Taking your new baby on his first vacation is a big milestone that can include a lot of planning and logistics. Hopefully after reading Part 1 of this series you feel a little more confident and equipped to take the plunge of travelling with your wee one. Part 2 focuses on long car rides and how best to deal with an unhappy baby who does NOT want to be restrained in a car seat for hours. That thought alone might turn you off of taking that trip but there are lots of helpful things you can do to improve your chances of a smooth drive. It often starts with keeping expectations low and not setting a strict schedule.
From personal experience, and feedback from other parents, here are some tricks and tips to help keep your baby happy on long car rides:
- attach a stimulating toy(s) to the car seat handle so that it dangles down in front of baby for entertainment. Our favourite were the Lamaze brand.
- Pick up a mirror that attaches to the headrest in the back seat—You can see baby and baby can see you allowing for impromptu peak-a-boo sessions mid drive.
- Try to plan you drive so that a nap happens sometime in the middle.
- Pack extra of everything you think you might need (in an accessible part of the car), for example, lots of diapers, wipes, wet bag, blankets, formula/food, change of clothes, toys, baby carrier, etc.
- If baby gets really fussy, try rolling down his window. The noise of the wind and fresh air can be very distracting.
- As a last resort, put a tablet in a travel case and attach it to where the mirror would be on the back seat. This can hypnotize even the crankiest of babies.
Some babies sleep wonderfully in the car while others hate it and will cry for extended periods of time no matter what you do. We had a bit of both with our children. This brings me to a selfish, albeit, important bit of advice—bring things that make YOU, the parent, happy so that you don't start screaming with your baby. Sometimes you just need to press on in your journey so if you've exhausted all the toys, tricks and tips, treat yourself to some delicious junk food or that extra large latte.
The following stories are from intrepid and patient parents who also decided to hit the open road with their babies. Be sure to read the bonus train travel advice at the end. Enjoy!
Solo Road Trip with 5 Month Old
Author: Jackie, mom of 1
I first decided to tackle a 4 hour solo road trip when my daughter was 5 months old. I had planned everything; packed a small bin of toys (including a few new ones), food for myself so we could power through if allowed, and strategically timed our journey around naps and traffic. I also stayed up late the night before to get all the laundry, cleaning and packing done so we could hit the road early.
What’s that phrase about the best laid plans going awry? It still took us nearly 4 hours to get out the door in the morning. Thankfully the drive itself went fairly smoothly and I only had to sing Baby Beluga for the last 30 minutes to keep my pint sized passenger from crying.
Lessons learned: even if you think you've done everything to prep for the trip there will inevitably be a million things to do the morning of—wake up early,
go with baby’s cues, and always keep a stack of toys with you to toss back to baby in an attempt to occupy idle hands. As an aside, now that we have several road trips under our belt, we’ve also found that driving the old car makes for a baby who sleeps longer as she is lulled to sleep by greater road noise and vibrations. Score 1 for the 13 year old compact car!
Touring Newfoundland with 5 Month Old
Author: Megan, mom of 1
My husband and I recently took our 5 month old son with us on a trip to Gros Morne National Park and surrounding area. It was our first trip as parents, and while it was a little different than what we’ve been used to in terms of travel, it was so worthwhile.
We found we could do most of the activities we would have done without the baby, but had to take things a little more slowly. For instance, spending an extra night (and lazy day) in the hotel once we arrived just to let us all catch up on sleep and re-energize before our tourist activities started.
The hardest thing about our son’s first vacation was his passionate dislike of car trips. It was exhausting occupying him with singing, playing, and anything else we could think of to ward off screaming episodes. We took a relaxed approach where there was rarely a particular time we had to be somewhere, and we stopped as needed to give breaks from the car. Though not relaxing, it worked quite well.
A highlight of the trip was a 10km hike we did with our son in a carrier on my back. It was the longest hike we had taken him out on and he “hiked” like a champ, looking around at our surroundings and taking naps.
One thing that definitely made the trip easier than it could have been was breastfeeding, it is just so portable. My son ate on hikes, on whale watching boats, when we were out for dinner, really anywhere. Also, I was pleasantly surprised by how adaptable he was in terms of sleeping on the go and going to bed at not necessarily a similar time every night.
I would absolutely recommend parents try travelling with their babies!
Cross Canada Train Trip with 9 Month Old
Author: Mila, mom of 2
Our long trip from Ottawa to Vancouver by train worked well but mainly because our son was just barely starting to crawl so he was pretty happy to hang out in the carrier or on our laps all day. If I could do it again I would have brought a co-sleeper or something similar because the cabin wasn’t big enough for us to fit our travel bed. Our baby had to sleep in my bed with me which was a bit nerve wracking! I also would have invested in one of those clamp-on high chairs so that meal times were a bit less crazy. It was tough keeping him calm and quiet at meal times because we couldn’t restrain him and he was climbing all over the booth.
Bring baby snacks, lots of them! There is really nowhere to get snacks on the train. They have some fruit and things out in the observation cars which is great, but for a 9 month old having Cheerios and toddler puffs with us was a life saver. Another suggestion is to ask the staff to keep the beds down all day in the cabin – you can get them to put the beds away and bring in chairs so that you have a private sitting room – but we found it was easiest to keep the beds out so he could at least “crawl” and play on a clean(er) surface during the day.
My last advice for long train rides with a baby is to take advantage of the stops. The train stops periodically to get water and fuel and passengers are allowed to get off to stretch their legs. We found it critical to get our son out for some fresh air, plopping him in the carrier and walking up and down the length of the train until it was time to get back on. Moral of the story: it can be done!
Record how old your baby was on his first vacation and cherish the memory forever with the Baby Charm Blanket.