Don't look now, but the holiday travel season is upon us! Thanksgiving is only a few days away, and Christmas and New Year's Day are following close on its heels. In many families, the calendar gives the signal to pack up the baby and the vast amount of stuff that you need for the baby and travel across counties and even states to visit with the grandparents or the siblings or the great-aunts and uncles. The extended family is no doubt clamoring to see your little one, and now the holidays are here and you're planning a big trip. Before you pack everyone and everything into the minivan for this expedition, here are a few helpful hints from a family who has vast experience with the process. Believe me, there are some things that you can do to make the trip more pleasant for everyone!
First of all, plan your trip carefully. Consider what time of day your baby is most likely to sleep for an extended period of time, and try to do the bulk of your driving then if your little one sleeps well in the car. For us, this was over the mid-morning nap, which was always longer and more reliable than the afternoon version. I also have friends that traveled over the afternoon nap quite nicely. A few brave souls like to do their traveling in the wee hours of the night, since baby sleeps a lot then, but you have to remember that when you arrive at your destination, YOU will be tired. If you choose to drive through the night, you will want someone else (whose patience and nerves are not frayed) to take care of your little one for a few hours while you get some rest.
Plan your route, as well. It will be very important to be able to stop to let the baby stretch, get a change of scenery (and clothes!), and maybe have a bottle or a snack. In many parts of the country, roadside parks are just not an option due to the weather. Instead, look for larger communities that you will be passing through or near. Your favorite fast food restaurant will have what you need, or you could stop at the local mall for some stretching, a meal, and a potty break. Wherever you choose to stop, keep in mind that you will want to take a break every hour and a half to two hours. This is important not only to change those diapers, but also for your baby's wellbeing. Car seats are wonderfully comfortable, but kids need to change their position or they will end up with uncomfortable cramps or stiff limbs. And of course, uncomfortable babies are noisy, crying babies, and they are very difficult to travel with.
If your baby is past about three months or so, chances are good that you will need to provide some sort of entertainment in the car while you are on your trip. Bring toys your baby likes, such as soft rattles, brightly-colored cloth or plastic or board books, and so forth. Stash a supply in your bag so that you can quickly replace toys that "escape" when your baby drops or throws them out of reach. It may be tempting to tie the toy to the car seat so it can be easily retrieved, but please don't do that. The long string that you will want to use can be a real hazard to your little one, who could become tangled in it, cut off circulation, or choke.
Be sure to carry food and bottles, and plenty of diapers, too. You don't want to run out of any of the essentials while you are on the road. Take extra wipes, a change of clothing or two, and an extra blanket. Pack all of these things where you can reach them easily in the car. It's very inconvenient to have to unpack the entire suitcase to find the extra diapers while you are still four hours away from your destination.
Consider investing in some children's music tapes or CD's. Most babies love listening to music, and many will fall asleep to their favorite tunes. As your baby grows, the music will also be a great way to occupy him or her in the car as you drive.
Keeping baby happy on the road really isn't too difficult. With just a little planning and judicious packing, you will be all set for an uneventful trip. You will arrive at your destination feeling better, and your baby will be better able to enjoy the visit, as well.