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How to Survive a Road Trip with a Baby

How to Survive a Road Trip with a Baby

My daughter was two months old when my wife and I embarked on a drive from Maine to southern New Jersey to attend my sister-in-law’s beach wedding. That’s over one thousand miles of driving in one long weekend.

It was the first trip of any distance we’d taken as new parents, and we were appropriately terrified about, well, everything.

The cool thing was that not only did we survive, but the trip brought us a lot closer as a family. After we made it back home safely, my wife and I both felt like we could tackle pretty much anything and everything that parenting threw at us.

That feeling lasted about a week, but it was a cool feeling.

Here are a few things that worked (and didn’t work) on that trip, which I hope translate into useful tips that help you out if you are planning to take a road trip with your baby.

Timing Is Everything

Avoid Traffic When Travelling With a Baby

    At two months old, our daughter was starting to sleep for longer stretches in the evening, so we decided to travel at night on the ride down. We departed after dinner and bath time—right around the time when we’d normally be settling her in for the night, and this worked perfectly.

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    Not only did we enjoy 2- and 3-hour stretches during which she slept comfortably and quietly in her car seat with a full belly, but we were also able to travel past Boston and New York City without hitting any traffic, reducing our time on the road.

    Our daughter had basically the same amount of sleep she usually got in an evening, so when we arrived in New Jersey we were tired, but she was well rested and happy, which made the weekend great.

    The ride home was a different story—my pending work schedule forced us to depart first thing, the day after the ceremony. That 9-hour drive turned into a 14-hour marathon that had us leaving dirty diapers and little pieces of our sanity at every rest stop between Cape May and Portland, Maine.

    My advice is to get your rest, drink plenty of caffeine, and then drive through the night if you can. This way you can avoid traffic and make the drive stress-free for you and your baby.

    Be Intentional: Plan How You’ll Pack

    Plan How You Will Pack For Your Trip

      Life with a newborn can feel like one never-ending loop where you’re doing laundry, rocking a tiny version of yourself as you pace up and down your hallways, and trying to unscrew the cap on the orange juice with one hand.

      It’s easy in this dream-state to tell yourself that the sooner you leave, the sooner you’ll get there, and to simply throw everything into the back of your car when you’re prepping for a road trip with a baby.

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      Don’t do it.

      Take some time and carefully plan where you’ll put everything. Make sure you have a nursing pillow and blanket or nursing cover handy for your partner (who can sleep on these while the baby is sleeping to stay rested), pack some snacks that offer a good mix of the nutrition you need to stay alert and energized, bring plenty of water, and create a changing station inside the car.

      We found that it worked really well for my wife to ride in the backseat with our daughter, and I packed our duffel bags on the passenger-side floor in the front seat. This allowed me to lay a quilt down on the seat next to me and over the duffel bags, and I used this for a changing station. I had Purell sanitizer and baby lotion in the cup holder, diapers tucked in between the seat and center console, and the wipes were wedged in safely near the glove compartment.

      When our daughter awoke, I pulled over and my wife passed her up to me. I could change her comfortably without opening the car to the sound of 18-wheelers roaring past, and then I’d pass our daughter back to my wife so she could nurse and get settled for the next leg of the trip.

      It worked like a charm—our daughter stayed warm and comfortable, she was in dry diapers every time we departed a pit stop, and she was never blasted awake by opening and closing the car doors next to the highway.

      Be Honest with Yourself about What You Need

      Packing for a Road Trip With a Baby

        You’re going to over-pack.

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        Even if you say to yourself right now that you aren’t going to over-pack, you’re wrong.

        I’m here to tell you that it’s going to happen.

        But I’m also here to encourage you to try to be less psychotic about bringing every baby-soothing item you own, especially if you’re traveling to visit family.

        What I’ve learned during my short time as a parent is that your family is awesome, they love your daughter, and they will (without fail) have 10,000 bags of baby clothes and over-the-top gifts you never would have purchased waiting for you, every time you arrive.

        If you pack too much of your own stuff, you won’t have room for everything they give you when it’s time to go home, and the truth is that even if you aren’t going to visit family, you’ll only use about half of what you’re planning to bring anyway (and packing extra just means extra trips to and from the car).

        So take inventory, check yourself, and leave that seventeenth colorful toy with the bell inside it in the nursery.

        Keep a Sense of Humor: You’re in This Together

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        Keep a Sense of Humor When Taking a Road Trip with a Baby

          If there’s one last thing I’ve learned during my short time as a parent, it’s that it’s not an easy job. The responsibility I feel all day, every day, is overwhelming, and it is often difficult for me to keep my stress level low.

