Road Trip with a Baby: A Survival Guide for Parents

Nasreen Stump Avatar
Mom buckling a baby into a car seat

Any other over thinkers out there? Did you land here after Googling 10 different variations of “how to road trip with a baby” or “what baby road trip essentials do I need to pack?” That first trip (and second and third) can be hard. And just when you’ve gotten the hang of traveling with a newborn baby, they get older and change. Then there are new things to learn and tips and tricks for that next stage.

We’ve got you covered! These tips were collected over thousands of miles road tripping with four kids through all of the baby stages. You’ll learn what to pack (always a pee pad!), how to handle diaper changes, even how to juggle driving and breastfeeding.

Road Trip with a Baby: The Basics You Must Know

As a mom of four kids who regularly drives cross country solo with the kids to see the grandparents, I’ve been there. Sit back and relax. I’m going to walk you through some of the most important things to know before baby’s first road trip including:

  • How to easily change diapers on the road (even if your baby wears cloth diapers)
  • What to pack
  • How to optimize your diaper bag
  • The best time to drive
  • How to handle breastfeeding on a road trip

The most important thing you need to know for that first trip with baby? Everything may not go smoothly.

Read More: Complete packing list for traveling with a baby. What to bring and what to leave at home!

Parenting is a moving target. One day may go 1000% better than you planned and the next day starts low and plummets from there. Traveling with a newborn baby can be daunting.

The key for a successful road trip with baby? Patience and the knowledge that it might be hard.

The great part about roadtripping with baby? Unlike flying with a baby, the only people dealing with the crying, smells and chaos are the people who agreed to get into your car. Plus you’ve got more space to bring all of the baby road trip essentials that make life easier. So pack some Tylenol and read on.

Read More: Get all of our best SheBuysTravel tips for traveling with babies.

Safety First: Here’s How to Check Your Car Seat

It’s every new parent’s nervous thought: Did we install the car seat correctly? I mean they’ve invented baby sleeping devices that self-rock and still some car seats remain counter-intuitive in their installation.

One of our top travel tips? Take advantage of car seat safety techs. Check with your local fire department, ambulance service or hospital to see if there is a car seat installation expert on staff.

My husband is a paramedic and routinely gets folks at the station looking for help. While they are happy to assist, try to call ahead (not 911!) so they can plan for you. You can also search on the National Highway Traffic Safety website by zip code.

Knowing that your car seat is properly installed can help you feel more confident going into your road trip with baby.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Do you know there is one other step you can take to protect your child in case of an accident?  Label the car seat with important care and contact information in the event you cannot speak for yourself or your child.

Start small. Short drives to get baby used to the car will make traveling with a newborn baby easier. #roadtrip #travelwithbaby #familytravel
Start small. Short drives to get baby used to the car will make traveling with a newborn baby easier. Photo credit: Pixabay

Road Trip Tips to Get Baby Ready for a Long Car Ride

Call me Captain Obvious, but I have to say it: One of the ways to get babies ready for a long road trip is to drive them around!

Start with short drives around town and work up to longer stretches. This can also be a great way to change up scenery and get out of the house. A new baby is an adjustment. Pretty scenery will do you both good.

It’s really important to get baby used to the feeling of a car seat before your road trip. If the first time your kiddo spends extended time in the seat is your 7-hour holiday road trip, things may not go smoothly for you. Give baby a chance to get used to the sensation of a five-point harness over a few short rides.

You don't need to bring every item along on your road trip with baby.
You don’t need to bring everything baby uses on a daily basis. Pack light and plan to buy extra diapers/wipes if needed. Photo credit: Nasreen Stump

Baby Road Trip Essentials: What to Pack for a Road Trip with an Infant

We know. The urge to pack each and every thing you might possibly need is strong. Very strong. But unless you’re going somewhere too remote for Walmart, you’ll be able to buy anything you forget. Besides, that gives you an excuse to swing into Target, use the changing table, grab a Starbucks and buy more diapers, right?

From the best strollers for travel to tips for potty training on the road, get all the info you need before taking a road trip with a baby or toddler!

