Last fall, we took an exciting family road trip to Cincinnati for our family vacation. It was our first-ever road trip as a family of 4. Our children were ages 3 and 6 months.
This (long) post is a culmination of what I learned from our 4 family vacations when my kids were 3 and under.
To be honest, ever since we had kids, when my husband says he wants us to go on a vacation I get a slight headache as I think of alllll the things I must do in preparation for this exciting excursion.
As a mother, it is my job to smooth everything out. To ensure the comfort and nourishment of my family. Thus, I pack the snacks, bring all the items associated with comfort, hygiene, ect. It is my job to keep things flowing while we are away having adventures.
A does this too but his primary responsibility was driving so sometimes he was rather tired at the end of a traveling day. I don’t blame him…he often got the task of corralling our young son on top of that so yeah. Totally understand.
We had been on vacation with a baby before. J was 3 months old when we took our first family vacation. Between that and the other 2 challenging road trips we had, I felt more comfortable in my preparation.
Vacation #2…was when J was 1 1/2. We traveled over 2,000 miles. Half of it in a tour bus. Do not recommend a trip like that with small children btw. Vacation #3 was a total of 1,500 miles. You can read a bit about that vacation from this post.
Here are some items that I found to be indispensable on our trip. Following the lists I will share some travel tips.
Note: My daughter was exclusively breastfed at this time, and had just started solids. Let me say that compared to our vacation with my formula-fed son, this made things way easier. J was exclusively formula fed as a baby. More on my comparison on breastfeeding vs. formula here.
Alright on to the list.
Toddler + Baby On the Road: Must-Take Items
Food (Things We Actually Ate)
- several cases of water bottles
- diced peach cups in 100% juice
- whole wheat tortillas
- pretzel sticks
- granola bars
- baby food in jars or pouches, if your baby is eating solids. I kept bibs, spoons and baby food in a clear plastic shoebox.
**Fiber is very important! Lots of sitting in the car can really affect kids systems. I brought a few cans of black olives (and a can opener) and some baby carrots for J. But I forgot about the baby! I should have brought canned prunes!
- string cheese
- baby carrots
- chocolate milk (small bottles)
- juice boxes (partial pack in the cooler)
- half gallon of milk
- water bottles
Single servings of drinks were great. I often emptied them into a sippy cup for J. Or with juice, I mixed it half and half with water. We do this at home as well, to cut down on sugar.
For the cooler, we packed all of our ice packs, then when we got to our hotel, we put everything into the hotel mini-fridge. Stocked the cooler with ice before we left and froze the ice packs if we could.
Keep in mind, if you are nursing that you will need a heaping ton of water/beverages for yourself. Also if your baby is drinking formula, you will need extra bottled water as well.
Helpful Non-Food Items
- extra sippy cup(s)
- baby spoons
- plastic utensils (we ended up just needing spoons)
- dish soap
- Toys that interest baby. This will depend on age and the types of toys they love most at home. Eric Carle and Lamaze toys are brands we’ve loved.
- Toys that the toddler likes. We bought 1 or 2 toys from different places we went. J got a dinosaur grabber toy that he absolutely loved. Fun things that are durable and interesting are good. Toy cars, little figurines (big enough & safe, such as dinosaurs), small books.
Linens and Extra Clothes:
- Baby and toddler sweaters, if its that “in between” temperature/ season where you are going.
- Extra pairs of shoes (because toddlers love puddles).
- Big blanket.
- This has multiple uses: 1) prop baby’s head for a diaper change in the car. 2) use for impromptu picnic. 3) use as sun shade in the car (edge of the blanket in a partially open window, then roll it up and shut the blanket in).
- Hats for anyone that likes to wear hats, for sun protection in the heat. The baby wore a hat when we were spending a lot of time outdoors.
Other Miscellaneous Necessities:
- Half a box of diapers, kept in the bag. Stock the diaper bag with diapers so you don’t need to open it right away. For us, this was more than enough diapers for a week.
- As many wipes as you think you need. We took a few packs.
- A baby carrier was indispensable for us. It saves stroller space, keeps the baby happy too. Switch it up with your significant other, if you can so your back doesn’t go into spasms. Also, put some wipes in a ziplock and put this and a few diapers into the zipper pouch of your baby carrier, if it has one. Saves you from lugging a diaper bag, in some instances anyway.
- A kids safety harness. We have this one. I frowned on using one initially but realized that in some instances (like near open water) it did prevent a bigger mishap and give us added peace of mind.
- Any small pillows or comfort items for the kids.
- A pack and play for the baby to sleep in if you think you’ll need it. Honestly we didn’t bring one this time and just did co-sleeping. Which works for us at home as well. It depends on your preferences and storage space.
As for the actual traveling…yes, there will probably be hiccups. Our baby girl cried a lot because she hated not being held and confined to the car seat. Our son sometimes got worked into a frenzy too. We took breaks for bathroom, small walks/exercise and nursing.
A few pics from our vacation last October⤵⤵⤵
It helps to schedule downtime. An impromptu picnic, a trip to a local park. A place to get away from the noise and unwind. Those two things are some real examples and ended up being some of my favorite memories from our vacation.
If you can, schedule your hotel reservations ahead. This helps if you are staying in the same general area for a few days or so. We did this on our vacation and it made things so much easier. There is nothing quite as stressful as waiting around late at night while you try to find a suitable hotel room. Plan ahead and you will thank yourself for it. If you go with one particular hotel line you may be able to get a sizable discount after a certain number of days. I think we had 4 days paid and 1 day free.
Also, if you’re not keen on going out to eat a lot consider eating in. We did not eat out at all when we were on vacation. And by eat out, I mean at a sit-down restraunt, inside.
We got take out from places like Panara Bread and Bob Evans. Usually we just ordered online and my husband picked it up while I stayed at the hotel with the kids.
Routine is good too. Not too much, but enough to keep everyone steady. We liked to go out in the morning after breakfast, then in the afternoon as soon as our hotel room was ready we checked in and chilled out for a bit. Then we got supper, watched tv and maybe ventured out sometime around the supper hour.
One thing I wish we would have done was rented a stroller or cart at some of the places we went. Because the toddler will get tired of walking and want to be carried. And chances are the baby carrier may hurt your back at some point. A stroller would have been welcome relief, even if we didn’t use it the whole time.
That covers a lot of what I learned about traveling with small people. I think that each time I get just a little bit calmer about the whole process. It gets easier the more you do it 🙂
Happy travels with the babies!