          Add travel to the mix, and it’s easy for things to go sideways.

          But one thing that has made it easy for me to become a half-decent parent is the fact that I have a fantastic wife.

          She is great to share a laugh with when our little one rips a toot during a romantic moment, and when I get terrified that we’re doing something to permanently screw up this little angel we created, she’s there to calm me down and back me up.

          On our first family road trip, I learned quickly that you don’t have to be a perfect parent, but you should try to be a perfect team. The ride you’re on is supposed to be bumpy, but it’s an amazing one if you make an effort to go with the flow, support one another, and keep a sense of humor.

          Featured photo credit: Pixabay / PublicDomainPictures via pixabay.com

          More by this author

          Joe Hessert

          Writer, Digital Marketing Professional

          How to Survive a Road Trip with a Baby How to Survive a Road Trip with a Baby

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          Published on April 3, 2020

          How to Strengthen Family Bonds When You’re Staying at Home

          How to Strengthen Family Bonds When You’re Staying at Home

          Now is a perfect time to work on making some memories with your closest family members. When situations call for social distancing outside of our home, we need to do the opposite within home.

          Now, more than ever, we need to engage with those living in our home. We may be together for a while, but look at it is way, it is a wonderful opportunity to create some good family memories and positive interactions together.

          Staying home can be isolating, especially when we hole ourselves up in different rooms than our other family members. Make an effort to spend quality time together. Sitting in the same room on different electronic devices is not quality family time. Put down the elections, join together in one room, and do activities together.

          Your family bonding becomes stronger when you spend time doing activities together. Below are 10 ideas you can do with your family and loved ones.

          1. Create Photo Albums

          If you are like most of the population, you probably have lots of photos and very few physical albums. My parents generation always had photo albums. I can go to my parents’ home in Florida and find at least 20 albums from the lives of my parents and my childhood that I can flip through and reminisce. Physical, tangible photo albums are always cherished.

          Look back at the past five years of your life. Were there meaningful trips that you took as a family or major life events such as a Baptism, marriage, or birth of a child that happened in the past few years? Do you have photos of the event stored somewhere digitally such as social media, on your phone, or on a computer? If you do and you want to savor those memories for years to come, then you may want to think about creating some photo albums.

          This is a great activity for family of all ages. You can approach the project in one of several ways. You can print the photos and put them in your own physical photo album (the kind our parents used and you can still buy), you can scrapbook, or you can create an online photo album.

          Whichever choice you make, the family can be involved in the process. I like the tangible photos and traditional albums or basic (no frills) scrap-booking, as do my kids. We have albums in all three formats. Whichever method you decide to do you can involve the whole family in the creation process.

          Scrap booking as a family can be fun too. It does not have to be over the top either. We do it with scrap booking paper (12 by 12 inches), photos, and bits of paper to write captions for the photos. The family uses photo safe glue to secure the photos to paper that each person selected and then we slide the pages into the clear page holders of the album. Albums are easy to create using this method and this method still allows for personalization of each page.

            To do a photo album project, I simply print out the photos that I want to use for the album. Many albums will ship printed photos directly to your home. For example, we did a National Park trip this past summer and visited seven of them in the United States over a three-week span.

            I printed all of the photos from the trip that I thought we could use for the album. Then I cut strips of colored paper. I use these strips to write a sentence of two. I usually put a strip with details on each page, but not every photo because that becomes more tedious.

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            Having everyone select and do a page or two and write the details about what the photos they selected makes it even more meaningful. For example, my son Charlie writing “This is Glacier National Park where we camped and Max got bit by gobs of ants at the dog run and we had to find a vet to help him” makes it memorable. His handwriting and the thing that captured his memory about that particular day are special. It adds his touch to the memories from the trip. Having every family member participate in putting the photos into the book and writing a few sentences for the photos that they are putting into the book helps to make it a shared family experience.

            It is also a wonderful time for revisiting the occasion that you are creating the album about. For example, doing an album as a family for a trip you all took together provides us with plenty to talk about as we go through the photos. My kids always get excited and say “look mom, remember when….” about a hundred times anytime we do an album together. The photo album activity is a bonding activity, as is the reminiscing over special time you spent together in the past.

            2. Indoor Camping with Sheet Forts

            What kid doesn’t love a good sheet fort? Sheet forts are the kind of memories that make a childhood great. If your kids don’t have any sheet fort memories, then now is the time to start making them!

