Let me predict your future.
If I’m right, you have to read the rest of this article.
If I’m wrong, I will change 10 up-the-back-into-the-hair dirty diapers for you.
Here’s the bet:
At some point you’re going to take your baby on a road trip.
How’d I do? Ready to keep reading? Or should I start packing?
When you take said “baby road trip”, it won’t matter if it’s an hour or eleven hours: you’re going to wish you had read this article.
After all, what would you rather listen to?
- An eleven hour soundtrack of Howling Howie or Wailing Wendy?
- Or eleven hours of giggles, gurgles, and the occasional productive grunt?
Today I’m going to unload all the suggestions I can think of (or find online) to keep Joy behind your baby’s brain control panel.
Did you choose to fly instead? Read this: What Every Parent Should Know About Flying With a Baby
Baby Road Trip Stop #1
Our first stop on this Tour de Family has got to be Safetyville.
This is the quaint little village that helps ensure you all stumble back from vacation exhausted, but living.
As you’re planning and getting ready to go, keep these important tips in mind.
- Make sure you have your car seat installed correctly. Click here to find where to go in your town to have your baby’s car seat inspected for free.
- If you have a really long trip ahead of you, I would encourage you to make sure your baby’s car seat is not only safe, but comfortable. Sitting on a hard board for 8 hours will make anyone cranky. See my convertible car seat reviews here.
- The AAP recommends that all children under age 2 ride in a backward-facing car seat. They aren’t trying to make your life annoying, there’s real evidence that it makes a big difference in fatalites. (75% less likely isn’t chump change!)
- Consider projectiles. Hard items can cause serious damage when flying around the inside of a car.
- Since your baby will (hopefully) be sitting in a rear-facing car seat, you’ll need a way to keep an eye on that mouth of his. This is the baby mirror you’ll be glad you’ll have. (Hint: It’s the sturdiest adjustable mirror I’ve ever come across.)
Baby Road Trip Stop #2
The Plains of Playdom
Our next pit stop on this baby road trip, once we’ve passed through Safetyville, is the great Plains of Playdom.
These consist of a plateau of playful toys, apps, music, and activities to keep his attention occupied.
Warning! Don’t pull out all of these at once!
These are meant to be trickled out one at a time, so you always have something else to use in your back pocket.
If you’re planning on taking a really long roadtrip, I would consider purchasing some of these new. After all, nothing quite entertains a child like something new and unexplored.
Baby Road Trip: Great Car Seat Distractors
#1: Sunny Arch ~ Attaches onto the car seat and is filled with exciting things to play with and look at!
#2: Spiral Activity Bar ~ Easy to move from the car seat to the stroller. Older babies will enjoy the spring-y action, even when they’ve outgrown the newborn carrier.
#3: Captain Calamari ~ How can you not love something with such a cute title? Also has a hidden mirror on the underside, which is exactly the part your newborn will be gazing at. A good distractor from birth on.
#4: Wrist Rattles ~ What’s the first thing your baby does when you put something on his hands and feet? Yup. Tries to take it off. Guaranteed time-filler toy!
#5: Butterfly Arch ~ Exactly like #1, only feminized.
If you’re looking for other brain-boosting toy ideas to travel with, browse through my toy gift guides for some award-winners:
- Baby Toys: How to Hedge Your Bets and Purchase a Winner
- The Best Brain-Boosting Toys: A Smart Parent’s Guide
Baby Road Trip: Apps & Music Ideas
#1: Educational-But-Still-Fun Game Apps
- Baby Piano ~ It’s exactly what you’d think. Baby pushes a key, it makes a sound. Excellent for teaching cause-and-effect. Plus it’s free on the iPhone.
- Wheels on the Bus ~ It’s an interactive version of the song. Kids can touch the screen to make the wheels turn, wipers swish, etc. Available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices.
- Bubbles ~ Popping bubbles over and over again – without the slimy sticky mess. #winwin Available here.
- Peekaboo Barn ~ Farm animals pop out and surprise your baby, getting lots of giggles. Also helps baby learn the names and sounds of various animals in up to 12 languages. Find it for iPhone, iPad and Android platforms.
