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I recently took my one-year-old son on a 10-hour car ride from Columbus, Ohio, down to Augusta, Georgia, to support my sister at Ironman Augusta 70.3. It was the first time I’d traveled any real distance with him without my husband so I knew it would be somewhat of a challenge. Plus, he sleeps less now than the last time we took him on a road trip, which was when he was 7 months old and it was only 7 hours down to North Carolina.
To make the trip a success, I knew I needed to ensure he had plenty of snacks, toys, tricks and distractions. Here’s how I traveled with a baby without losing my mind.
Make a plan
My sister lives and works in Kentucky just south of Cincinnati. The plan was to leave her office at 1 p.m. To try and split up the 10-hour drive from Columbus, my son and I left our house right when he woke up in the morning. We sang songs on the drive to Kentucky and had a good time.
We then spent 3 hours playing at my sister’s apartment. Her space is not babyproofed so it made things somewhat challenging. I took client calls since it was Friday and tried to be as efficient as possible while still also entertaining my son.
At our current rate, naptime would perfectly align with 1 o’clock when we really hit the road. And when he woke up, I had activities planned.
I also made a plan for what to do with him during my sister’s race. We would start out with her at the swim, cheer her on and then head back to the hotel for naptime while she spent 4 hours out on the bike in the grueling heat. We’d make it back in time to cheer her on throughout the run course.
I even had a plan for Saturday of how we could attend the athlete meeting, do bike check in and drive the bike course without any whining or crying from the one-year-old. Every day had its own plan that I had thought out and planned activities for to ensure the best possible travel experience.
Get some new toys for the trip
The day before we left, I went to Dollar Tree for some new toys for my son. I bought a new little puzzle to keep those little hands busy, bubbles to play with as we stood on the sidelines during the run portion of the race and plastic baseballs that he could chase while playing in the grass while my sister did her bike check in.
Having something that’s new and interesting can help your little one be distracted longer than toys they’ve seen before. We also turned lots of regular household items into toys such as a plastic spoon at the hotel’s breakfast nook where there didn’t have any highchairs to keep my son contained.
The large lid that isn’t a choking hazard from my sister’s protein smoothie came in pretty handy too as my son just wanted to try and put everything in it because it looked like a small cup. No matter what you use to distract your child, try to make it new and exciting.
Be flexible when your plan doesn’t work
Yep, I had a great and wonderful plan going into the four-day weekend. But very little of it happened. My son fell asleep from 8-10 p.m. in the car on the way there on Friday and then couldn’t seem to go back to sleep. He cried and cried until midnight when he finally gave up.
He never slept in the Pack ‘N Play that I brought. I get it. It was a new environment with weird smells, loud noises and nothing felt familiar. So he wanted to know mommy was there at all times and slept snuggled as close as possible in bed with me.
He didn’t sleep on Sunday during the bike portion of the race either. The hotel room was just too new and exciting. He got a 20-minute nap total on Sunday after we had put him to bed two hours late and awakened him two hours early. It meant more tricks, more snuggles and more flexibility than I had anticipated.
If you try and force your child into your plan, it might cause more harm than good. You must be flexible with those little people. He had more junk food and more screen time than normal, but once we got back into our normal routine, those things went right back to normal so they didn’t harm him in those four days.
Bring plenty of snacks and distractions
I sort of laughed as I unpacked my bags when we got home. I packed so many snacks for an itty bitty human that he couldn’t probably eat in a month. But the reality is, I was prepared for anything. He was tough to feed in a lot of the situations because there was no highchair and my son refuses to be fed. He must self-feed himself everything.
So those smoothies that I packed were so handy and they kept him hydrated in the heat of the south with a little boy who is still learning to drink water. So you might not use all those snacks and distractions (he never played with the balls and the bubbles came home with the seal still on them) but it’s still good to have them just in case.
Try not to book yourself the week after travel
After missing out on tons of sleep and getting out of routine for four days, it was so nice to come home and have the freedom to do whatever we needed to. He took a 4-hour nap the day after we returned. He ran around the house playing with his toys like the happiest little boy I’d ever seen when we got back.
I was so glad that we had a wide-open schedule that week that we came back to leave room to get back to normal. Plus, heaven knows I had plenty of work to catch up on after doing only light work Friday and Monday.
The key to traveling with a baby without losing your mind is to realize you’re not fully in control. Those little ones change from day to day and you just have to go with it. Make a plan, but adapt that plan on the go when you need to.