Road trips are one of the most conducive ways to travel with a baby. You can leave when you want to (no departure delays), you can stop when you need to and you can pretty much eat whatever you want en route. But the key to a good road trip is planning ahead. So if you're thinking of squeezing in a few road trips this year, here are 10 tips to get you ready.
1. Make Sure You're Well Rested. Just because you feel fine right before leaving, doesn't mean you'll stay alert an hour into the drive. Driving for a long stretch with a baby in tow can be mentally draining. Make sure you've had enough sleep before hitting the road.
2. Leave At the Right Time. Does your baby sleep well in the car? Leave an hour or two before naptime. Does he hate car rides? Leave soon after he's awoken from a nap or a good night's sleep. Or consider starting your road trip around your baby's bedtime. Don't forget to factor in heavy traffic times.
3. Break Up Your Trip. Going on a road trip doesn't mean you have to be stuck in the car for five straight hours. A five-hour road trip broken up into two two-and-a-half-hour segments with a fun lunch or activity in between creates a much different experience. Mapping out several stops and kid-friendly restaurants in advance makes the sudden onset of a tantrum less stressful and can even make travel more efficient. If your baby is sleeping or tolerating the drive well, you can keep going until the next stop. A large blanket that your baby can crawl and roll around in will help maximize break time.
4. Make the Car Seat Safe and Comfortable. Research shows that 7 out of 10 car seats are not properly installed. Review your instruction manual carefully before leaving. DMV also has some helpful tips (http://www.dmv.org/how-to-guides/install-child-seat.php). For added comfort, consider inserting a car seat head and body support pillow for those younger babies who look like they're swimming in their car seats.
5. Have Window Shades. If the sun is glaring into your baby's eyes, it won't be long before he starts squirming, crying or screaming. Window shades are a good line of defense but keep an extra blanket nearby for reinforcement.
6. Sit Next to Your Baby. Your baby will want some company, especially if he's rear facing. And the closer you are, the sooner you can attend to his needs and preempt a meltdown.
7. Bring Toys and a Mirror. Many travel toys attach to car seats for convenience. Rattles and noisemakers are great car toys since they don't require much work from you, but any toy will do. Remember to bring comfort items like blankets and dolls if they apply. Just as crucial for rear-facing babies, is a shatterproof attachable mirror so your little one won't be staring at the back seat of a car the whole way.
8. Bring Good Jams. Listening to audio books or humming along to a familiar song is a cost-efficient source of entertainment for the baby. Hit up your local library to save you money.
9. Bring Snacks. The great thing about traveling in the car is that you can bring whatever foods and liquids you want. Keep a small cooler next to you and stock it with travel-friendly foods. A bottle or spill-proof sippy cup is an absolute necessity for drinking milk and other liquids. Remember safety first: Don't take the baby out of the car seat to breastfeed.
10. Load Strategically. Load hair dryers and swim gear in the trunk, but make sure you have essentials next to you for easy access.
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Deborah Song is a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of cremedelachef.com. While studying for her MA in journalism at NYU, Deborah worked at Marie Claire, Manhattan and Los Angeles magazine, amongst other publications. Since then she has become a mother of two girls. Her favorite place to parent is in the kitchen where mistakes are plentiful and welcome.