Make your first weekend road trip a breeze with a newborn baby
Sleepless nights, emotional breakdowns, unpredictable daily schedules, getting the hang of this new mom life – all reasons a road trip with a newborn baby could seem overwhelming. Here are some ways to make it not only approachable, but fun and remarkably doable so much so that you’ll want to hit the road again ASAP.
Our first road trip with a 3 week old baby
While I was pregnant Jason and I planned on spending a month in Italy when Caden was 3 months old. We figured there would be no better time for us to live abroad while we were both on parental leave, Caden would still be breastfeeding and not crawling yet so easier to manage. We love to travel and dreamed of posting up in a cute cottage in Tuscany with our sweet baby boy enjoying the summer weather, pasta and good Italian wine.
Every person we told this plan laughed at us thinking we were crazy to think we’d be able to travel with an infant and sure we thought maybe they were right, but we would see how things turned out once he arrived. Well, COVID obviously squashed those plans and Jason decided to instead take the first month off work with the baby and finish his leave later in the year. (As a side note we definitely could have done it with him at 3 months old, and I wish I was sitting there right now. Yes it would have been a lot to prep for, but totally doable with proper planning.)
Although my c-section recovery was a bit rough and I was still very much healing at 3 weeks postpartum and adjusting to life as a new mom, I was anxious to get out of the house for an adventure before Jason returned to work, likely heightened in motivation from being cooped up from our COVID shelter in place for my entire third trimester. I literally remember telling Jason all I wanted to do was just go drive in the car on a road trip, sit with him gazing out the window next to our cute little baby in the car seat and listen to podcasts. Taking a couple night road trip getaway in Healdsburg was the perfect destination for us – less than a 2 hour drive, a pool to enjoy some summer heat, and wine tasting at our favorite wineries – something I’d been waiting to fully experience again post pregnancy for the first time as a mom.
Leaving the house for a couple of hours was intimidating at that point, so thinking about leaving for a couple of nights was definitely overwhelming. But after spending most hours of our days in the house, being overly cautious with COVID avoiding all activities involving a public space, we really needed this to improve our mental health. So we booked a hotel that clearly listed the precautions it was taking with COVID so we felt safe and made our schedule. It was such a great trip despite the lack of sleep, I was just so happy going out with our baby boy and experiencing a bit of “normalcy.”
3 road trips in 3 months
By 3 months old Caden had ventured to Healdsburg, Carmel and Bend for long weekend getaways. Each road trip a bit further with more time in the car – 2 hours, 4 hours, 8 hours. Here’s what I’ve learned from my experiences.
9 tips for newborn baby’s first road trip
1. Don’t procrastinate packing
Just like preparing your hospital bag, make a packing list ahead of time so you know exactly what you do and don’t need to pack. Pack at least 1 day before you leave – not the day of! Stay organized using packing cubes so it’s easy to find things quickly for baby. Do this for yourself as well to avoid over packing – you’ll have enough stuff to carry as is.
For a complete long weekend road trip packing list, check out my full guide: Baby’s Weekend Road Trip Packing List: Summer Edition
2. Choose your departure time strategically
We found that feeding the baby and immediately going on our way works best for us. This way he’s full and happy when we get in the car. While I’m nursing, my husband packs the car up with all the bags we packed in advance so as soon as we’re done eating we can head straight out the door.
If you aren’t pumping, be sure to map out your stops every few hours based on how frequently your baby eats. My favorite place to stop along the way is at Starbucks since you can order a drink ahead of time easily and their bathrooms are usually clean. Download the Starbucks app and be sure to load some cash into your account for seamless ordering.
3. Plan for breastfeeding on the road
This is where my love for the Willow Pump comes in. We opt to feed Caden with a bottle in the car seat while driving to avoid needing to make frequent stops for 30 minutes at a time on the road. The Willow Pump makes it so easy with no mess and bulky parts to manage to breastfeed in the car. While I don’t find it as efficient at getting milk out as the Spectra, the convenience and ease of use makes it a great choice for car trips and pumping on-the-go.
