Before we had a baby, we were constant road trippers; day trips, weekend getaways, weeklong excursions, you name it. We’d had packing for these adventures down to a complete science, so I guess you could say we were up for the challenge of traveling with an additional family member.
I do know that for some, traveling with a baby can seem overwhelming, tricky and maybe not worth it – but trust me, it’s easier than you think! In this post I’m going to share tips and tricks for traveling by car with a baby under 12 months.
How to Pack Efficiently
Babies undoubtedly require a fair bit of gear that can take up a colossal amount of space if you let it. My advice here is twofold: decide what you can temporarily live without (and leave that at home) and invest in some great travel baby gear. You know that I have a love of all things travel-sized, and this translates down to my baby gear as well! Everything I’m recommending I have tried and used myself so I’m speaking from experience!
What to Have in the Cab:
Gear That Should Be Accessible
Not all baby gear needs to be within arms reach, but some things need to be within reach of the passenger seat or somewhere in the backseat for you to access. Here are the pieces of gear you won’t want to be fishing out of the trunk!
#1: A Comfortable Car Seat
Let’s talk about an infant seat versus a full-sized car seat. Infant seats have all the convenience of being clipped in and out of their base as well as clipping into your stroller system. This is great until a kiddo outgrows it. We had the Nuna PIPA Infant Seat and we love it. It’s lined with breathable fabric (that is removable and machine washable), comes with a full canopy and is really lightweight.
A full-sized seat can usually be used from 5lbs and up, but doesn’t come with some of the conveniences for the super little ones (i.e. you can’t unclip it and clip it into your stroller!). Full-sized car seats do often come with cup holders, reclining capabilities and more. We’re currently transitioning to the Nuna RAVA Convertible Car Seat and we chose this model because we loved our Nuna PIPA so much that it felt like the perfect next step. It’s also ideal for kiddos like ours who like to look out the window. We also knew that this would be an investment in her comfort for the many trips we have yet to come! It’s super breathable and works both rear-facing (up to 40lbs) and front-facing (up to 65lbs) so it’s a great seat to grow with our little one. The longevity of this seat is fantastic.
#2: Portable Changing Station
Changing diapers is just one of those things that has to be done, but not every place that you stop (or have to stop!) can offer a washroom or a change table, so you’re going to have to learn to improvise a little. These are my go-tos for changing on the go no matter where you are!
Changing Station Option 1: Skip Hop Pronto
This is our absolute go-to change station for when we’re on the go – whether it be a trip to the grocery store or a weekend away. The Skip Hop Pronto Changing Station holds everything in one package – it’s a wipeable change mat with pockets for diapers, cream and wipes and it folds up into one nice little pouch that slides in and out of a diaper bag with ease! We are known to use this on the tailgate of my husband’s truck on a regular basis.
Changing Station Option 2: Full Sized Change Pad
I’m going to be honest, I like to travel with a full sized change pad, if space permits. I like it because it’s rigid, so I can easily throw it across a seat or the console and change a diaper on the side of the road.
My other advice? Pack more diapers and wipes than you think you’ll need because you never know. Better to be safe than sorry. I also always travel with puppy pee pads to cover a change pad because if baby decides to go while their diaper is off, they are highly absorbent and disposable.
#3: Feeding On The Go
Feeding a little one on the go doesn’t have to be a whole thing. Our little one is formula fed and currently transitioning to solids so we’re at an in-between phase. Trying to make formula on the go at an idea temperature can be a nightmare. Portable bottle warmers take awhile to be effective and so what we do is this: we pack our Baby Brezza Formula Pro machine. Does it seem crazy? You only think it is until you’ve used this thing once (and then you’ll be telling everyone in the land about it, too).
To keep things from getting messy, I only half fill the water reservoir and I place the machine in a grocery bin lined with a puppy pee pad (like the ones used above for changing). The rigidity of the bin keeps it from tipping over and provides me a place to store all my bottles. The pee pad ensures that if we have a leak from hitting a large bump or poorly constructed bridge transition that the machine doesn’t make a huge mess if jostled. Our vehicles both have plug-ins in the rear, so we’re able to keep this thing running at all times!
On to solids? I love these food pouch spoon tips – they clip right onto baby’s food pouches for less mess on the go!