Baby Road Trip Essentials: Feeding

  • Bottles or sippy cups (if needed)
  • Pumped milk or powdered formula (pack room temperature bottled water if you’re using formula)
  • Baby food (if your baby is at that point) Personally I love these spoons that screw onto the pouches if you’re still spoon feeding baby. No jars or bowls to worry about!
  • Bibs and burping cloths

Diapering and Bodily Fluids (Babies are Gross)

  • Diapers, baby wipes, diaper cream, a changing pad and bags for dirty diapers. I recommend one of the changing pad “kits” from Amazon that clips shut and holds everything. It is way easier to haul into a quick pit stop than a full diaper bag. I love this one because it can hang off the seat back and dispense wipes. Perfect for quick car changes.
  • Two changes of clothes for baby
  • A change of clothes for you
  • Pee pads for the car seat. It is a known fact that if you don’t have one in the seat, the diaper will leak.
  • Diaper cover. I know it’s overkill but we actually put one of these diaper covers over disposables on the road. We were traumatized by a poo incident while waiting to cross the border after a trip to Montreal.

Safety Items

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Sanitizing microwave bags. These were a huge favorite of mine for sanitizing bottles, pump parts, teething toys and more while on the road. Most hotel lobbies have a microwave even if there isn’t one in the room.
  • Stylish and protective baby sunglasses.
  • A sun shade. Also consider infant sunscreen when traveling with your newborn baby. Sunburns can and do happen through car windows.

Baby Road Trip Essentials to Make Your Life Easier

  • Baby carrier. I’m a huge babywearing advocate and a good baby carrier can make quick stops easy and hands free (especially if you need to pee too!).
  • Board books for an older baby who can hold them. I strongly recommend bath style books. They’re easy to wash off and sanitize.
  • Pacifier. If your kiddo uses one, bring extra. They tend to “jump” out of the car whenever you open the door.
  • Car seat cover & back of seat organizer. You know what’s awesome? When snacks spill in the car and grind into your seat. Not. I love putting a seat cover under the car seat. Get the kind with the pockets so you can stick in a few extra diapers and a bottle for easy access.
  • A copy of baby’s birth certificate or passport. No it’s not required if you’re on the highway instead of an international flight but trust me, better safe than sorry. It’s not a bad thing to have something with you that identifies the baby as yours.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Double check your routes to make sure there are no accidental border crossings on your route. Family travel is tricky enough without having a chat with border patrol. And yes, we have a real life story about this. Crested a hill in Vermont and oops, we were in Canada.

traveling with a newborn baby, doing an in car diaper change with our baby road trip essentials
Traveling with a newborn baby? Diaper changes can be a little scary. Photo credit: Nasreen Stump

How To Change a Diaper in the Car: Baby Road Trip Essentials That Help

Ahh, the fun of car diaper changes. If you’re roadtripping with a newborn and it’s your first baby, on the go diaper changes can be overwhelming. There are a few options for easy diaper changes on a road trip with baby:

  • Diaper changes at rest stops, gas stations, restaurants or even a Target or baby supply store you swing into quickly.
  • Use your own changing pad and do the diaper change in your car.

The pros of a store or rest stop: Chances are good you’ll find a proper changing table. The cons? You don’t control the cleanliness.

The pros of your car? You can take your time and control the cleanliness. The cons? One blowout or a rolling baby and you might end up with a new scent in your car.

I’m a car change fan. As a proud minivan driver, I have one of the center chairs flipped up providing for plenty of space.

Another great option is the front passenger seat, but be sure to cover it up first.

The most important car diaper change tip? Have all your supplies laid out before you attempt the change. This includes opening the top of the wipes. Keep one hand on baby at all times.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Bring empty grocery bags or a roll of small trash bags. When poop happens in the middle of nowhere, you want to be able to wrap that bad boy up and trap the odor. Riding with the windows down is not conducive to a happy baby. 

We recommend planning out a route that avoids major construction when taking a road trip with baby.
We recommend planning a route that avoids major construction and rush hours. Use GPS or an app like Waze to find out about real time delays. Photo credit: Pixabay

What Is the Best Time to Drive with a Baby?

Obviously the answer to the best time to drive with a baby is going to vary from infant to infant. However, keeping track of your child’s natural rhythms, nap times and preferred schedule will help you plan.

One mistake I see way too many baby parents make is trying to drive all night while baby sleeps. Even if your plan works and they do sleep, you end up exhausted and still have a baby to take care of. Plus you run the risk of hitting night construction and dealing with other drivers’ poor decisions and impairments.