4. Set up the car for comfort (and on-the-go sanitization)
Clean your car out of any clutter prior to packing it up. Add a stock of cleaning and COVID sanitization supplies: hand sanitizing spray, disinfectant wipes, disposable face masks and a small trash bag. Baby’s area of the car should be equipped with an installed car seat, mirror, window shades, blanket, sound machine, bib for bottle feeding if you go that route and toys for entertainment. Pick where you, Mama, plan to sit and ensure you have easy access to everything you’re going to need – bottles, cooler with milk, Willow Pump, snacks and water. I sit in the back with Caden so I can feed him on the drive. Ensure you have some quick snacks, like my Apricot Almond Coconut Bites, ready when hunger strikes.
5. Take the time to fully unpack & settle in
Of course you may be excited to explore as soon as you arrive, but before jumping in take the time to fully unpack and make the place feel like a second home. You should set-up your crib area, changing station and bottle cleaning station to avoid any stressful moments later on.
Crib area: We used the Uppababy Bassinet for Caden to sleep in until he outgrew it at 2 months, then we switched to the Guava Family Lotus Travel Crib. Amazon also has a dupe for this travel crib if you’re looking for a more affordable option. I chose the Lotus Travel Crib out of the many pack-and-play options because of its lightweight design (13 lbs), super easy set-up and pack-down, backpack carrying feature, and it has an infant bassinet conversion kit which is what we set up in our bedroom for his first few months sleeping in our bedroom.
On our most recent trip I wanted to make sure Caden kept up with his fewer wakings in the night, so needed to make sure he had a dark space to sleep. I considered purchasing a sleeping pod ($90), but instead went the more affordable/DIY route ($30) and purchased a black out curtain and super large safety pins. We attached the pins to hangars and hooked the hangars to hinges in the closet doors of our hotel room – hacky but hey, it worked really well!
Changing station: I stock this with one bag of baby wipes, our favorites are Pampers Pure Aqua – similar to Water Wipes but a little cheaper at $0.04/wipe vs. $0.06/wipe. I pack 10 diapers for each day we’ll be gone, our absolute FAVORITE diapers are Coterie. And I use the changing pad from our diaper bag and always keep a diaper rash cream, Butro’s Butt Paste, and travel-size Bum Brush in the diaper bag as well.
Bottle station: If you are breastfeeding directly only, then this part doesn’t apply. When we are out and about I like to make sure we have a bottle of breastmilk ready to go in case I’m not able to nurse at that moment. Here is my quick setup in the room: mini bottle soap (Babyganics or Dapple are great options), wide storage container to soak bottles & pump parts, quick-drying towel to use instead of a drying rack. We use both Dr. Brown’s Options+ 4oz. bottles with the green filter removed for less parts and Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature.
6. Stick to your bedtime routine
Try to stick with the same bedtime routine you do at home. For us that means putting Caden in PJs, reading him a book while he has his last bottle, playing his bedtime song, wrapping him in his Ollie Swaddle (click the link for 10% off), turning on the white noise machine and making the room dark. If you are out and about at bedtime, try to do what you can and place baby in the stroller with a cover and sound machine to replicate your dark nursery room.
7. Be flexible and avoid overbooking your day
Perhaps the hardest thing for my husband and I to do is not overplan our schedules. First of all, assume everything you do from leaving the hotel, to walking around town will take an extra 30 minutes. I repeat: add 30 minutes before and after every activity you have planned on your schedule. Pick one bigger thing you want to do that day, make it happen and everything else you get to venture out for is the cherry on top. Don’t sweat it if it doesn’t end up happening.
8. Bring both a stroller and soft-structured carrier
The stroller is great for being out and about all day. I absolutely love having all the storage below for the diaper bag, water bottle, even things for our dog, but sometimes a carrier is so much more convenient! Bring along a soft structured carrier for the quick errand run or if you plan on going on a short hike.
We have the Baby Bjorn Carrier One Air which Jason uses, its great for hiking with the tiny baby and even walks around the neighborhood. I prefer the less bulky Sakura Bloom Scout carrier which is more of a hybrid of a soft structured carrier and a wrap because the baby still feels super close and cozy next to me, but it’s lightweight and not to mention super beautiful.
9. Enjoy all the calm and chaotic moments
There will by crying (both Mom and the baby), there will be laughing, there will be anxiety, but most importantly there will be amazing memories made on your first family vacation. Enjoy all the calm and chaotic moments along the way of the trip. Don’t give yourself a hard time when things don’t go as planned, you’re doing great Mama!
View the guide: Baby’s Weekend Road Trip Packing List: Summer Edition
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