#4: Clean Up Duty!
Babies are messy creatures and sometimes car trips can cause extra spit up, diaper leaks or a barf or two to contend with. My advice here is to have extra wipes on hand, extra linens and clothes, burp cloths and receiving blankets. I am a huge fan of Burt’s Bees Burp Cloths as they fit perfectly behind and under baby in her car seat in case it gets soiled. Car seats don’t usually come with extra liners, so if you have a mid-trip barf, this will at least put something dry between baby and their seat! Pack plenty of hand sanitizer, too!
#5: Play Things & Entertainment
Depending on the age of your little one, they may not sleep the entire way and require some in-seat play time. I like to pack a variety of small toys and soft books for baby to play with to keep her entertained. We also like to talk to and engage with our little one while on the road so she doesn’t feel alone in the back seat!
What to Have in the Trunk:
Gear You Can Pack Up
#1: Baby Sleeping Accommodations
Babies need a contained place to sleep and depending on their age, there are a few options. Not all hotels or home shares offer cribs or baby sleeping accommodations, so be sure to bring something with you!
One thing I recommend no matter what your ‘bed’ for baby option is, is a SlumberPod! These things are amazing! They fit over almost any pack-and-play system and provide a totally dark ‘room’ for your little one. This way it isn’t lights out for the whole hotel room, or trying to figure out how to fit a bassinet in a closet or something tricky like that. This amazing invention takes only a couple short minutes to set up and take down and packs into a super small bag (which is ideal). Get a discount off yours with code STYLEDTOSPARKLE20.
Sleep Option 1: Bassinet
On our first couple of road trips we packed our UPPAbaby bassinet that clips into our stroller and into a bassinet stand. We left the stand at home and either placed it on the floor in a hotel room or on the suitcase valet. Do what makes you feel most comfortable here. This is of course a piece of gear that does not easily compact so if you’re bringing it with you, fill it like you would a duffel bag to maximize trunk space. If you don’t have a large vehicle, I’d opt out of this one (see more below). A bassinet is also something that only works up to a certain age and size.
Sleep Option 2: Pack & Play
We absolutely love our Nuna SENA Playard because it folds up really easily and has a change table attachment. The changing attachment isn’t all that compact for travel, though, so I’d leave that behind. This play yard is a great option because you can use it for a number of years. It’s also a great way to keep a baby “contained” in a hotel room. It will seem super large for smaller kiddos, so keep that in mind.
Sleep Option 3: Travel Crib & Bassinet Attachment
If you are looking for something compact and effective, then look no further than the Phil & Teds Traveller Travelcot. This mesh sided crib and bassinet attachments breathe well and use the same frame, so you can transition from one attachment to another without having to buy a whole new system. Everything comes apart and fits into a bag and takes up about as much space as a folding camping chair – no joke. The only major downsides are that the legs stick out a little far (you can trip over them) and the baby isn’t too far off the floor. If you’re looking for a ton of adaptable gear, Phil & Teds has tons!
#2: Baby Monitor System
If you’re staying in a home or a hotel with more than one room, or even a lodge where you’d like to kick back on the patio after your little one is down for the night (or having an afternoon nap), you’re going to want some kind of monitor system. I have two favourites for travel because of their compact nature and their ability to play music, white noise and do basically anything that a full-sized monitor can do!
Monitor Option 1: Motorola Lux65CONNECT
Our main baby monitor is the Motorola Halo, so when we came across the Lux65CONNECT, we loved that we could use the same interface when we were away from home. You can also use it with the HubbleConnected smart phone app, too. When we’re at home we use this as an additional monitor and plan to use it in the playroom when our little is a bit older, but for now, we love how small and compact it is, plus easy to set up for when we’re on the road.
Monitor Option 2: Lollipop Camera
I know a number of families that use the Lollipop Smart Monitor as their main baby monitor and love it. I love it for use with a bassinet because it’s the only monitor you can easily (and wirelessly) hook on! This monitor works with an app on your phone (so one less piece of gear to pack) and comes in a ton of cute colours. I absolutely love the portability of this thing and that it does everything you need it to.
