We Survived Our First Postpartum Road Trip
Before we had our son, my husband and I LOVED a good road trip. Our longest drive so far is 14 hours of straight driving to get from the Florida Keys back home - it was one of our favorite vacations to date. After having a baby, envisioning being stuck in a car for hours went from feeling adventurous to practically fueling nightmares. Planning for feeding, diaper changes, fussiness, more feeding, pee breaks, hitting the drive through and keeping a baby amused who couldn't read or draw yet just seemed more stressful than relaxing...not to mention if we got stuck in traffic (our little one has a serious road rage problem being in a car that is not moving). When COVID-19 hit, that threw a wrench in all of our travel plans anyways so we hunkered down at home and settled into our life as hermits. It really hasn't been terrible.
However, since it is now September and we have not left our home outside of work and grocery shopping in almost 6 months, it was time we all took a break. We spent a lot of time carefully selecting and planning a vacation where we could appropriately socially distance from others and eventually settled on a trip to Charleston with all outdoor activities in wide-open areas. Charleston is approximately 4-5 hours from where we live in North Carolina, so it didn't seem like a bad first road-trip for our little man (so I told myself as I bit my fingernails down to the edge). So here's a little play-by-play of what I was expecting versus what actually happened:
The Trip There
In the Car
Our son usually enjoys a good car ride around town so he put up no fight getting into his car seat. We planned to leave right at his nap time so he was asleep in his seat within 15 minutes of leaving the driveway and slept for an hour and a half. When he woke up, he was ready for lunch so we hit a gas station parking lot and parked in the shade. Getting him to eat was a little difficult as he was immensely curious about everything other than what I was trying to coax into his belly but after 45 minutes of walking, nibbling, sipping milk, diaper change, then walking some more...he had finally eaten what felt like a meal so we loaded everything back up and hit the road. This was when the fussiness really started - he wasn't used to being in the car this long and started to protest but it was nothing that couldn't be settled with a toy and some music. Another two hours later, we pulled over once more for a potty break and to let him eat a snack and stretch his legs. Getting back in the car this time was more of a fight - he was DONE with looking at the backseat. About another two hours and we finally arrived! All in all - the drive ended up taking us about six hours - two hours longer than planned. I was a little frustrated at the time lost, and definitely exhausted but it had honestly seemed so much worse in my head than it actually ended up being.
Takeaways: Definitely plan for extra time, especially if this is your first road trip. If you find that taking them out and putting them back in the car causes a lot of extra stress for you and them, consider packing snacks that can be easily eaten in the car seat. If your baby is still bottle fed, invest in a car-safe bottle warmer (they exist!) If they are exclusively breastfed, plan additional time to pull over and pack extra snacks for yourself.
In the Hotel
For the remainder of the evening, it was lawless anarchy. There were so many new sights, sounds, locations and people that his routine 6:00pm bedtime came and went while he was still operating at full steam bouncing on the couch and pulling toys out of his suitcase. At first, all of my mom alarms went off thinking about how "important it was to maintain as much of a normal schedule as possible" but reality had different plans so we eventually gave in and just took a family trip down the road to cookout. Hot dogs are his favorite and he got to try Cheerwine for the first time so I'd say it was a worthy trade-off. We let him play the rest of the evening until he passed out of his own free will at 9:30pm.
Takeaways: This is their vacation too and things are so new and exciting - expect the schedule to change or become completely non-existent. Instead of stressing over it and fighting it, go with the flow and let them explore their new surroundings (and even take part in their exploration.) There is one thing you can rest assured knowing for a fact: they will inevitably run out of steam and fall asleep. If your little one hates the hard standard pad of a portable pack and play, they make portable mattresses for these! Order one ahead of time!
The Trip Back
In the Car
This time I planned to integrate what I had learned on the ride down. I kept a canister of Gerber Lil' Crunchies, a package of mini muffins and a small cooler of pre-measured sippy cups of whole milk handy in the front seat, ready to hand back at any time. Compared to my "we need to pull over for everything" mentality on the ride down, I became quite good and handing back appropriate foods/drinks from the front passenger seat while going 70 down the highway and our son even got good at putting the cup back in his car seat cup holder on his own. A Crunchie or two may have even found it's way out the window but I do not encourage this for others as I'm sure it confused the person behind us to no end. We reduced the stress of moving in-and-out of the car by planning to only stop for lunch and potty breaks/diaper changes and just kept the music going the whole ride. The ride home took us exactly 4 hours (success!) and I can honestly say we all slept better that night than we had in a while.
Takeaways: I cannot say it enough....go. with. the. flow. Everything that caused frustration on the trip down was due to me trying to "make a plan". Keep the things you know you might need within reach and be prepared to do a little negotiating from the front seat. If your baby is not on solids yet, still plan for the extra time it may take to warm a bottle/breastfeed and remember to pack the extra snacks for you. Also, plan for your little one to be a little extra fussy on the way home - it's been a big few days for them and they're just as sick of the car as you are. It doesn't have to be a difficult trip though! Consider making a playlist of their favorite songs and keep a few extra toys on hand to switch out and keep them engaged in something.
What I learned is that road trips with a baby don't have to be terrifying, however the best way to learn what works best for you and your little one is by just doing it. Don't avoid life experiences because of expected inconveniences. As always, it may seem worse in your head than it ends up being in real life so prepare to just tackle that fear head on!
Please note: If you are planning a road trip anytime soon, be sure to review up-to-date information on COVID-19 including CDC safety and health recommendations, travel restrictions and state-by-state regulations. We did everything in our power to remain safe including vetting the hotel cleaning and sanitation processes, following the CDC recommended safety practices, kept hand sanitizer in the car and on our key chains, planned outdoor-only activities and avoided all other families/individuals. Please be safe!