Embarking on a road trip with your little one for the first time? Buckle up for a true adventure. Even if your baby is typically a joy in the car, the uncertainty of whether your tiny travellers will revel in the extended car ride or turn it into a mini-meltdown might push their patience (and yours) to the limit.
We turned to the wisdom of the Grapeviners from our Mum’s Grapevine Baby Groups and they shared a treasure trove of ideas on how they keep their little ones calm and happy on long car trips. From straightforward tips to those requiring a bit more pre-planning, if you find yourself hitting the open road soon, these nuggets of wisdom are definitely worth keeping in your parental toolkit.
Above all, remember: it’s advised not to have your baby in a car seat for more than two consecutive hours, so plan those pit stops strategically!
Here are 17 tips for surviving long car trips with a baby on board.
1. Leave at nap time
Leaving at just the right time could mean the difference between a smooth start to your road trip, and tears of frustration. Time your departure for when Bub would generally be having a nap. Do a feed, pop on a fresh nappy and fingers crossed for a long snooze session!
- Tip from Natalie: “I take our car trips when my little one is sleepy which works better.”
- Tip from Wendy: “Try leaving very early in the morning so that the baby sleeps the first part of the trip.”
- Tip from Hallie: “We have had 5 children and for us, the best way to travel is at night. Make for a long next day but totally worth it!”
2. Plan breaks
Your bub, much like the rest of us, appreciates a change of scenery. Aim for pit stops that offer baby-friendly amenities – think about clean changing facilities and space for a mini stretch-and-play session. These brief breaks not only provide physical relief but also inject a breath of fresh air into the journey, keeping your little one happily engaged and content.
- Tip from Meghan: “Plan fun long stops, we stopped at a pool one way and a play centre the other.”
- Tip from Ashleigh: “We get him out every couple of hours to change him, feed him and play with him. Even if he doesn’t need a change I’ll take him out of the car just or a change of scenery.”
3. New things to play with
Babies tend to have their favourite toys but keeping a couple of ‘new’ playthings aside might work as a distraction in the car. Our Grapeviners have tried using things like empty bottles and sunglass cases as distraction ‘toys’ in the car. They’re something new that Bub hasn’t been allowed to play with before, so they may give you a more extended period of peace.
- Tip from Rachel: “I pack a couple of bags of ‘surprises’ with some different toys/books/sensory items/musical instruments etc that she can play with.”
- Tip from Maddie: “I just made sure I had a bunch of toys within reach so when he threw one out of his seat I could distract him with another.”
4. White noise
Babies are creatures of habit, and being asked to sleep in a car with lots of distractions and new sounds is sometimes asking a lot of them. Try playing some white noise in the car to create an ambience of calmness. If you don’t already use white noise for naps at home, try introducing it a couple of weeks before your big trip to help your tiny traveller get used to associating it with sleep.
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- Tip from Emma: “I swear by a portable white noise machine for long car trips. It’s like their personal lullaby for on the go”
Some of the savvy Grapeviner mums shared the brilliant notion of playing a little “Carpool Karaoke”. According to our mums, belting out tunes, be it from the radio or a playlist geared with their favourite nursery rhymes, music can work wonders in soothing their babies. It’s definitely worth a shot – worst-case scenario, you’ll get to vent out any frustrations by belting out a tune or two.
- Tip from Steph: “Try The Happy Song by Imogene Heap. Used to work for my first – but beware, the song will drive you nuts after about 100 repeats”
- Tip from Elise: “Music! My little one was cracking it the other day, put on kids music and he was happy for 1.5hrs”
6. The sound of silence
Other mums have found turning off the music in the car seems to help their babies stay soothed in the car – almost like the road noise is the white noise.
- Tip from Phoebe: “When my baby seems a bit overwhelmed, I turn off the radio and let the soothing silence take the wheel. It’s incredible how a moment of calm, without the background noise, can work like a reset button”
7. Sit with them
This one isn’t always possible, but if you can, have someone sit next to bub for a bit of distraction and comfort. If you have other kids sitting next to your little one, get them to swap positions to a different side of the baby and see if that does the trick.
- Tip from Ashley: “I found on road trips that sitting in the back with my little one helps. The closeness not only reassures my little one but also turns the backseat into a haven of comfort.”