#2: Musical Collections
- I grew up listening to Peter, Paul, and Mommy and love that I can introduce my kids to the same folk songs (Marvelous Toy, Puff the Magic Dragon, etc.) on Amazon or iTunes
- Mickey’s Party Songs is great for baby, and won’t make you feel like stuffing your ears with cotton.
- Beethoven’s wiiiiig is very biiiig. See why my girls LOVE these. They are clever and hilarious takes on the tunes you’ll want your kids to recognize. Amazon or iTunes.
#3: Smartphone Holder
This one comes in several cute designs, and is perfect to keep your electronic device slobber-and-sticky free.
#4: Tablet Holder
Baby Road Trip: Portable Toys
#1: Take Along Activity Box ~ A five-sided activity box with mirrors, gears, blocks, a even a maze. A great time waster for babies who like to move but are restrained in a car seat!
#2: Flip & Play Turtle ~ This wooden toy clacks and folds in on itself. Not only great for motor skill development, wonderful for matching skills as well.
#3: Little Red Riding Finger Puppets ~ A fun bonding activity for baby and older siblings!
#4: Twist and Smile Crocodile ~ The body twists in three directions, rewarding baby with clicking noises and chimes.
Crafty Ideas for Pre-Planners
There are a few other blogs out there that have some great hands-on games and activities worth mentioning for taking your baby, toddler, or preschooler on a long road trip.
- While He Was Napping ~ there are some great inexpensive ideas in here – from reusing Daddy’s old wallet with homemade “credit cards” to take in and out, to using glow-in-the-dark stars in the car ceiling.
- Wild Rumpus SchoolHouse ~ Wonderful suggestions for a one-year-old here, including looking ahead for parks you can stop at to burn off some energy.
- Playing to Learn ~ My favorite ideas from this blog were Playdough in a balloon (genius!) and the DIY magnet face maker with a cookie tray and magnets. Definitely check this site out.
- File Folder Fun ~ This website is really for toddlers and older, but it’s so cool I had to include it. “File Folder Games” are free interactive games you print, cut, and glue into a…wait for it…file folder. Utterly simple, but sophisticatedly brilliant.
Baby Road Trip Stop #3
Avoiding the Cliffs of Clutter
Looking down at my map (because in my daydream, we’re all hipsters for some reason), I see a giant red “X” over the next landmark on our journey.
It’s labeled “Clutter Cliff” and it’s something we’ll want to very carefully avoid because at the bottom of said precipice are the Depths of Despair: the fiendish rocks that have sunk many a parent’s happy vacationing dreams.
At first glance, Clutter Cliff seems unassuming, but without careful navigation it can quickly get out of control.
Keeping the car organized and as clutter-free as possible will help everyone’s stress level stay on this side of the drop-off.
To that end, here are some suggestions to keep well aware from the hazards of a junked-up vacation car.
Do all the auto-prep stuff before putting your baby in the car.
For us, that usually looks like Cameron taking the van to get filled up with gas, check the tires, check the oil, and getting it washed and vacuumed out. (Nothing helps my psyche for a long car ride like packing a clean car!)
While he’s doing these very stereotypically male jobs, I happily
putter about the kitchen in my apron…um… watch another episode of Downton Abbey…um…finish packing stuff. (Yeah. I’ll stick with that one.)
Baskets, Totes and Bags, Oh My!
After you’ve spent hours packing your suitcases and making a mountain of junk, it’s time to cram all of those items into your seemingly clown-sized car.
Don’t just throw stuff in the car and hit the gas. You’ll have to pull over a thousand times for things. Think through where everyone is sitting and figure out how to place toys, wipes, snacks, etc. etc. in the car to limit the need to move around a whole lot.
This means you’ll need baskets, boxes, and bags.
#1. A backseat organizer keeps all kinds of fun distractions at your baby’s finger tips. If you have an alert baby, this is worth more than your little chubster’s weight in gold. GOLD.
#2. Fabric boxes are the perfect size for board books, plastic toy cars, little dolls, snacks, etc.
#3. I like to keep this Flex Tub in the car at all times, actually. I throw bottled water in there, non-chocolate granola bars, games and activities, anything that might be helpful to have in the car that I don’t want to try to remember to add later.
Want to know my Anti-Whining Insurance Policy? Mom, I’m hungry…thirsty…bored… Before a big trip, I usually clear it out and add in a few Dollar Store surprises for the girls to discover during the trip. These containers would also be a great place to store diapers and wipes for the trip – easy to carry around & very accessible in the car.
Keep It Clean
It’s amazing how fast a road trip can trash a vehicle. Before you know it, the kids are smashing fries into the carpet and the bottle of milk has spilled over the carpet. (I recommend crying over that spilt milk, btw. It’s going to fill the car with the aroma of decaying bovine excretions if you don’t get it cleaned up fast… #experiencesucks.)
There are a few sanitary items I refuse to pull out of the garage without.
- An unleakable trash can ~ You can pick one that hangs over the back of a seat (here), but for our family, only this one will do. (Bonus: a lid!)
- Disinfecting wipes ~ I cannot tell you how handy these are. These fit perfectly into the mesh side of the trash can.
- A kitchen towel ~ Tucked into the glove compartment, for bigger spills. A roll of paper towels always gets trampled and soaked with mysterious liquids. I end up throwing out the whole roll as useless.
- A window hammer ~ Yes, I’m a bit paranoid, but I like having one of these in the glove compartment. It cracks windows and can slice through seat belts in the case of the unthinkable.
- Booger wipes ~ Do you really want to stumble out of the car to see your friends and family, only to look over and see a mountain range of snot forming on your “I swear he’s really cute normally” son? Save yourself some humiliation – these work so much better than regular tissues.
Baby Road Trip Stop #4
Ah, Munch Mountain.
With it’s grand vistas of pretzel-stick trees and Cheerio clouds, it’s a welcome sight to be sure. Nothing helps our children calm down quite like the promise of snacking in the car.
Snack Packing Don’ts
As you’re packing your snack bag (this collapsable one is my absolute fav), here are some things to keep in mind:
- Limit the sugar. He’s trapped in the car, so this isn’t the time for him to get a sugar rush.
- Nothing sticky, meltable, or gooey.
- Nothing that can stain. This means chopped cherries, blueberries or anything with beet juice is out.)
- Make it choke-proof. If your baby is going to be snacking, you need to make sure he could, in theory, swallow his food whole. (Quarter those grapes!)
- There will be a mess. It’s impossible for your baby/toddler NOT to make a mess. Accept it as inevitable and then come prepared using the tips I shared earlier.
Snack Packing Do’s
- Look for squeeze packets so you don’t have to try to feed with a spoon on the go. You can purchase organic baby food, or get your own squeeze kit if you make your own baby food.
- If your baby is old enough, pack some Gerber Puffs, Cheerios, or Yogurt Melts for him to munch on.
- Don’t forget to pack a good booster seat (with a tray). Unless you like holding on to a squirmy grumpy baby during meals…
- If you’re breastfeeding, pump ahead and store the milk in bottles inside a cooler.
- If you use formula, either purchase Ready-to-Feed formula that’s already mixed, or pack a few bottles of water and a formula dispenser.
Baby Road Trip: Snack Saviors
#1. Gyro Bowl ~ Looks space-age and futuristic, but is actually really common-sense cool. Bowl rotates to stay parallel to the ground.
#2. Stackable Snack Cases ~ the perfect portion amount, with a variety of healthy snacks to rotate through.
#3. Flippy Snack Cup ~ Has a handle so it can hang from the stroller or diaper bag without spilling.
#4. Monster Snacker ~ Who wouldn’t want to snack out of this? (The sensitive, less adventurous baby, that’s who. Probably best for rough-and-tumble personalities!)
Download Your Free Packing Printable
So we’ve gone over a lot in our little sanity-saving baby road trip article here.
An insightful reader asked me for some sleep and napping tips for the weary traveling baby. I thought that was a brilliant idea. Check it out here: How Mater & McQueen Can Help Your Baby Sleep in the Car.
I thought it might be useful if I included a free little baby packing list for you to reference. After all, many of you know how I feel about checklists… Making checklists is how I successfully procrastinate things (like packing the car). It’s my secret weapon of “Let Get Myself One More Coffee While I Work On This”. *wink*
Just fill out the form below to print it off!
No matter how long your baby’s first road trip is, it’s important to try to keep your mindset on the positive side of things. Think of it this way…
Add Your Wise Advice On Baby Road Trips…
What does your baby like to snack on during trips? How do you keep the car organized and clutter-free?