Road Tripping: Family Travel With Your Baby
Author's baby in a tent with father.
Inspiring views, new sounds and smells, music, conversations about life and the feeling of utter freedom, safe in the knowledge that for the next week, two weeks, three weeks… longer if you’re lucky, you have no particular place to be. You can just drive, stop, drive, sleep, drive, paddle in the sea; drive.
I love road trips; I need road trips. In this fast-paced world where we are so often dictated to about where to go and when, what to eat and how, I find a road trip every few months is just the ticket to make me step back, refocus and rejuvenate. But when we embarked on a mini-road-trip during my daughter’s second month of life, people stared at us with a mix of bewilderment and maybe even horror. And perhaps, in light of this, we ourselves questioned whether it was a ridiculous thing to do: removing ourselves from the well-equipped changing station and the home comforts that – in this modern life – we have all become so dependent upon. However, we reasoned that our proposed crossing of the Channel to France and then a relatively short trip to the center of the country – with accommodations booked – was merely a little taste of things to come and, in the great scheme of things, would be a rather comfortable trip.
And it was. Of course we had a few tears, a few dramas changing our little child on the back seat of the car, keeping her settled in a small family-run B&B with other guests to think of. But mostly she slept, was cooed over, and delighted in the changing shadows and light cast over her by the moving scenery. The experience was in fact so good that a little after her first Birthday we sold our house, packed everything we needed into a camper and took an extended road trip through France, Spain and Portugal that was to last 15 months. Would I do it again? Absolutely I would do it again, but perhaps with prepared with a few more pointers.
The Best Time to Go
In general I find that there are many people afraid of traveling with babies, but in my mind we have forgotten how transportable our infants are in their first weeks and months of life. As long as they are warm, comfortable and close to mommy and daddy, they really don’t care. Therefore, as long as the parents are comfortable and relaxed and calm when situations get a little tricky – which they sometimes do – then there is no reason not to go for it.
My daughter was just 8-weeks-old when she enjoyed her first road trip, at one she negotiated plane, train, bus and boat travel within a 24-hour period for a family break on a small Greek island, and not long after that trip she started a new life on the road. Now she is 3 ½. I would say that absolutely the best time to go on road trips of any length is before two years of age. Babies need less stimulation, are more than happy watching the changing scenery. And they sleep a lot.
Planning Travel with Your Baby
The biggest mistake we made on our first mini-road-trip was to book a nighttime ferry crossing. Our logic was that our daughter would sleep and therefore be oblivious to any travel stresses, and then she would sleep on and off throughout the next day while we drove. However, we failed to give much thought to the levels of exhaustion you experience as new parents and therefore for us, it was a very long night and day.
Always consider that you will not have the stamina you once did, and factor in nap times for everyone involved. Also remember that babies, although happy to sleep and watch the world go by, do also require quality time with their mommy and daddy. During our many hours on the road we concluded that if you are on a push to get to certain destinations along a route four to five hours driving a day—with a couple of good stops—is the ideal.
What to Avoid
One thing we found is that journeys in the heat were a serious to be avoided with a baby and dog in the car, so we always tried to leave early in the morning and only drove until around mid-day. While this seems like common sense, when our daughter was tiny it took some time for us to appreciate that our way of traveling needed to be adapted somewhat. We also found that this schedule would see us at our destination pitching up a tent or our camper for the afternoon, which meant lots of important quality time together as a family. By the time our daughter was tucked up in her sleeping bag, we were sitting outside enjoying a glass of wine!
Toys and Entertainment
When heading off on a long car journey make sure you have a good selection of stories and children’s nursery rhymes on CD. They can be a godsend when nothing else will do and mesmerized my daughter – or perhaps it was our singing along. I would also always carry a few emergency toys in the car; toys my daughter didn’t get to see or play with very often. If she showed signs of boredom I would simply take these out. I found that previously unseen adult items that she would not normally be allowed, such as a glove-box map (true!), worked a treat because to her they were new, exciting and forbidden. In addition we would often stop so I could jump into the back to read stories or draw pictures and write words for her on the Etch-A-Sketch. She learnt the entire alphabet in the car!
Transport and Comfort in the Car
Although we often packed a buggy for my daughter, when she was small we actually found that a sling or backpack were more than adequate modes of transport and that the buggy was often not necessary. On occasion, it did however come in handy if we were eating out and she needed a sleeping place—although, in the absence of a buggy the arms of a cheerful restaurateur has often worked just as well!
Another godsend was a small, lightweight foldaway cot. We must have used this more than a hundred times in locations as varied as fields, living-rooms, our camper and even the corner of barns and kitchens. To my daughter it was a home-from-home and she would always settle no matter where we were.
We also loved the Snack and Play tray as our daughter grew. She was able to eat, draw and play easily with this flexible tray, which simply strapped over her car seat.
All in all, with a relaxed attitude, lots of toys, snacks, and energy to entertain your child, a road trip with a baby is far more relaxing than you might think.
Take breaks, sing a lot, and see the world!
Alice Griffin is a mother, wife, writer, traveler and daydreamer. She documents the travels she embarked on with her young family during the first two years of her daughter’s life. She lives in England on a boat and travels further afield whenever she gets the chance!