Baby Road Trip
May 4, 2006 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm driving across the US with my 3-month-old baby. Am I nuts?

Hubby, baby, and I live in California, and hubby just got a great job offer, so we're moving back home to New England. The company is moving our stuff, and we have time (3 weeks) for a nice leisurely road trip. We're visiting family along the way and want to do some camping and light hiking in national parks. Under normal circumstances, all this would be no problem, but, did I mention, 3-month-old baby? And, my husband doesn't drive (he's partially blind), so I'll be behind the wheel the whole way.

We're breastfeeding, so we'll have to stop every 2-3 hours at minimum. The baby's not on a regular napping or feeding schedule yet, so I figure we'll have to keep it loose and just roll with the punches. But I'm worried about her spending so much time in her carseat. Will she be bored to tears back there? How much stimulation does a 3-month-old really need?

How about camping? She co-sleeps in our bed part of the time, so I figure we can just tuck her in our zipped-together sleeping bags to keep warm. What am I not thinking of? Aside from the usual diaper bag paraphanalia, what do we need to bring? How can we make sure this is a great adventure rather than a disaster in the making?

Finally, recommendations of the best places to hike and camp in Utah/Colorado/Wyoming/South Dakota/Minnesota/Eastern Canada are welcome!
posted by libraryhead to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We did a cross-country drive with a four month old. Unfortunately, it was an express trip and we drove it in four or five days with minimal stops. For extra fun we also had a dog with us! Three weeks sounds like a much better schedule, especially since you have only one driver.

We didn't have any problem with car seat comfort. We also had to make stops for breastfeeding. Whoever was not driving was in charge of keeping the baby awake/entertained when needed for strategic reasons, i.e. so that she would sleep through some of the night. We had some books and little toys in the back. We also had one of those "activity centers" attached to the car seat.

My biggest concern would be sleeping arrangements when camping. I'd worry about the baby getting tangled up in a sleeping bag somehow. Or about me rolling on the baby after being maxed out and obliviously tired from a day of driving and baby-entertaining. It might be better to let her sleep in the car seat in the tent? Or perhaps investigate some portable, fold-up sleeping arrangement (assuming your tent is big enough). We used a pack-n-play bassinet thing, and while we were sleeping in hotels, I think we could have fit it into our four-person tent if we had to.

Bring a portable alarm clock to wake you up as needed, and keep well-fed and hydrated yourself since you need the extra nourishment to feed the baby.

I always recommend Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. But, I might hesitate with a baby - there are bears, and all that extra baby stuff = a lot of extra smells in the tent.

If no one here has any better sleeping suggestions, I'd hit up some camping forums (try the forums at
posted by mikepop at 10:56 AM on May 4, 2006

The first concern that occurs to me is you doing a lot of driving on potentially not enough sleep. This is going to put a lot of pressure on you personally to be 100% baby-feeder AND 100% the car-driver. It can be dealt with, but it's something to think about. I wouldn't have wanted all that work and responsbility when my daughter was full-time breastfeeding. Other people love to do something like that. YMMV.

Will she get bored back there? Possibly. If I was her, I would find comfort a bigger issue. Make sure her carseat is adjusted properly - before you go, attend one of those clinics where they check the straps and tightness and all that for you. And when you take her out of the car seat at your stops, find somewhere to put down a blanket and give her some stretching/tummy time before you strap her back in. To fight her possible boredom/lonliness, have your husband sit in one of the backseats with her on and off. He can read to her, play games with her, make faces, sing, hold her hand etc.
posted by raedyn at 11:04 AM on May 4, 2006

I'm not sure rough camping with an infant is the best idea. It will be too warm/muggy most of the time for zipped up bags, so you might have loose blankets/ sheets floating around in uncomfortably tight places. That might be a recipe for accidents. Plus, babies can leak and you won't have ready access to laundry facilities, and sleeping bags can't really be rinsed out in a public restroom. I think this is the biggest thing you need to think carefully about. Having enough backup money for Motel 6's might be really smart for this trip.
posted by dness2 at 11:08 AM on May 4, 2006

Our pioneer ancestors (well some of our ancestors) crossed the plains in covered wagons and likely gave birth along the way. And if those pioneer women weren't driving the wagons, they were herding goats or foraging for edible plants or minding the children, and then cooking in the evening in big pots over open fires. Driving your car for 6-8 hours a day isn't going to wipe you out all that much. Thankfully, you're breastfeeding. Imagine if you had to cope with bottles and refrigeration on the trip. And no, you won't roll over and crush the baby (but you already knew that). Maybe a motel every third or fourth night would be nice.
posted by Joleta at 11:21 AM on May 4, 2006

Our pioneer ancestors weren't driving the wagons or herding goats at 60+ miles an hour, Joleta. Nor did they have the same expectations of survivability, sanitation and sanity that most modern parents have. Living like pioneers might be a great experience when everyone is out of diapers and able to deal with suffocating sleeping arrangements, but there is a reason why you don't see many small babies on camping trips. If our pioneer ancestors had Motel 6, they would have used it too.
posted by dness2 at 11:38 AM on May 4, 2006

We drove from Georgia to Quebec (and back) with a one-month old, camping along the way--that's about 3000 miles round trip--over a two-week period.

I'd do it again. We were able to split the driving, and frequent breast-feeding stops were, indeed, a pain, but there were no major problems.

A three-month old is more active than a one-month old, though. The extended car-seat time wasn't really a problem, and camping was easy with a child that small--no wandering around, and we were bundling her at night, anyway. Heat wasn't so much a problem as cold, really. We took her camping at two weeks old as practice, and the cold nights were a bit of a concern. This was not rough camping, just drive up, unload the gear, and set up stuff, so we could just stick the girl on a picnic table while we worked. Maybe try to pick up a battery-powered fan for muggy nights.

If you're going into Canada, be sure to bring your child's birth certificate. We had a dog with us, too, so we were sure to have his rabies tags with us, as well. Enjoy!
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2006

We had an emergency road trip for a funeral with our five week old last June. 14-hour trip. Breastfeeding. Stopping every 2-3 hours for 30-45 minutes is very painful. We resisted the urge to feed him outside of his carseat. It was hot. We had two dogs with us. It was miserable. I like road trips, but I don't ever want to repeat that.

Highlight of the trip: my wife changing my son on her lap on top of a pillow (staying in the air conditioning - did I mention it was hot?); explosive baby poop down the front of her tank top shirt. Verdict: you can look back and laugh at that kind of stuff.

We had to drive back 9 days later. All in all no fun.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 11:53 AM on May 4, 2006

Short answer is YES. :)
posted by tadellin at 11:55 AM on May 4, 2006

My community health nurse and an early childhood educator told me that it is not really safe to have your infant in a carseat for more than 1.5 hours at a time. Carseats are not designed for long term use and sitting in one for more than 1.5 hours affects spinal support and muscle positiong and the like.

Also, what stimulation will your baby have while in the car? Distance vision is not acute enough to make sense of what's going past the window. You could sit in the back, but the baby is still not getting any opportunities to really develop motor skills, like holding up the head, trying to roll, trying to crawl, reaching, etc. You may also find yourself on a busy highway when you need to breastfeed (if you're breastfeeding on demand). Your baby may start crying in the middle of a busy highway and you will have to find a place to pull over (some roads don't have safe space for this, although I think the US is better than here in Canada). Your baby's sleeping schedule will also be thrown off and you may have to "undo" a routine of motion sleeping.

3 weeks represents about a quarter of a 3-month-old baby's life. It's an important time and you would typically want to provide a lot of stimulation, quiet play, replying to coos, grabbing/reaching games, face-to-face songs, interaction, etc. So I guess it depends how long you figure you'll be in the car each day. If you are just doing a 1.5-hour stint a day and one of you sits in the backseat, it might be okay, based on what I was told. I guess you could also weigh up a long driving day, followed by several short days. (I'm unsure as to whether it's just one 1.5-hour stint or whether you can space out a few over the course of the day, which would let you cover more ground.)
posted by acoutu at 12:32 PM on May 4, 2006

can't you pump while you drive and have your husband feed her when she's hungry?
(my friend used to pump every day on the commute to/from work -- worked out perfectly for her)
posted by j at 1:08 PM on May 4, 2006

I hope you do this. I predict you'll have lots of fun. But do take it slow.

re: camping and infants: I wouldn't be concerned, so long as you're experienced campers. As a historical reenactor, I know people who camp out with infants all the time, and no one I know has ever had a problem. Plus, the kids we've been camping with since they were tiny certainly don't seem poorly adjusted or damaged in any way by it.

Things to be most attentive to:

+ Your personal tiredness. I think the fact that you need to do all the driving is a bigger issue than the camping. Be sure to rest when you need to, and try to plan your trip so you can be out of the car for at least an hour every time you stop. Feed and nap if you need to. Try not to drive after dark (which I assume you won't since you're going to want to get the tent set up before dark anyway).

+ Baby's hydration & bugs while camping

+ You should stay on bottled water for the entire trip. Its unlikely that regional variations in the water could cause you any ... distress .. but its a chance you don't want to take.

+ Have your husband ride in the back seat with the baby. Since at that age baby's car seat is probably rear-facing, they should be able to interact well together. The advice about getting the baby out of the seat for quality "tummy time" is good.

+ Disposables.

you won't have ready access to laundry facilities, and sleeping bags can't really be rinsed out in a public restroom

I wouldn't worry about this. Just have a bit of extra. I've yet to see a commercial campground that doesn't have a laundry room or easy access to a commercial laundromat.

Take lots of photos and enjoy this great adventure -- seeing America with your family!
posted by anastasiav at 1:51 PM on May 4, 2006

Now that our youngest is ten, the realities of dealing with a three month old baby have receded somewhat into the haze of memory. But, I do remember that traveling with a three month old was relatively easy -- it gets harder as they start to want to sleep less and move more.

Breast feeding takes away the biggest problem, and you likely haven't reached solid food yet so that's not a problem either. There may be some difficulties with practical aspects of camping (your sleeping arrangements sound OK to me as long as you aren't anywhere cold, but I never tried anything quite like it so YMMV), but little babies are adaptable, and as long as there is a full breast handy, they are mostly happy if you are.

The biggest thing is that you have three weeks -- you only need to average less than a couple of hundred miles a day, which should be entirely doable given that the baby would probably naturally sleep for almost enough time to cover much of that distance any way. Obviously with only you to do the driving, you need to take care of yourself too, but a few hours of driving a day shouldn't be too bad on you either if you pace yourself. Your husband can engage the baby even if he can't drive, so you are not without help, and keeping things loose is always good.

I say that, if you are the sort of people who like taking things as they come, and if you enjoy adventures then go for it! It will probably be a great experience for you all.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 3:12 PM on May 4, 2006

I've never driven quite that far with an infant, but far enough to be able to tell you that: it will take longer than you think (but you seem to have planned for that).

The baby will get bored, so perhaps have your husband sit in the back seat with her for at least part of the time. Bring lots of interesting toys and books.

When you stop to breastfeed her, give her a chance to chill on a blanket for a while--it's the baby equivalent of "stretching your legs". Don't be surprised if she flips out when you get back into the car. Try and make this transition easier by keeping the toys rotating so there's something new to look at. If you don't already know a thousand songs--learn some now.

Camping with infants was a piece of cake for us. Along the lines of normal cosleeping safety, wear warm pajama tops yourselves and put warm sleepers on the baby, and keep her up near your heads rather than in the sleeping bag itself. If you have a small tent, your body heat will probably keep it plenty warm for everyone.
posted by padraigin at 3:51 PM on May 4, 2006

No advice on traveling with a baby. My opinion is do it and love it and wing it and have great stories to tell your daughter when she's older. In fact, keep a journal (written or pictorial) of your trip.

Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is pretty accessible by car. Many of the sites and views are visible from the car, or via a short walk from a parking area. Very doable with an infant in tow.

However, the up-close-and-personal views of some of the really spectacular stuff will require hikes up and down hills, which may be difficult for your husband. Info at the links about accessibility.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:40 PM on May 4, 2006

I'd suggest getting a breast pump that you can plug into your car's lighter outlet, and a cooler to store the milk in. That way your husband can feed the baby while your driving. There are also bottle warmers for cars as well.

Although my wife and I didn't go on any long distance car trips with the baby, we did stay at a cabin with no electricity and being able to use the breast pump in the car was very helpful.
posted by ShooBoo at 5:58 PM on May 4, 2006

Thanks, everyone, for the encouragement and advice. Having my husband in the back of the car to entertain the baby is a good idea, and we'll be sure to let her stretch her legs on breaks. We're camping because we like to, not because we need to, so, definitely, Motel 6 every third night or so. Any more tips on essential, worth-its-weight travelling gear? I'm trying not to bring along the *entire* nursery.
posted by libraryhead at 3:36 AM on May 5, 2006

Get a small playpen with a built-in bassinet. You'll have somewhere safe to put the baby when you stop for a picnic -- and the baby can still have tummy time at the same time. You can also use it for a crib at the motel. (Your dirt, not unknown dirt!)
posted by acoutu at 9:12 AM on May 5, 2006

There are lots of great items available for travel with baby. This inflatable bed is great, so I've been told, and there are tons of toys available for traveling.

Do take care with getting baby out of the car seat often, as too much time in a car seat can lead to flattening of the head if she doesn't move her head around into different positions (we have twins that we had to feed in car seats a lot when they were very young and we had this happen with one of them).

Most important? HAVE FUN!!
posted by OhPuhLeez at 9:44 AM on May 5, 2006

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