In his eight months on earth so far, Rocky has road-tripped with us to Toronto, New York, Connecticut and Quebec, he’s been on a gong show of a bus ride in Colombia, and he’s accompanied us on our current travels in Italy. Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way. These are not safety tips and I’m no expert. For proper advice, it’s best to consult the manuals that came with your own car seat, vehicle and baby.
1. Drive during naps. Our goal: get ourselves ready, and then get Rocky sleeping in his car seat. Once he’s been asleep a few minutes, we just jump in the car and go. Of course, this is not so easily accomplished in practice. I always forget about 85 things, like baby sunscreen and bibs, and then there’s always some random situation like the fridge exploding… so we end up not actually getting on the road until right before he’s due to wake up. Still, it’s something to aspire to. Do as I say, not as I do.
When he was only a couple of months old, it was easy to drive during naps, because he napped a lot. Whenever we stopped for food or gas or flights of fancy, we’d take him out of the seat to feed, change and hang out with him for a bit – and then, onward. Now that he’s older and awake for much longer stretches (about four hours), we break long drives into short chunks if we can.
2. Map out your route and assign a navigator or navigatrix. This may seem obvious to most level-headed grown-ups, but if you’re like us and prone to dilly-dallying and distraction, I recommend that you just GET IT TOGETHER! Why? Because if you’re following Tip #1, your time is at a premium. You will feel like a real jackass if you miss a crucial exit and have to double back, costing you 15 precious minutes, because you were admiring the countryside or applying mascara.
If you don’t have internet access (gasp!) during your drive, map out your route using Google Maps before you leave. You’ll be able to view the route even while offline. Do not, under any circumstances, rely on a faulty Italian GPS device owned by your in-laws.
3. Be equipped so you don’t have to stop. Eat before you leave, or if that’s a laughable concept since you’ll be too busy running around getting ready, at least bring an apple or something. Remember, you’re following Tip #1, and there’s NO TIME FOR FRIVOLOUS STOPS! Similarly, make sure your phone is charged up. Google Maps zaps battery power, even if offline, so if you’re using it, keep a car charger handy!
4. Be ready with entertainment. Babies, finicky creatures that they are, grow weary of even the most thoughtfully-curated collection of their favourite toys. So I’ve taken to alternating them as well as incorporating some exciting new things, like a shiny candy wrapper or a multicoloured scrunchie (as everyone knows, only soft toys should be given in a moving vehicle). The new toys especially are guaranteed to buy a few minutes of distraction from the fact that your baby is trapped.
Aside from toys, you may find that your baby enjoys music in the car. Great! However, it’s best to avoid music created especially for babies, as it tends to be mind-numbingly irritating. You could also find a podcast series narrated by someone with a particularly soothing voice.
5. Don’t feed baby just before leaving. Baby motion sickness is a real thing. One morning, after feeding Rocky a hearty breakfast of hilarious Italian baby food (something called ‘formaggino Parmiggiano’), we set out on a leisurely drive through the rolling hills of Emilia-Romagna. When we stopped for gas, I noticed he was looking a little green. Apparently the rolling hills were a little rough on his little tummy, and indeed, he ended up revisiting said formaggino. I simply gave him some air, nursed him a little, and let him sleep it off.
6. Be equipped to deal with a meltdown. Rocky has blessed us with many a road trip free of any real meltdown. But the day our luck runs out, we will be ready. We travel with pacifiers, entertainment (see Tip #2), and a contingency plan, which we’ve rehearsed several times. (Tune radio to static. Open windows. Belt out the Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann at top volume.) Of course, if your child is not a Beach Boys fan, you may have to tweak your strategy.
7. Bring something to shield baby from the sun. We’re not gadget people and we don’t have a proper sun shade. The swaddle blanket I use for everything has always done the trick for keeping sun out of Rocky’s eyes while we’re on the road. Your baby will not be impressed if on top of being detained in his car seat, he has to deal with sun glare right in his face.
8. Apply diaper cream. You may be one of those high-falutin’ fancy folks who’s too good to change a diaper right there in the car. Or maybe your car is full of crap and there’s just no damn room to wrestle a squirming bambino. Either way, if the gas station you planned to stop at looks like a murder was just committed there, you may decide to hold off on that diaper change for a tiny bit longer than anticipated. In our case, Rocky isn’t prone to diaper rash but I always schmear on a little prevention before we hit the road – call it insurance.
9. Bite the bullet and get a mirror. I too used to scoff at the minivans equipped with special baby mirrors… are you that obsessed with your child that you must sacrifice road safety in order to gaze lovingly at his angelic face? But lo and behold, I’ve become a proponent of the baby mirror because it allows baby to look at YOU, which is fun for him, poor fellow… fun enough, maybe, to temporarily forget that he is enslaved in his car seat prison.
10. Be extra awesome during pit stops. As you know, you are a horrible parent for taking your baby on a road trip. Assuage the gnawing guilt by spending as much of baby’s awake time as possible playing, bonding, and just generally being awesome. This should help your baby to forget that he’s being held against his will.
11. Don’t get one of those ‘baby on board’ stickers. I have never understood these. What is the desired effect of such an announcement? That some dangerously-driving jerk on the road will spot it and have a sudden change of heart, deciding to signal before changing lanes instead of just barreling on over? How about if everyone just drives safely, all the time. Duh!
So, like, follow these 11 easy tips and you’ll be on the road to road trip success with your little one in no time!