            All you need are some sheets. The bigger, the better. Flat and fitted work just fine. Fitted sheets can be helpful to secure under legs of tables since they have elastic corners and are gathered. We like to use tables, chairs, and sometimes couch cushions too. You create a space using the furniture and then cover the furniture with sheets. You are essentially making indoor tents.

            My kids like to play inside their forts for hours once they are created. I help with the creation, to ensure that things don’t fall over and hurt anyone, but once that is done, I let them play. They will take books, little action figures, and their stuffed animals into their fort to play. Feel free to climb into their fort with them too! They will think you are the best parent ever!

              3. Bake or Cook Together

              Staying at home is a great opportunity to cook or bake together as a family. If you have special recipes that you would like to teach your children, now is a great time to do that.

              If you have grandma’s apple pie recipe that has been passed down for generations, it would be a nice time to make it with your children. You can use the time to talk about your grandparents, the heritage of your family, and perhaps the meaning of the recipe to you.

              After you make the special dessert or dish with your children, it will then have special meaning to them too. They will be able to recall the time that they made that special concoction with you and the memories you made from that day.

              Here’re also some ideas for you: 15 Easy Recipes for Kids That Don’t Require an Oven

              4. Play Board Games Together

              I come from a family that plays games together. Even as adults, we love to play Boggle, Scrabble, Rummikub, and a variety of card games.

              My kids have caught the game bug too. When we go camping or are home over the weekend, we will play Uno, Connect Four, Dominoes, and Memory. These board and card games are inexpensive and provide hours of entertainment. It is also a great way to bond as a family and create memories.

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              Some of my favorite memories from childhood are sitting at the kitchen table playing games with my siblings and parents.

              For very young children, you can start with games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. From there, you can move onto slightly more challenging games for their minds such as Uno, Monopoly Junior, Memory, War (basic card game), and Connect Four.

              My kids started playing Candy Land at the ages of three and four. From there, they have been hooked on family game time ever since. They ask often to play together and now is a great time to teach them to play even more games. The entertainment, laughs, and memories are priceless!

              5. Put on a Show or Play

              Family talent shows, putting on a play, and putting on a musical show do not require an audience. Your family can do the show and record on your phone or other electronic device. It doesn’t need an audience other than you all to make it memorable. It is the experience of collaborating, planning, and executing the show together that make it special.

              My kids began making their own hat creations out of our various art supplies. I have been helping them in the process. We have art class daily as part of our new home school curriculum (I am one of those moms who never wanted to home school, yet I am doing it because our schools are closed indefinitely).

              Art class daily has become hat making time. Once they have made enough hats for a fashion show, I said we would put on a show and record it. It has spurred on their motivation to create elaborate works of art. They are excited about each hat and the show that is to come to fruition.

              You can find free plays and scripts on Free Drama. You can act them out as a family and record just for fun. You can also use a script from the website to create a puppet show. Each family member can then play multiple roles and it opens the door to more characters.

              If you don’t have puppets, then make some! You probably have a basket of mismatched socks like we do. It is a great way to use them at this point. Go to Pinterest for ideas on how to make sock puppets. Creating the puppets together is also a great bonding activity. Once you have your characters made, then you can act it out.

              Don’t forget to video it, because I can guarantee that your kids are going to be interested in seeing their own performance. Such a great way to make family memories and it doesn’t cost much, if anything at all!

              6. Reading Aloud

              Reading a book aloud is a great way to create some bonding time and memories. It is a much better alternative than everyone isolating themselves doing their own activities. Being pulled into the same imaginative world through a book creates a shared experiences.

              I remember reading The Old Man and the Sea to my mom when we were on a car trip when I was a kid. I recall talking about the premise of the book and our opinions about it. It obviously left an impression on me, as I remember this over 25 years later.

              I have read aloud books to my kids too. The first chapter book we read aloud together was Charlotte’s Web. After we read the book together, we then watched the movie. It is sweet how my kids will still point on the book or movie if we see it somewhere in public. They will say “remember when we read the book together and watched the movie?” They say it with such sweetness and innocent pleasure, it is a good reminder that the simple things in life are sometimes the best.

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              Some other good books that we have read aloud together that my kids personally enjoyed were The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Secret Garden, and Little Women. I know several friends that have read the Harry Potter series with their children who are slightly older than my six and eight year old children.

              Medium shares a list of 20 great books to read aloud with your kids. Their list is helpful because it has descriptions along with recommended ages for each book.

              If you can’t get out of the house to go to the library, you should look into the digital software that your library utilizes. Visit your local library’s website to find out what apps you will need for you to borrow from their digital library.

