Beep Beeps & Car Seats: how to survive road trips with babies

There is little a new mom fears as much as cutting their tiny baby’s nails for the first time, but a solo road trip with young twins definitely makes that list.  There is so much to think about.  What are you supposed to pack? What do you do if they start crying? How do you stay awake when you’re sleep deprived? And perhaps most importantly, where is every bathroom along the way?

I live in SW Washington and my closest immediate family member is my sister who is still 40 minutes away without traffic. I know 40 minutes doesn’t really count as a ‘road trip’, but it’s still a bit of an adventure.  My parents live 4.5 hours away (if you don’t stop) and my brother lives 3.5 hours away. This means that my girls got a lot of car time starting from a  pretty young age. Road trips weren’t all glorious, but I found that being mentally prepared and having a ‘toolkit’ helped me survive even the worst car trip.  The challenges and necessary tools change as they grow, but I will attempt to discuss my basic tips for car travel in this article.  

Before I get to my list of suggestions, let me start by describing a few of my experiences. Our first major road trip across the state of Washington happened at the ripe old age of 13 days.  That was also probably our easiest road trip because we broke it into two 2.5-hour legs. I had everything packed and ready for a national disaster, but all that I did was nurse them, burp them, change them, load them up and drove while they slept. My first solo road trip was about 2 weeks after that and was a 6ish hour drive.  Once again, I just broke it up and when they got fussy and hungry, I would pull over for another round of nursing and changing.  Car rides at this age felt especially easy because the car lulled them to sleep and the longest I had to deal with crying was for about 10 minutes at a time. This usually happened when the car quit moving during an espresso pit stop or when finding the next great nursing pull-out. I definitely encourage traveling during this stage. It will make you realize you can do it!

Trips started to get a lot more interesting as the girls got opinions and muscle control.  I went back to work full time when the girls were 3.5 months old. Their daycare was right next to my work. This meant that every day they rode 30 minutes to work and another 50-70 on the way home depending on traffic.  Going to work was easy because it was early and they just slept. Getting home was a lot more troublesome.  Sometimes they cooed and talked, or sucked on their Wubbanubs, other times they screamed. I took the freeway home so I couldn’t just pull over to help them, but I had a couple tricks up my sleeve. When those didn’t work I reminded myself that they were okay and eventually they calmed themselves down.

After a few months of working full time I decided to step down from my position and work part-time.  This saved a TON of daily time in the car, but also allowed more time for road trips to go see my parents or other friends & family.  All of this experience has led me to some of these tips for sane travel with young twins. 

#1. Do all the ‘last minute stuff’ at the last minute.

Items on your ‘Last-Minute List’ are ONLY the items that you do either A) to prolong the length of time you can stay in the care or B) can’t be done until right as you are jumping in the car.  Things that prolong the length of time you can stay in the car are nursing, feeding, or changing diapers, because you only have so long until the next feed. This also includes going to the bathroom because us twin moms can’t make it as long as we used to. Examples of things that can’t be done until you are jumping in the car generally relate to the last-minute things you have to grab such as Wubbas, sounds machines, or lovies. Ideally, you could pack this up when you load the rest of the car, but when we would leave first thing in the morning, the girls needed those items until it was time to nurse and load up.

As you can see, the shorter the ‘Last-Minute List’, the better. Do NOT try to do things like tidy your house.  Yes, I, like most people, love nothing more than coming home to a tidy house with no dishes in the sink. However, I feel that if you want the house tidy, you need to do that in advance of ‘last-minute’ or you are more likely to forget something and you will lose precious time.  

#2. Tie in Wubbanubs.

Remember how I talked about muscle control? At first the pacifiers stayed in place or didn’t drift too far.  But as they grew, they learned to really fling those things. Usually when they would throw it they had to just live with it or I would wait until a stop sign to grab it if it was in reach. One day, I was stuck on I-5 in rush hour traffic. Kinley had thrown her Wubba. Not between the captain seats, but towards the door.  Finally, traffic was stopped, and I was about to lose my mind, so I threw on my hazards, jumped out, snagged the wubba and gave it back to her. At that point I knew I needed a solution.  When I got home, I found one of my husband’s old t-shirts, and cut 2 long strings. I tied one end of it to the car seat and used the other end to tie around the Wubba. This allowed me to quickly and easily find a Wubba if it got lost because all I had to do was reach back with 1 hand to grab it the t-shirt strinfg while my eyes stayed on the road.  (This isn’t related to car travel, but about 2 weeks later I cut 2 more strips of T-shirt for tying wubbas into the stroller!)

