Before we had kids, packing for a trip was almost an afterthought. M and I would usually throw our suitcases together a day or two before we left. We’d toss in the usual clothes and toiletries and phone chargers, grab our passports, and be on our way. Then, we had a baby and decided to go on a road trip, and suddenly packing became a much more strategic process.
Taking a road trip with a baby requires a lot more planning and stuff. This week, I’m excited to share with you a list of fifteen items that made a real difference on our first family vacation with a little one. I hope that these suggestions help set you up for success on your own road trip, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments about what is and isn’t essential when traveling with a baby!
Oh, and PS: don’t miss my list of toddler road trip essentials for any older siblings or later trips!
Baby Road Trip Essentials
1.) Pack and Play
Unless you know for certain that your accommodations are going to have a crib or some other place for baby to sleep safely, it is absolutely essential to bring a pack and play or some other baby-friendly bed. Ours has a raised, full-size bassinet attachment that we debated about bringing; we ended up being glad we did. (Although we didn’t bring it along, I also like that our pack and play has a changing attachment; we use it as a changing station on our first floor at home.)
Don’t forget a sheet or two as well!
2.) Blanket or Quilt
When your little one is too small to crawl around (or even sit up), it’s nice to have a blanket or quilt on hand to spread out for playtime. We actually had both: we keep an old blanket in the car that was perfect for playgrounds and parks, and we took a tummy time quilt that was ideal for inside at our Airbnbs. We really appreciated having a clean, comfortable place for S to lay and play. (I’m not a complete germaphobe, but I also don’t love the idea of my baby rolling around and rubbing her face on the well-trafficked carpet of a hotel or guesthouse.)
If you don’t have a suitable blanket or quilt on hand, you can always grab one that packs well for travel. The one pictured above is great for camping or the beach, and this one seems both water-resistant and cozy for indoor or outdoor use.
3.) Small, Lightweight Toys
4.) Baby Carrier
Especially if you don’t have room in your car for a stroller, you’ll definitely want to bring a baby carrier. We wore S a lot, including on three different hikes. I feel like people get really passionate about baby carriers, so ask around if you don’t already have one to see what might be a great fit for you. We have the Infantino one pictured above as well as a Mission Critical carrier and daypack combo.
5.) Car Mirror
With all the time you’ll be spending in the car, you’ll need to be able to keep an eye on your little one. If you don’t already have a mirror that allows you to see baby in his or her rear-facing carseat, you’ll want to pick one up before you set off.
6.) Car Seat Liners
What is it about carseats that causes babies to just let loose? There were days on our road trip when it seemed like Sarah was having a blowout every time she got in the carseat, which sure made keeping things clean between stops a chore. We used a couple of rags we borrowed (permanently) from M’s cousins to create a barrier between her diaper and the carseat, but we still had to wash them multiple times and they could only do so much. It was perhaps the most frustrating inconvenience of the entire trip.
Tired of scrubbing out the carseat multiple times a day, I ordered a huge pack of disposable, absorbent bed pads as soon as we got home. So far, they have worked great! I slice each one in half, cut a little notch for the buckle to pull through, and voila! S can do her worst and all I have to do is remove the liner, toss it in the trash, and replace with a new one. My only lament is that I didn’t figure this out before we left on our vacation.
Note: they do sell reusable liners that are especially helpful during potty training, but for a road trip you’d probably want to go disposable. Not only will you not have to worry about washing the liner, but you’ll be all set if you happen to have multiple incidents in a day.
7.) Changing Pad Liners
In addition to using them on our changing table at home, I never travel without a changing pad liner in my diaper bag. While on our road trip, I took along the Munchkin ones above and also two larger quilted liners and used them to create a little changing station wherever we were staying. (I used the quilted ones for the actual changing and the smaller Munchkin ones as a spot to set dirty diapers until they could be wrapped up and thrown away.)
8.) Wet/Dry Bags
These wet/dry bags have been an absolute lifesaver in our regular parenting life and our road trip with a baby was no exception. They feature two pockets and are perfect for carrying dirty diapers, soiled clothing, wet swimming suits, and any other items that you don’t want messing (or smelling) up your diaper bag or car.
Especially given the number of carseat blowouts S experienced on the trip, our wet-dry bags got a ton of use. They also came in handy when we visited Echo Lake in New Hampshire and Ethan took an impromptu, fully-clothed swim. While you could certainly just use plastic bags to the same effect, I love that these are reusable and much more secure.
9.) Stain Stick
Whether you’re dealing with blowouts, messy meals, or just the dirt and grime of your adventures, having something to treat stains until you’re able to do a load of laundry can be a lifesaver. I was glad I packed a stain stick; it got lots of use and definitely saved multiple items of clothing from ruin.
10.) Laundry Detergent
I could count on one hand the number of times that I’ve done a load of laundry while on a weeklong vacation… until I had kids. In New England, I did at least four.
We ended up having to pick up a container of laundry detergent from a grocery store, but it would have been much better – and taken up less space – if we had just packed a small bottle of our own from home. I’m not generally a detergent pod user, but Tide PODS® (or something similar) would be ideal because they’re small, easy to pack, and are less likely to spring a leak.
Tip: Make sure to bring high efficiency detergent (marked with an HE symbol) so that you can use it in any washing machine.
11.) Baby Toiletries
Since babies’ skin is so sensitive, it would behoove you to take along some baby wash.
With a few exceptions, most places you’re taking your baby probably won’t be stocked with age-appropriate toiletries. Make sure to take your own along – either by filling reusable bottles or grabbing a travel toiletry kit – to avoid bath time tears or irritation to sensitive skin.
12.) Night Light
This was something I didn’t even think to bring along but immediately missed on the first night of our trip. Especially if your little one is still waking up in the middle of the night, it’s nice to have a night light in the room with him or her. That way, you don’t have to turn on a bigger light or, worse yet, bump a shin trying to maneuver around an unfamiliar furniture layout.
Thankfully, our first Airbnb had a nightlight in the bathroom that I was able to move into his room, but we ended up leaving the hall light on at the next place and a big bedside lamp at the third. Next time, I’ll travel with a small nightlight or two just in case!
I’m separating out the following three items because, while I think they would certainly come in handy if you’re on a road trip with a baby, they do take up a bit of room and perhaps aren’t exactly essential.
13.) Travel High Chair
S wasn’t big enough to sit at the table with us, but if your baby is sitting independently and/or eating solid foods by the time you take your road trip a travel high chair could come in handy. We were given a hand-me-down Inglesina chair like the one pictured above and used it all the time with E. It folds up easily and takes up a relatively small amount of space, so if you foresee yourselves eating any meals in places where you won’t have access to a high chair it may be worth bringing your own.
14.) Baby Seat
We definitely debated about whether or not to bring S’s little bouncer seat along given the amount of space it took up, but in the end we were really glad we did. Having the seat allowed us to keep her contained and entertained while we ate, gave E a bath, got ready in the morning, unpacked upon arrival, or packed up to leave. It gave her a change of scenery from lying on a blanket and kept her stimulated while we were otherwise occupied. I wouldn’t say that a bouncer seat is essential, but I don’t think you would regret taking one along.
15.) Boppy or Nursing Pillow
While I’m sure I could have used couch or bed pillows in our Airbnbs to nurse S, I was happy that I had my Boppy with me during our road trip. It definitely made those late-night feedings more comfortable, and I also used it on a couple of occasions when I had to nurse in the car. Plus, you or other family members can always use it for car naps on the road!
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