              Our library offers a multitude of free e-book downloads. You borrow the materials much like you would a physical book. Usually, the downloads can be kept for 2-3 weeks at a time, depending on your library rules. They also have audible books available for download from many libraries as well. For example, our local library subscribes to Cloud Library. To use it, I simply downloaded the app and entered my library card information requested from the app. I was instantly given access to thousands of audible books free!

              7. Plant a Garden

              This tip only applies if you have a yard, however there are options for creating patio gardens and indoor gardens too. Planting a garden and teaching your child how to tend to vegetables is a wonderful bonding opportunity. You are teaching them real life skills, you will have real food to eat from your own garden, and you are creating memories that will last a lifetime.

              If you ask a person if they had a garden when they were a kid, everyone knows the answer. It is not something you have to think to hard about. Why? Because gardening is an experience. Why not experience it with your family too?

              If you don’t know much about gardening, then you can learn with your child as you go through the process. Here is an article from Bonnie Plants on how to plant a garden.

              If you don’t want to leave your home, then you can order gardening supplies online like I did. Lowe’s dropped off our raised garden bed kit on my doorstep and I ordered a variety of seeds from Amazon. Just look online at the garden stores that are closest to you and see what they ship to doorstep if you don’t want to leave the house.

              8. Host Your Own Family Party

              Just because you are home and can’t have a big party with lots of friends doesn’t mean you can’t still have a party. A party with your family is fun if you decide to make it fun.

              Pick a theme to really make it an event. An 80’s themed dance party is sure to get the whole family laughing and smiling. Pull out your best 80’s looking clothing, rat your hair to get that special 80’s look, put on some 1980’s tunes, and teach your kids some dance moves from the 80’s.

              Having a dance party doesn’t require many people. A party of two is still a party! Make some memories and perhaps show your kids what things were like when you were a kid. They will certainly remember an 80’s themed dance party for many years to come.

              Weekends spent at home don’t mean that they can’t be fun. Make the weekend special even if you have to be home. For example, Friday can be family movie night or family game night. Then Saturday night can be your 80’s dance party. Let your creativity go to work and if you need a few ideas check out this blog article that has 32 Party Theme Ideas .

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              9. Learn an Instrument Together

              No time better than the present to start learning to play that instrument you have always wanted to play.

              Have you always wanted to play the guitar? Then, look online for a basic learning guitar that isn’t expensive, yet has good reviews. We did that for my daughter and purchased a decent quality ukulele from Amazon that was intended for beginners while still having a quality sound (it wasn’t some trinket from a tourist destination that wouldn’t hold a tune.)

              We found lessons online from an instructor who would conduct lessons one on one using Skype. Many instructors use this technology or other free software that allows quality video communications from their home to yours.

              The website we happened to use to find an instructor was TakeLessons.com. You can find instructors that will teach anything from drums to cello to saxophone. Prices vary too. You pick your instructor from their pool of instructors available. This website is basically a service that connects people with talent (some with really good music education too) who can teach to students who are looking to learn.

              Learning to play an instrument together and you are creating memories together! You are also learning a new skill that you can enjoy for years to come. Playing music together is good for the mind and soul!

              The TakeLessons.com website also has language lessons. You can learn a new language as a family. All from the comfort of your own home. I am sure there are many different website that offer lessons on learning another language. Do your research and compare prices before committing to anything.

              10. Plan Future Travels

              While you are learning a new language you can begin planning future vacations. You can do a family meeting and discuss where you would like to go and why.

              It would be even better to have each child research where they would like to take a trip. Each child and/or family member can present a pitch on why your family should travel to that location in the future. They can use their research to tell about the area such as its historical value, recreational features, and the learning experiences that can be had from such travels.

              This doesn’t mean you need to book any travels. It more about learning and finding hope in the future. If we can’t plan for the future, then there is no hope. Make mental plans now, as a family, for what you want to do and where you want to travel someday.

              Make Memories Today!

              There is no time better than the present to start making memories together and bonding as a family. In these times when many people are having to stay home for extended periods of time, it is a great opportunity to bond and connect as a family.

              You have a captive audience with your children at home. Don’t miss out on this time by holing up in separate rooms doing your own activities. Make it a point to chose group activities and engage your family during this time at home.

              Every day alive is a blessing. Every day having your family is blessing. Don’t take your blessings for granted. Love on them and create great memories in spite of the circumstances.

              Featured photo credit: Marisa Howenstine via unsplash.com

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