Still planning to drive at night? Take a short test night drive with baby before the trip! I like to drive until 10pm or so. Two of my babies did not agree with this. My oldest daughter would sob uncontrollably if it was dark out and no one was holding her hands. Any night driving had to have a grown up in the back seat. My youngest son? He’s fine if he’s asleep. But if he wakes up and it’s dark out? He’ll cry until we stop. Figure out what your baby needs.

Other things to consider when mapping your trip? Traffic. The majority of babies I’ve come across do best in a moving car. Try to work around city rush hours and heavy traffic in highway construction zones so you aren’t trapped in a car at a standstill with a crying baby.

Tips For Breastfeeding on a Road Trip: Baby Road Trip Essentials

Breastfeeding on a road trip can seem like a gargantuan undertaking. It can be done!

The most important thing is a good support system. That includes you! If you self-doubt and question whether you can handle it, it will make things more difficult. You can do this if you put your mind to it. We believe in you!

How to Breastfeed on a Road Trip

  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. It is a natural reaction to try to drink less on a road trip because you’re unsure about “potty stops.” Breastfeeding? You NEED keep up your fluid intake.
  2. Allow extra time. Traveling with a newborn baby and making feeding stops takes time. Stopping to use the restroom takes time. Plan for that time so you aren’t frustrated later.
  3. If you pump, invest in a car charger for your breast pump. Traveling with another adult? You can pump while that person drives and feed baby bottles later if you wish.
  4. Pack a small cooler. If you’re pumping, you’ll need somewhere to store pumped breast milk. If you’re nursing, it’s also a great place to store liquids and snacks for Mom.
  5. Wear nursing tops or clothes that make it easy to pump or breastfeed. Bring a nursing cover if it makes you feel more comfortable. Know your rights about nursing in public. You can see laws bystate on this site.
  6. Practice good nursing hygiene and habits. The last place you want to end up with an infection or breast issue is on a road trip. Pump or feed regularly to avoid mastitis. Don’t wait too long just to get miles in. Wash your hands routinely or use hand sanitizer.

SheBuysTravel Tip: We always recommend keeping a first aid kit in your car for the whole family on car trips. If you’re breastfeeding you may want to add in a lanolin-type product for any nipple-related ailments.

Traveling with a Newborn Baby: You’re Ready for Your Road Trip with Baby

Well, I hope my thousands of miles of baby roadtripping proves helpful. What other questions about traveling with a newborn baby do you have? We are always happy to answer!

Nasreen’s adventures started out as business travel. Working as a territory sales manager she covered 21 states during her tenure, traveling 3-5 nights a week. As she visited new cities and states, she always worked in a quick stop at a unique or iconic site. A travel writing career was born. When her father-in-law’s cancer came back she started writing and consulting full-time around his chemotherapy schedule. Traveling with her firefighter/paramedic husband, kids, friends and solo allows her to cover a variety of situations and topics. Her four kids (19 year old boy, 13 year old girl, 11 year old girl and 7 year old boy) are professionals at the cross country road trip. After 10 years in Texas, their family is back in the Northeast exploring both familiar and new destinations. There she runs her own business providing go-to-market, sales strategy, podcast, and content marketing consulting for websites and B2B businesses. Whenever possible she writes for a variety of publications in the podcast, travel, and business space. Connect with her on LinkedIn to chat about travel, content, sales, and podcasts!
Read full bio

5 responses

  1. I’m really anxious about the feeding part that’s why we bought electric breast pump. Since I can’t breastfeed my baby while in the road.

  2. We are taking an almost 4 hour road trip this next week & I’m highly anxious about the drive. We have done road trips in the past & my son who almost refuses to sleep in the car seat will just scream when he’s tired until he can’t take it any longer. In the past we have done day trips, he is sleep trained and self soothes here at home, so I am considering leaving around bedtime this go around. What makes me nervous is if we leave at bedtime & he still doesn’t want to sleep in the car. Should we leave during the day & possibly skip a few naps OR leave at night & possibly mess up nighttime sleep ? the struggle is real. Thanks

  3. It’s a great source of knowledge; I think it will be helpful for lot of people who are looking for road trip with a baby a survival guide for parents . Thank you very much for sharing this article, this is really helpful for me, thanks again and looking for more in future!

  4. This is probably the most detailed article written about road trips with kids that I have ever read. And, I have read a lot of such articles. By the way, origami can be a great toy to keep them busy when you don’t want them disturbing you. On top of that, frisbee is an also a great toy for the break time, and it doesn’t require much space as well.

    1. Thank you so much! The frisbee and origami are great ideas as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *