Summer road trip from Chicago with infant
April 14, 2015 3:45 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I have a new baby and a serious case of cabin fever/wanderlust. We're considering taking a road trip this summer. Is this a terrible idea? If not, where should we go? Would Gatlinburg, TN be fun?

Our baby's original due date was tomorrow; he surprised us by deciding to come in the first week of January instead. As a consequence, our year started with a few rough and scary months of commuting to the hospital daily, but thankfully everyone is home and happy and healthy now. However, our ordeal has left us in dire need of a bit of rest and recreation, and Lady Jordemort especially would like to spend an extended period of time outside of the house, having given up her job to devote her time and energy to care and feeding of our new arrival. We have a modest amount of disposable income and a shiny new-to-us family-friendly vehicle, and are considering packing up baby and skipping town for a week sometime in June or July.

First off, is this a completely terrible idea? We are new parents and really have no idea what implications traveling with an infant might have. Developmentally, he'll be somewhere between 2 and 3 months during the time we'd like to take our trip. So far, he's been pretty easy to calm down when he gets upset, and he's done well in the car (he just sleeps), but the longest ride we've taken him on so far has been about an hour and I'm aware that his demeanor might change radically as he matures . Does anyone have any experience taking a road trip with an infant of that age? Is it workable, or is it simply not done? Any tips on specific things we should bring and/or do to make the trip more enjoyable for him and for us?

Second, assuming it would be reasonable to take a road trip with baby, where should we go? We live in Chicago. We're willing to spend up to two (slow, low-intensity, with plenty of breaks and an early stop at some reasonably OK hotel at the midpoint) days on the road to get to wherever we're going. We'd like to get far away enough from home that it actually feels like we're on vacation, i.e. somewhere where "the city" doesn't automatically mean "Chicago." We considered St. Louis but I think we'd prefer something either more touristy or nature-oriented than just visiting a different large city from the one we live in. We've been through most of Michigan and Ontario over the past couple years and would like to try something different, and we like the Wisconsin Dells but we don't think there'd be much up there for a couple with an infant. Right now we're leaning towards Gatlinburg, TN because my wife has never been and my recollection is that there are plenty of "walk around and look at stuff" kinds of attractions there, but we're open to other ideas. Any suggestions?
posted by jordemort to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Infants travel well. As you have noted the motion/road noise often promotes sleep. And they are relatively easy to swaddle next to you as you move around and don't tend to wander off on their own yet! We did a good number of road trips from Chicago with our 4, even camping out sometimes when they were young as well as older and they managed well and mom and dad found the change of scenery refreshing. The Amish areas in northern Indiana are very hospitable, full of customs and great food. We did the Branson, MO theme park with an infant & found it very refreshing. Springfield, IL (especially the recent Lincoln Museum) and Lincoln's New Salem close to nearby Petersburg offer much Lincoln and early Illinois history.

If you need an outing sooner than June or July, a 3-day weekend trip to Indiana or Springfield is quite doable with less car time and more quiet. Branson or Gatlinburg are a good long hike from CHI.

For nature hikes, Starved Rock State Park is a jewel and not that far and spring is a great time to see any of the above places.

By all means, get out and about with your young one!
posted by tronec at 5:28 PM on April 14, 2015

I don't think it's a crazy idea at all, especially if you have a sling and you can wear your baby! And car rides just require a few extra stops - plan on stretching your legs every couple of hours. No big deal.

Maybe you wouldn't want to have the whole trip be in St. Louis, but you could do a day in the 'Lou - maybe spend some time at the world-renowned Missouri Botanical Garden. Definitely get tickets to the Lantern Festival if you can. Then the next day you could head to Branson, which is more rustic but still family-friendly. A recent article described the Branson experience as "going on vacation in the 1950s." It's just one of those places that is sort of stuck in time.

Omaha is also drivable from Chicago and it's a great small city. You can get anywhere in the city within 20 minutes or so and it's really easy to navigate. Fontenelle Forest is a private nature center on the Missouri River. They have a boardwalk trail and a small museum. Omaha also has a wonderful zoo with a walk-through shark tunnel, rainforest, desert dome, and sky tram. The Old Market is a pedestrian oriented area with a lot of shops and restaurants.
posted by Ostara at 5:31 PM on April 14, 2015

One thing to keep in mind about driving long distances- if baby is being breastfed, you have to stop driving every time baby wants to eat (because baby has to come out of the car seat to eat and you can't drive with baby outside the car seat). This certainly isn't fatal but you have to build that time into your schedule if you're trying to get somewhere by a certain time. A bottle-fed baby could be fed in his carseat.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:45 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you love nature, there are reservations at cabins and lodging at state parks and facilities.
The site Reserve America handles reservations at least for the state facilities in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. I put in the state, interested in Cabins or lodging, and 3 occupants and came up with quite a number of places in each state.

We have stayed at cabins in the Jim Edgar Panther Creek - State Fish & Wildlife Area and they were small, rustic, quiet and just a great escape to the outdoors without hauling all the camping gear.
posted by tronec at 5:51 PM on April 14, 2015

Best answer: We traveled when she was four months old. She was great in the car, but we loaded ourselves up with crap for the hotel room. Try to minimize all of the bags so you don't carry eight pieces of stuff for a single night. Dump all of the baby's non-immediate stuff in a single huge bag. See if you can leave the diaper bag in the car and just use a changing pad or put a bottle or two in a purse, etc.

Build in time where the baby can feel normal and comfy enough to rest. If he can do that in a baby carrier, great! If he needs quiet time in a darkened room, think up that kind of spot ahead of time and make sure you have access to it.

If you have a Rock n Play, those things are the best ever. He's probably small enough to use that as a bassinet or a handy-baby-putter-inner. They're much more portable than a playpen. Good lord, playpens are heavy.

Travel when your baby plans to sleep -- nighttime driving is super easy.

Have a great time!
posted by St. Hubbins at 6:05 PM on April 14, 2015

My wife and I drove across the US with our 3 month old son (NYC to Seattle). It was one of the best decisions we made! Big boy slept most of the drive time, and my wife sat in the back with him feeding him and pumping milk. Every few hours we would stop at a restaurant or rest stop and wash bottles, change diapers, and stretch our legs.

There were zero problems with the baby. Admittedly packing and unpacking all of the paraphernalia got a little tiresome, but that would only be an hour or so a night.

We saw this as one of our last long road trips, since traveling that distance with older kids would likely be horrible.
posted by phatboy at 7:29 PM on April 14, 2015

Best answer: I would check with your doctor regarding being in the car seat for such long periods of time, since preemies and breathing problems go hand in hand. My oldest was born at a similar gestational age, or maybe a little earlier than your peanut (25 weeks), and I was advised to not keep her in the car seat position for longer than an hour for the first six months (corrected) or so. She was on oxygen at the time, but the doctor's concern was specifically related to positioning. If your doctor gives the all clear, go for it!
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:54 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who delivered about 8 weeks early. As soon as theY were home from the hospital and medically cleared they got into an RV and went camping for a month. If it's within your budget maybe that would be an easier way to travel as a family.
posted by vignettist at 10:13 PM on April 14, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone! I think that we'll go for it, assuming his doctor says it's OK!
posted by jordemort at 11:26 AM on April 15, 2015

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