Successful Road Tripping with a Newborn

Does the idea of packing an infant into a fast-moving metal object for a six-hour stretch on a noisy highway fill you with dread? Well, then you’re probably a reasonable human—but PSP members have tips to help you make the drive and come out the other side.


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Pack light but mindfully:

“Pack the bare minimum of things you need and consolidate your stuff into as few bags as you can.”

"Pack a separate small bag for baby (like a backpack or large tote bag) and fill it with clothes, burp cloths, a couple blankets, extra diapers & wipes, and a portable changing pad. Keep this stuff within easy reach in case you need to do an outfit change on the road."

"Keep a full roll of paper towels, at least 1 full pack of wipes, and a gallon jug of water in the back seat. We ended up having to clean up a giant blowout in a random parking lot somewhere in south Jersey, off that weird stretch of 95 where there are no exits or rest stops for miles. Having all these supplies on hand made the cleanup process a lot easier. A horrifying experience in the moment, but one we look back on and laugh about.”

“Here's my one sort-of creative tip: Use a cloth diaper cover (not the cloth diaper, the waterproof cover that goes over a cloth diaper) in addition to a disposable diaper to prevent blowouts. We're cloth diaper folks, but used disposables on the road and put a cover over them. Not even a hint of a leak! My favourite covers are from Esembly (a spin-out of Diaperkind, the Brooklyn diaper service) and Thirsties. Get two, in case you get a leak in one.”

“I would add that you should have an easily accessible spare outfit for yourself as well (having spent a couple of hours in a car covered in my son’s throw up...). I’d also add an actual towel to the list of clean up supplies (again sometimes paper doesn’t cut it).”


Leave plenty of time:

“Assume your trip will take at least 2 hours longer than driving without a newborn, and - totally stating the obvious but we missed the boat on this the first time- time your trip to avoid rush hour traffic.”

“I second all of these, particularly the ‘it will take 1- 2 hours more than you thought’ - that’s held true for all long drives with kids, even as they get a bit older.”

“Take your time! Longer stops, splitting up days, etc., will probably benefit your sanity in the end!”


Be flexible with feeding schedules:

“Don't strictly enforce your longest time between feedings. If you normally try to get 3 hours between feedings, be prepared to feed at more like 2 hours. It's just one (or two or three...) days and won't ruin your schedule, but more frequent stops might just save you some serious headaches! Whenever we'd feed, I'd calculate what 2-3 hours looked like from there and we'd keep an eye on rest stops and gas station stops in that zone as we approached it. I'd recommend stopping as soon as signs of fussiness start.”

“Even though A.’s 95% breastfed, we keep handy a few bottles with 3-4 ounces of water in them, plus a stash of Similac that we can mix up quickly if he gets hungry before the 3 hour mark, which allows us to avoid pulling over on the side of the road to nurse.”


Time your departure strategically:

“To maximize time on the road, feed the baby right before you leave. Let your partner pack the car and get organized while you feed so you can get going immediately after baby finishes eating.”

“If you can, leave in the morning or at least time your drive so you aren't on the road after dark. On our first trip we didn't make it home until about 10pm. The baby hardly slept and she was cranky and overtired when we got home - my completely uneducated guess was that she was fascinated and stimulated by all the headlights outside. On subsequent trips we left earlier in the day and she slept almost the whole time.”

“We actually had the opposite experience re timing as we found that traveling after my son’s bedtime was really peaceful but he was a great sleeper with a solid schedule since very early - it’s likely our second will not be so easy. I would just follow your baby on timing based on their behavior when not traveling - if he is fussy at home during X hours, the car won’t be much better!”

“Think about when your baby is at their best. Ours is much calmer (and sleeps better and longer) in the morning than the afternoon and we knew this and should have factored it in.”


Plan ahead for stops:

“Look up rest stops or exits with lots of gas stations, etc. before you go if you're unfamiliar with the drive. 95, for example, has a lot of rest stops that make it easy to pull over and stop, vs. randomly driving around looking for a place.”

“Think about which surface of the car you'll do diaper changes on (we used the back seat) and make sure it's flat.”

“Build in non-feeding stretch/play/reposition/fresh air time at stops. I feel like our push to get as far as possible on day-one lead us to rush our stops--feeding as fast as possible, changing her and getting back in the car seat. We should have played a bit more, let her stretch out on the back seat, etc., to add a little active awake time post-feeding and encourage better sleep and less fussiness in the car seat as the day went on.”


Pump or breastfeed in the car:

“If you're breastfeeding, you can pump in the car! I packed a little cooler to keep milk cold.”

“I breastfed in the front passenger seat, drivers seat and back seat at various stops, but always in the car. Got some looks in rural Ohio, didn't care.”


There are ways to keep baby calm:

“Consider having whoever isn't driving sit in the back seat with the baby - not only is it good for peace of mind, but you can easily soothe baby if they start fussing.”

“We think her car seat heated up even though the air in the car was cool from the A/C. Her back was sweaty when we picked her up part way through the afternoon, which definitely contributed to her fussiness, despite the adults in the car being comfortable and her not seeming overheated. We'll dress her quite lightly for the return journey and use a blanket to regulate coziness. We'll probably also get a window shade even though the rear windows are quite tinted, just for insurance.”

“We've attached some high contrast toys to the seat in front of him that keep him busy while he's awake for the first 30 minutes or so.”


And ways to help them sleep:

“We also found that white noise is helpful - we used it in the car to assist with naps same way as we do at home - and that was a habit that helped even as he got older and is particularly useful when you hit traffic and the car stops moving.”

“Use a white noise app if your baby likes white noise! I just tucked my phone into her seat for a while. It helped until it didn't.”

“When it's time for him to take a nap I completely cover the car seat so it's super dark and not too stimulating and turn on white noise that I downloaded to an old defunct phone.”

“After several stressful long car trips with our son, and actually based on someone’s post about the hole in the swaddle designed for the car seat buckle, we tried swaddling him for our recent 5 hour car trips and it worked wonders! We timed stops along the way to eat and have awake time, then swaddled him back up and put him back in the seat and it was a game changer.”


But a certain amount of fussiness is to be expected:

“Be prepared to endure crying. We had a few hours where nothing really soothed her for long. It was rough! We turned up the volume on the podcast on the radio, talked to her a lot and just accepted that it was going to stay rough until we made our next stop.”


For older kids, check out our page on Road Trip Diversions; and if you’re traveling by plane rather than car, click through to Flying with Baby.