#3: The Right Stroller
If you’ve done any reading on my baby gear recommendations, you know that I am a huge fan of my stroller and that I seldom leave home without it. Strollers are so perfect for day trips, too, because you can put everything in the basket below for safe keeping and easy access.
Stroller Option 1: Full Sized Stroller
We have the UPPAbaby CRUZ stroller and we absolutely love it. This stroller folds down really nicely and we purchased an adapter kit for our car seat to clip into it as well. The stroller seat attachment can be positioned multiple ways and comes with a ton of great features. Read all about my love of this stroller here. Have multiple kiddos or are planning to? My advice is to go with the UPPAbaby VISTA.
Stroller Option 2: Compact Stroller
If you don’t have a giant vehicle, a full-sized stroller might not be an option for your road trip because despite how well they fold up, they still take up a chunk of space. I recently discovered the UPPAbaby MINU stroller, which is basically a more compact version of my current stroller (which I am in love with and don’t want to compromise on).
The UPPAbaby MINU has most of the amazing features of the CRUZ (or VISTA) but only weighs 15lbs. On its own, it’s suitable for littles from 3 months to 50lbs but you can also purchase a from-birth kit for it, too!
#4: Baby Toiletries
This is going to be another “if you’ve read my blog before” statement! I always look for products that come in travel size and encourage you to seek out samples of products you love just to use while traveling (just one more reason to start a gift registry!). Brands like BabyBum offer their baby care products in mini size. If all else fails, I suggest decanting into goToobs! (you can find more tips here!)
#5: Play Mat
Some can’t live without their kiddo’s play mats and play gyms when they’re just babies. I suggest a quilted blanket or a soft and foldable play gym like those offered by Skip Hop. This is one of those situations where you have to ask yourself if you can live without it for a week. Will a few toys on a blanket get you through?
Other ‘Don’t Leave Home Without It’ Gear
& How To Improvise!
There are a few other pieces of gear that I recommend for making your travel adventures with baby a little easier. Some of these will make being out and about with baby a little easier, too.
High Chair: A high chair is not a compact item to bring anywhere and neither is any kind of booster seat. If you can feed your kiddo in their car seat, great. If not, then I highly recommend the Phil & Teds Lobster Chair. It’s super compact and attaches to tables of almost any size.
Extra Linens: I always like to pack extra clothes, bibs, burb cloths, receiving blankets, sheets because you know…babies.
Baby Carrier: A great baby carrier is a total must, especially if you’re outdoorsy and like to hike. Strollers can’t get you everywhere you want to be, so be sure to pack a comfortable carrier for carting baby around with you.
Bottle Washing: I’m a huge fan of Dapple Bottle & Dish Soap for cleaning bottles and all things nursing (think: pump parts). What’s extra great about it is that it comes in a convenient travel size!
Sterilizer: I usually bring my full-sized Baby Brezza Sterilizer with me when I travel by car (hint: you can store bottles in it, too!), but if you’re short on space, there area. couple of smaller options. Dr. Brown’s makes Microwave Steam Sterilizer Bags which are super compact for packing. You can also get a re-usable, compact microwave steam sterilizer. My preferred choice is the one by Philips Avent.
Bathing: Depending on how long you’re gone, you might need some form of bathing apparatus for your little – improvise with towels in the sink!
Best Advice: Just Relax
Travel can often mean that not all of your ideal conditions are going to be met for things like sleeping, eating, playtime, regular routines, etc. so it’s important to be flexible here. The goal is to make memories, not to feel like a prisoner in your own life. Kids are pretty resilient, too!
Last but not least, the best advice I can give you for parenting in general, not just traveling with a little one is to calm the eff down. Babies are like horses – they sense your energy, so if you are on edge, they’re gonna get squirrelly! Stressed out kids are one thing…stressed out kids in the confines of a vehicle is extra awful.
Why Under 12 Months?
As I’m writing this, my little one is 7.5 months old. We’ve taken her on mountain getaways (1-2 hours away and 5 hours away), day trips to the mountains (1-2 hours away), across the Canada/USA border (5 hour trip) and from Calgary to Vancouver Island (10+ hours away). We’ve also traveled with her by plane, but that info is for another post! As she grows, I’ll be sure to share our travel tips for how we make this work.