot easier on everyone. So don't be too ambitious and don't set your travel plans in stone. Be as flexible as you can and expect to stop often. My daughter and I figured a 90-mile trip with one of my youngest grandsons would be a breeze, but on the trip out, the baby was fussy and we had to keep stopping to pacify him. It seemed to take forever to get to our destination, but on the return trip, baby was perfect, and we made it home in record time.

[Continued below photo gallery]

Oak Lake

Discovering a playground along your travels is a great way to allow baby - and siblings - to have a chance to unwind.

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Photo by Anne Sponholtz

 

2. Keep a list

Ellen Damaschino, a professional organizer featured on Parents TV, advises making a master packing list you can use for all your trips. Tuck it away in the baby's travel bag, preferably one with lots of pockets, so you can check off the things you will need on your return trip home. A master list might include such things as diapers, wipes, lotion, changing pads, garbage bags, formula - if you are not nursing - and juice, water, snacks, baby food and utensils, if baby is a little older. If baby is on any medication, include that on the list. Pack a first aid kit, and don't forget a thermometer, flashlight and your insurance cards. A small cooler to keep juice and formula cold should make the list. Use travel-sized items for packing. As Damaschino suggests, pack for travel time, not for the trip. You can make purchases once you arrive at your destination.

3. Provide entertainment

Entertainment can be the key to keeping baby happy. Bring along baby's favorite toys, a soothing music CD and a few new toys. Hanging mobiles from the car ceiling is a good idea so long as they don't obstruct your view out the windows. Blowing bubbles can entertain baby for a long time and is a popular form of entertainment among traveling parents. Just don't distract the driver! It's always a good idea to travel with a designated "baby entertainer" who can move into the back seat when baby gets fussy. Older siblings are often good candidates for this job.

4. Check the weather

If you have a choice of travel days, try to avoid rain and other bad weather. Some of the toughest trips I've made with babies have been in the rain, as getting out for pit stops in bad weather with a baby is difficult. Our RV has a built-in weather radio, but you can also check forecasts on several online weather services (see listing at the end of this article). RVs are great for bad-weather travel, as you can stop and get the baby out of his car seat for a while without having to get out into the elements; car drivers will have to plan rest stops at places where they can get everyone under shelter.

5. Keep baby comfortable

Keeping baby happy in her car seat can cut down on some of the stops. Window shades are a great help, providing some shade when the sun is coming in the car window. Small pillows and blankets strategically placed in car seats can provide comfort for baby, but keep an eye on baby to make sure they don't shift and interfere with her breathing. Changing baby's position in the seat is also helpful. Don't give infants too much orange juice. According to staff members at the Family Travel Forum, orange juice causes some babies to become carsick.

6. Consider the larger items

Strollers, carriers, pack-'n-plays, high chairs - oh my. The list of larger items needed for a baby just seems to go on and on, and it can be daunting when planning a road trip. But don't get discouraged. These days there are lots of options. If you are going to be in one place for a while, you can ship these items ahead; you can also rent many of them when you get there. Some larger items are now built like the popular children's toy - Transformers. For example, you can purchase a car seat that converts to an infant carrier and transforms into a stroller. RV travelers have the luxury of space. We once packed a full-sized high chair for a trip that included a grandson's first birthday. It was a great help keeping the birthday cake all over baby, instead of all over the RV!

HELPFUL RESOURCES

Weather.com and Weather Underground are great resources for finding out about the weather.

Babies Travel Lite provides several services for those traveling with baby.

Check out state car seat laws

Learn more about what one contributor to RoadTrip America Forum discovered when traveling with a baby, and join the forum and share your experiences.

RV Forum is a forum where RVers share their thoughts; they often have lively debates about traveling with little ones.

7. Travel safe

Even if you think you know how to install a car seat properly, it's best to check with an expert. Local police and firefighters will often do this for you. And once baby is strapped into that car seat and the engine is running, never unbuckle him without stopping first. (RVers often have heated online debates over this issue, with some saying it is OK to let infants and babies out of their car seats in an RV. I fall on the side of always stopping before anyone unbuckles in my car or RV.) If you're traveling in an RV, check to see whether you will need to secure the car seat with a lap belt. One RoadTrip America Forum contributor had to purchase a new car seat, compatible with a lap belt, when he rented an RV that had this arrangement. You can check online for individual state laws covering age and weight requirements for children's car seats (the website is listed in the sidebar).

If traveling in an RV, be sure to baby-proof it as you would your home, e.g. covering electrical outlets and keeping such things as the chemicals used for the holding tanks out of baby's reach. Above all, never leave a baby or any young child alone in any vehicle. You would never forgive yourself if something terrible happened while you "just stepped outside for a moment."

8. Get some exercise

Keep a lookout on your GPS for places like playgrounds or city parks where baby can get a little exercise, fresh air and a change of scenery. We stopped for lunch one day in the RV and even the littlest grandson enjoyed watching a squirrel play right outside our door. Swings at playgrounds are also excellent ways to give baby some exercise, and an old-fashioned picnic on a blanket provides baby a break from traveling and a chance to move around without being so confined.

9. Think about when to travel

Many parents prefer traveling at night, when the kids are asleep. I don't think my sister and her family ever took a trip that her kids didn't travel in their pajamas. As a youngster, whenever my family traveled we got up at 5 a.m., traveled several hours, stopped for breakfast and then hit the road again. Some experienced travelers, however, say it is best to keep baby on her regular schedule. That is the way I prefer to travel with baby, and it seems to work pretty well most of the time. Remember Rule No. 1: Be flexible. If you experiment with different timetables, you will find what fits your family's needs.

10. Say "Cheese!"

Don't forget your camera! I recently ran across a picture taken when we went on that Key West trip long ago, when my daughter was just 6 months old. My kids were more than a little surprised to discover there was a time their mother did not wear a one-piece bathing suit!

Most importantly, relax and have fun. Babies grow up way too fast and before you know it, you will be searching for tips on how to travel with teenagers.

Anne Sponholtz
7/31/09

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