**Please note that this tip and others in this article may have worked for me in certain instances but are in no way recommendations for safe driving practices. I absolutely encourage all drivers to drive fully rested, with both hands on the wheel and their full attention on the road.**

#3. Have some good tunes

This is a must for any road trip, kids or not. Am I right?! I’m not even the person that is very good with song titles or lyrics, but that doesn’t stop me. I still pretend I know all the words when Despacito comes on.  I liked music on solo road trips as a way to help me stay sane when the girls were crying or to keep me from getting bored as they slept. Now music in the car is starting to change.  While they are awake, we do a lot more talking about what they see and I try to engage with them verbally. But, you can bet your bottom dollar that as soon as it’s time for them to drift off to sleep I crank my favorite station & help lull them to sleep. 

I recommend having your car radio already programmed with your favorite stations so that you aren’t distracted pressing the seek button or turning the dial.  (I have a button on my steering wheel which is really nice).  If you are someone that prefers streaming pandora or spotify, that’s cool too, just please make sure everything is paired and going before you hit the road.

#4. Have a well-organized diaper bag

This is a MUST! Not only will it help you when you are on a road trip. This will help you all the time. At a glance you can see what needs re-stocked. You won’t be digging around making a mess of things to find the diaper cream. And you can now find anything you need without even looking. I have been known to reach to the passenger seat, grab a teether or book and hand it back.  *Again, not a recommended safe driving practice.* Because I knew where everything was, I never had to take my eyes off the road.  I also encourage you to get your partner, or anybody else that frequently uses your diaper bag, familiar with your system. This will prevent having to reorganize it and they will appreciate knowing where to find things in a full bag.

I’m no longer using a diaper bag, but I re-packed my old one in an effort to demonstrate. Every diaper bag will be a little different, but I encourage you to find a consistent way to organize your own. I kept the diapers & changing pad in the same pocket right next to the pocket with the bum brush, cream and wipes so everything I needed for a change was together. The end pockets were for sippy cups (or bottles when they were younger). Across from the wipes is where I kept Tylenol, ibuprofen, syringes & teethers. Next pocket held boogie wipes, a rectal thermometer, chapstick, and usually a bag of almonds or a snack for me.  The last 2 end pockets were reserved for my wallet and my travel coffee mug. The front pockets on my diaper bag were small but convenient. One was reserved for my cell phone and the other usually had a bottle or 2 of essential oils. This left the whole center compartment for some kid snacks, spare outfits, and usually a couple books or toys for entertainment on the go.

#5. Plan ahead for potty stops

Please, remember to use the bathroom right before you walk out the door.  It may sound obvious, but if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to forget in the busy-ness of loading everyone up. Then plan ahead for potty stops.  I don’t mean literally planning out which rest stops you will use along the way, but timing is key.  I hated realizing I had to pee moments after they fell asleep. When they were infants it wasn’t as big of a deal because of the infant car seat and being able to clip them into the stroller. (Still, nobody wants to wake a sleeping baby if they don’t have to).  As they got older, those 1-2 naps a day were crucial and interrupting nap felt like the end of the world.  Once, I even told my husband he had to hold it or use an empty bottle because we were NOT stopping. 

