Planes. Trains. Automobiles? Of all the modes of transports we’ve embarked upon with (Now) Miss One, car transport has been – scout’s honour – the most challenging. Our shortest car journey is to the supermarket (yes, when she was a newborn, we’d avoid the one set of red lights on the 2 minute journey) and our longest is four hours (it took 6.5!) to visit Mr Travel Tales’ parents.
Yes, some babies take to travelling in vehicles like new parents take to strong coffee; but in my experience, you just never know what kinda baby you’re going to meet (even if you’ve carried him/her for nine months!). Car travel certainly falls into the challenge category for us. Here is what we’ve learnt. May these tips help you get to where you need to be:
BEFORE YOU GO
- Be Prepared
As soon as pull out from the curb, anything can happen. A newborn can suddenly be hungry. A sleepy baby can suddenly perk right up. A toddler can suddenly practice saying ‘ba’ over and over and …. over. Perhaps this appeals to my nature, but: BE PREPARED. Have food, water, toys, music, entertainment ideas, sunshades, blankets … everything you can think of within arms reach so that you can apply them if needed. Because you probably will. Kids are unpredictable, no?
- Go With The Flow
If possible, try not to travel in a car with a baby to a deadline. Give yourself some ‘fat’ in your schedule, some leeway in your expectations, some room to move. Unexpected stops happen with a baby (‘you’re hungry again?!’) and not having the freedom to stop adds pressure, stress … and a crying baby if you HAVE to keep moving. When we travel by car we try to avoid relying on her cooperation in the car to meet a flight, or be at an event (eg. a wedding), or visit a landmark. It’s less stressful for everyone, and usually if you have time up your sleeve you have no delays. Why is it that things go awry when you don’t have the minutes available to address them?!
ON THE ROAD
- Make Miles While The Baby Sleeps
Move during your little one’s naps – this is not a secret strategy, but if it hasn’t occurred to you yet, do it. If your tiny human is irregular with their sleep habits, I hope that the car is lovely lull for your baby so that you can get moving without the advantage of knowing when your baby us ready to shut their eyes. If you do have the luxury of standard sleep schedules, take it.As (Now) Miss One has grown, our strategy of WHEN during the day to drive has changed: as a newborn, we hit the road early (when she was freshest and most amenable to travel); yet as an almost-toddler we hit the road during her lunch nap (for trips up to two hours), or at the beginning of her night sleep (for trips more than two hours, and re-settle her from car to cot at our destination). Know your baby and take the road when you feel they would be most acceptable of the challenge of being confined to a chair.
- Going Long? Go Small. In Bits.
If you are facing a journey that is longer than your child’s average nap, you could just cross your fingers and go for it – OR, you can break your journey into sections that suits your baby’s nap schedule. We’ve tried both.The most significant example I have is travelling from Sydney to Jervis Bay (3 hours; 1.5 hours longer than what Miss 8 Months was napping at the time). We opted for the ‘cross your fingers’ method on the way there. It worked – but then the baby was awake ALL DAY, over stimulated by the afternoon, and more difficult to wind down for her evening sleep. On our return, we worked in a stop (Kiama), on purpose. We had to wake her when we arrived. By stopping in Kiama for lunch and a play, it was more in sync with her naps and upon our return to Sydney we were faced with a regular dinner-bath-bed routine (rather than the battle we had from the aforementioned ‘cross your fingers’ approach). I know which I’d pick.
- Get Your Baby In The Zone
Babies love familiarity and hate change. That’s what I’ve learnt. So, knowing this, make the car a place your child feels at home – bring toys (including if you a renting a car), car mirror, and music that are from home. Don’t underestimate how much this might help your baby feel comfortable in her unusual surroundings.
YOU MADE IT
We wouldn’t be the first parents to sing and clap our hands excitedly as we took the final exit to our destination – both to keep the baby happy for those last few kilometres and to celebrate our arrival! It can be unexpected, it can be hard – but once you arrive road travel is WORTH IT. Enjoy your adventure!