When your baby is just a newborn, even setting out across town sometimes feels like a looming journey. Have you got nappies? Clothes? Sleeping options? Rain cover? The list feels ridiculously long and mentally exhausting. The same feeling often hits parents when they head off on their first roadtrip with baby onboard.  Like everything, it gets easier the more you do it.  But in the meantime, these tips on travelling in a car with a newborn, infant or under one should help.

How should you pack your car when on a roadtrip with baby?

Unless you have a separate boot that fits everything neatly inside, we prefer soft bags (like duffel/gym bags) to hard cases when you’re going on a car trip. It seems like you end up with more space, in part because you can squash the bags in tightly to the small gaps that are available behind seats and on the floor. (It also right to have everything really tightly packed; as is less chance it will fly around if you have to suddenly stop.)

Remember, many prams have wheels that will easily come off; this can suddenly free up a lot of space in your boot.   That’s quite important, because you’ll need space for a travel cot (we have plenty of tips on which one here)  as well as all the other accoutrement that comes with travelling in general. (See our packing post for lots more hints on this.)

When a baby is really small, it also smart to pack strategically. Do as much as possible the day before during their naps; then on the day of departure get up an hour before the baby and pack the last bit then.

What time of day should you leave?

With older children it’s easy to start seeing the wisdom of timing a car trip around naps. For newborns we believe it makes zero difference.

But once your child is on regular day sleeps (and particularly, when he or she moves to two day sleeps) – let’s say around six or so months old – you may find it worth timing departure about an hour before the next sleep is due. That way, they have a bit of time to look around in the car before eventually nodding off more or less at the normal time. Of course this all depends on your child, and it’s worth noting that for some babies – at least, for Sue’s baby – what would be a two-hour sleep in a cot becomes only a 45-minute sleep in a car.

What about breaks?

There’s nothing worse than getting your under one to sleep in the car about 10 minutes before you go through your favourite roadside coffee stop. This next piece of advice may sound radical but we mean it: give up the dream. For the next couple of years at least, your day will be easier if you prioritise a sleeping baby over, well, almost everything!

Instead for road trips take and snacks and a thermos; we know it’s not the perfect cappuccino (although let’s face it those are few and far between along a highway anyway), but it will get you through if your baby only look like they need a rest break around the time there is a dearth of adult beverage options.

As they say in Australia, stop, revive, survive: taking a break every two hours is smart when driving. However you’re probably find that if you’re travelling with a baby (at least one who is between six to 12 months – before that you can be a bit more flexible) two hours is about the your end point; after that they’ll need to get out and have a good long play in a park. If you assume about 45 minutes every time you stop that’s probably enough to “reset” your bub for another stint back in the car.  Yes, it all makes for a long trip. But, don’t mistake slow for unpleasant – you may even find it quite relaxing.

3 more tips when taking a roadtrip with baby:

  1. Keep things simple on arrival.  Don’t plan a big family BBQ for 2pm, when you might need to take longer and arrive at 5pm.
  2. When packing, try to leave a spare seat for feeding the baby (without having to undertake the whole car first). The driver’s seat is typically too cramped for this.
  3. Make a list of everything you’ve packed, you’ll be able to use it (with adjustments) next time.  Write it in the notes section of your phone, or use an app like Triplist.

Still want more? Sue wrote a detailed post on roadtripping with a newborn which featured in Essential Baby magazine, we’d suggest you read both.

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Aussie journalist, travel writer and founder of babieswhotravel.com Sue White has always been a traveller. When her son was born, Sue knew her travel itch would still need regular scratching. But how do you travel with a baby under one and still have a good time? Is it even possible? Where do busy new parents discover practical tips to support those first few trips? To find out, Sue and her baby son travelled both Australia and Europe doing house sits and house swaps; cat sitting and car journeys; took on 24 hours flights and short domestic jaunts; travelled with friends, solo and family members; and cycled, drove, flew and train-ed around seven countries, all before his first birthday.
Learn more about Sue.