Another reason you have to plan ahead for potty stops is to give yourself enough time to make it.  I have done a pretty obvious & embarrassing potty dance while pulling out the stroller and unloading the girls on more than one occasion.  One time, the worst time, I remember frantically pulling into a Walgreens.  The girls had just moved up to their big girl car seats and I had to unload them.  To be honest, in the moment, I wished that it wasn’t so frowned upon to leave them in the car. Instead, I risked peeing my pants in public to quickly throw the stroller together.  I unstrapped the first girl and loaded her in the stroller.  Then I sprinted to the other side and unbuckled baby #2. As I was lifting her out in a panic, I bonked her head on the top of the van (oops). I didn’t have time to buckle her into the stroller so I threw her on my hip and made a mad dash to the entrance.  As I got inside, I asked for the bathrooms and was told they were locked until 10. I was about 15 minutes early.  I’m pretty sure at this point my eyes were as big as they’ve ever been and I loudly said, ‘But I’ve got to GO’.  She must have seen the fear on my face or the writing on the wall for ‘clean up on aisle 12’, so she called a manager and told me to meet her in photo.  I potty danced my way over there and as I waited, I buckled baby #2 into the stroller.  The manager came out, and I swear that she s-l-o-w-l-y sauntered back to the restrooms with her key like she was doing an orchestrated processional to open the gates of heaven.  Meanwhile, I was behind her potty dancing so hard, zig-zagging in the aisles, taking 10 steps to her 1, and crossing my legs so dramatically with each step that I looked like the world’s worst supermodel. Sure, I appreciated the fact she was opening the pearly gates 15 minutes early, but she could have hustled.  She clearly didn’t understand how lucky she was that I had been doing my Kegels. Anyway, I made it by the grace of God, but don’t be like me.  Don’t let it be such a close call and don’t stop at Walgreens if it’s urgent.


 

#6. Have a spare potty.

You might be thinking I am just talking about when your kids get to the potty-training stage.  That’s obviously when I got our spare collapsible potties from Amazon.  However,as  I used it myself one day on the way back from the coast. I thought, ‘Why haven’t I had this all along?’  I could have used it in the Walgreens parking lot!  Anyway, these potties have been great.  The girls can use them in the car to minimize trips to public bathrooms and if we are driving somewhere, I just pull over and we are in business!  I got 2 because in the initial stages of potty training it felt like they both went at the same time, but you  really only need one. 

#7. Be hands-free

This probably goes without saying, but make sure everything is set up for hands-free use for safety.

#8. SNACKS!

Originally I had a no eating in the car rule, but that didn’t last very long. I quickly converted,  Just be smart about what types of snacks you want to clean up later.  Pouches almost never end well. Teething biscuits also make a huge sticky mess. I found that the Happy Baby teething wafers were easy to clean up, were big enough to last a while, and I could easily reach back to toss them in their laps.  If you are going to do smaller treats like cheerios, you definitely want to get little snack cups to put them in.

And don’t forget snacks for mama!  I generally liked to have a bag of almonds somewhere, or a package of Belvita crackers. Whatever you like, just have it in an easy-to-reach spot.   

#9. Bring a source of caffeine. 

If you are too tired to drive, then don’t. Trust your instincts and stay where you are. But, even well-rested, I prefer to drive with some coffee (or tea) in hand. I even keep a stash of caffeinated gum. It may sound silly, but we received some Military Energy Gum as a baby shower gift and it really wakes me up. There are 100 mg of caffeine per piece, but I think the reason it helps keep me awake is the somewhat off-putting mint after taste. 

#10. Plan the TIME of your travel.  

We would leave in the morning after a good night’s rest.  However, as the girls got a little older I found that it was easier to make drives closer to bedtime.  They could sleep the whole way and I didn’t have to worry about giving them breaks to stretch their legs. Plus, I could get a full day at our destination instead of spending a large portion of that day traveling.  Definitely do what works best for your family.

#11. Pack in a sensible order –

Remember my near tragedy at Walgreens? Your packing order matters. You have to have the stroller in the back!  The stroller is one of easiest things to load first, but leave it out and throw it in last for quick and easy access.  And think about what you will need when you get to your destination. For instance, let’s say you are traveling around the holidays. Throw the presents in first, then the luggage, then play pens, and last the stroller. That way if you get in late, you can pull out the play pens to tuck the kids in before you even have to worry about the rest of the luggage. And by putting the non-urgent items like presents  in first, you can even leave them in the car and unload them the next morning.

#12. Make lists:

It can feel like a lot of planning to pack for a road trip and you don’t want to be 40 minutes from home and realize you forgot your trusty sound machine or beloved teddy bear. I use the Wunderlist app and it has saved my bacon on more than one occasion. Whatever you method, start your list early, check-it off as you go, and the night before refine your list of what remains to grab as the last-minute items.

All of these tips above have helped make my travel easier and I hope they make you feel more ready as well.  But all tips aside, my most important piece of advice regarding travel is do NOT shy away from it just because you have little kids. I think it is good for kids to learn to sit in a car. I think it’s good for them to learn to entertain themselves. And most importantly, I think it’s good for parents to get out of the house.  Good luck, adventure awaits!

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