8. Chat away
Your voice is often all that’s needed to bring bub back from the brink of a meltdown. Turn off the music and speak in soothing tones.
- Tip from Jennifer: “I like to narrate our journey to my baby. Describing the scenery, the cars passing by, it keeps her interested and calm.”
9. Put on a podcast
Alternatively, sometimes it’s other people’s voices that do the trick, so play a podcast on a reasonably quiet volume and see if that helps.
- Tip from Olivia: “My baby loves story podcasts during road trips. The variety of voices and tales seem to hold her attention longer than music.”
Tip from Megan: “I find that my baby enjoys listening to podcasts with soothing voices, such as nature documentaries or storytelling podcasts. I choose podcasts that are appropriate for her age and interests, and I play them at a low volume so that she can still hear the sounds of the road and her surroundings.“
10. Comfy clothes
Dress your baby in layers of comfy, breathable fabrics for the journey. Opt for onesies and pieces that can be put on and removed easily. The beauty of layers? You’re ready to adapt to changing temperatures along the way as well as prepared for any inevitable blowouts and unexpected messes.
Need a hand trying to figure out what your little one should be wearing depending on the weather you’re travelling to? Check out ergoPouch’s handy What To Wear guide to take the guesswork out of choosing the right garment for your baby.
11. Make it warmer/cooler
Have a play with the temperature in the car. Try turning the heater up or the air conditioning down; your little one may be a little too hot or cold.
- Tip from Feeona: “My baby is most comfortable when the temperature in the car is around 20-22 degrees. I also like to dress her in layers so that I can adjust her clothing as needed. “
- Tip from Mia: “I keep a cozy blanket in the car. It’s my secret weapon for sudden temperature changes.”
12. Check the car seat
Run your hands along the inside of the car seat, to make sure nothing sharp or annoying has fallen down the side and is annoying your little passenger.
- Tip from Edith: “Rub inside the car seat. Is there a prickle or something else causing discomfort?”
13. Stretch their legs
Give your baby the freedom to stretch and kick during pit stops. Consider bringing a portable cot for those breaks – it’s not just for napping! One savvy Grapeviner suggested, “I pack a foldable porta cot. It’s like a mini play area for my baby during breaks. It’s a game-changer, and no worries about insects thanks to the cover!”
This one from ergoPouch ($159) packs small and has a cover so no insect bites. Bonus.
14. Put the window down
For some reason, this simple tip has worked wonders for lots of the Grapeviner mums in our groups. Perhaps it’s the sound or even the fresh air – but it’s worth a try.
- Tip from Aimee: “If my baby is getting fussy on a long car trip, I try putting the window down. The sound of the wind or the fresh air often calms her down. I also like to sing or talk to her in a soothing voice.“
15. Loosen the nappy
We tend to make sure nappies are super snug at home, but it can get a little uncomfortable for babies sitting in a car seat for these long road trips. Try to give a little bit of extra wiggle room during that final change of their nappy before heading off.
- Tip from Kelly: “When I’m putting my baby’s nappy on before a long car trip, I make sure to loosen it a bit more than I usually would. This is because babies can get uncomfortable sitting in a car seat for long periods of time, and a tight nappy can make things worse.“
16. Photo fun
This bright tip from one of our mums has been a sanity-saver. Just add some family photos to the baby’s mirror or the headrest and watch their face light up!
- Tip from Kaitlin: “We printed a heap of family photos and photos of my little and put them in a cheap plastic photo album and it was a great ‘screen-free’ distractor for a while. My little can go about 30mins solid just flicking through the photos, looking at himself and talking.”
17. Keep the sun out
Ensure your baby’s car seat isn’t directly exposed to prolonged sunlight. Not only could it cause discomfort or overheating for your little one, but prolonged sun exposure might not be the healthiest choice. Using a window shield is a great way to shield them from excessive sunlight during the drive.
- Tip from Amy: “I always make sure to note every once in a while where the sun is and if it’s on the side where bub’s car seat is and we make adjustments accordingly. Sometimes an irritable baby could simply be from the constant flickering and changes of light from the sunshine.”
From mastering the art of roadside nappy changes to creating a serene ambience with white noise magic, these insights from Grapeviners who’ve done it all before aim to turn your road trip into a delightful memory-making experience.
Buckle up for the adventure, savour the moments, and enjoy the road with your precious cargo.
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This article is sponsored by ergoPouch