Baby’s First Road Trip: A Crash Course in Traveling with a Two-Month-Old

Last week, we returned home from our holiday trip to Pensacola Florida, where Lillian got to meet her dad’s side of the family for the first time. (For a glimpse of what we were up to down there, check out my posts about our four-generetion photo shoots and Lily’s opportunity to try out the antique family bassinet.) This was the first time we’ve left the Chicagoland area since Lillian was born, and now that it’s over, I thought I would share some reflections on what it was like to travel across the country with a two-month-old baby.

First of all, we decided to make the 900+ mile trip by car instead of by plane. This was for various reasons, some better than others:

  • It’s how we’ve always done it. Since the first year we were together, Joe and I have been making the trip down to visit his family by car in a single-day mad dash, and I’ve driven it so many times that I swear I can get from Chicago to Pensacola and back without even looking at a map. (Or, you know, the newfangled GPS equivalent.)
  • Concerns about germs and stuff. Even though the whole “recycled air causes diseases in planes” thing is a myth, you’re pretty likely to get coughed / sneezed / breathed on when packed into close quarters with a hundred strangers — and a sick baby at Christmas is the last thing anyone wants.
  • No desire to deal with TSA security theater. I’ve flown on only two occasions since 9/11, and found that it’s enough of a pain getting through airport security without a baby and baby paraphernalia to worry about.
  • The ear-popping pressure changes. These tend to be pretty uncomfortable for both Joe and me, especially during landings, and we weren’t too keen on subjecting Lily to them at this age if we could avoid it.
  • There’s no such thing as a direct flight from Chicago to Pensacola. So all of the plane-related unpleasantries listed above would have to be dealt with twice each way.

Money-wise, it worked out about the same: gas for the entire trip ended up costing $178 (one of the benefits of driving a hybrid), but we knew it would be nearly impossible to make the trip in a single day with a baby onboard. So we opted to stay in a hotel overnight halfway there, in Bowling Green Kentucky on the way down and Nashville Tennessee on the way back home. The money spent on the hotel rooms would have eaten up any savings over flying, although since Joe’s mom generously provided the hotel costs both ways, it didn’t end up stinging the wallet quite so bad.

So how difficult was it traveling across the country with a two-month-old baby? Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hard as we might’ve feared.

Lillian all buckled up in her car seat.

Being in the car seat seems to lull Lillian right to sleep — which I hear is pretty common for babies — although after about eight straight hours of travel, she does start to get pretty fussy.

We had to stop every three hours or so for feedings. For preparing the formula, we filled the baby bottles with pre-measured amounts of purified water, and carried pre-measured amounts of powered formula in a formula dispenser like this one. Then we’d just mix powder with water and shake it up — usually while still driving — whenever it seemed like Lily was starting to get fussy and hungry.

The feedings themselves each took about 30 minutes, though it was longer if we lingered a bit to play and interact with Lillian before buckling her back into the car seat and continuing on the road. It was cute how she seemed to really like the fuzzy red dice hanging from our rearview mirror.

Our fuzzy dice are 20-sided because we're nerds that way.

Diaper changes also turned out to be less difficult than I’d expected — we ended up being able to do them all right there in the car, saving us the trouble of hunting for changing tables at rest stops and whatnot. It also saved us the need to take Lily out of the car when we were further north, which was nice because it was about 20 degrees in Chicago as we were getting back into town.

And our first hotel stay with a baby turned out to be pretty nice. On both the way there and the way back, we stayed at Drury Inns, and with the exception of a small snafu with our registration on the way down, we had no complaints. The rooms were big and spacious, there were free hot breakfasts in the mornings, and they provided a nice sturdy crib for Lily both times.

Our hotel room at Drury Inn on the trip home.

Depending on the room configuration, we would try to position the crib so that Lily could have her own quiet little corner or alcove, and I think that may have helped her sleep a little.

Other highlights: While we were down in Florida, Lillian ended up getting so many presents for Christmas that we had a hard time getting them all to fit into the car. And on the way home, it snowed on and off pretty much from Kentucky onward.

Anyway, that’s the story of our first experience taking a family road trip with Lillian onboard. For anyone reading, have you had any interesting experiences traveling with a baby — whether by car, plane, train, bus, dogsled, etc.? I hear that these trips get a lot more interesting once they’re old enough to ask, “Are we there yet?” Heh heh, so much to look forward to in the not-too-distant future…

6 Comments

  1. It does sound like the trips down and back were good ones. When we first heard you all were coming, we were concerned about that. Even though we were all so excited about seeing you and Joe and meeting Lillian, we didn’t want you all to feel obligated to come if you didn’t feel it was feasible with a two-month-old. We are so glad that you were able to make it, though. The holidays were simply wonderful!

    Yes, the next few years of traveling will be interesting, but if you make sure she has plenty of things to entertain her on the way (books, coloring and activity books, toys, etc.), you should be fine. Love you all so much!

  2. My most interesting tale of “travels with baby” do not have anything to do with MY kids, for once. My first year of college was in Northern Mississippi, and a teacher at my mother’s school had family up there. She asked for a lift when I was going up, and she had a baby who was about 9 or 10 months old. I drove a VW Beetle, so between my things, her things and the baby’s, that car was PACKED. Well, every time the baby fussed, she popped a bottle in his mouth, formula, juice, water, she had about a dozen. Next thing we know, his diaper was not only soaking, but so was his outfit, right out to the snowsuit. So here we are, on a freezing roadside, she has to dig out fresh everything, and asks me to hold her naked except for a fresh diaper baby. Did I mention she was a PE teacher, the big strapping kind? That was THE squirmiest child ever, and I think he wanted to run away into the woods. I wound up gripping him like a strait jacket; it was like wrestling a bear! Point to the story – STOPPING to feed your child a bottle, so you can check his diaper!

  3. Hehe, thanks for that story! We’ve also learned the hard way that it’s a good idea to stop for the feedings, based on that one time she spit up the entire bottle all over her car seat. After that, we didn’t even dare to try it on a cross-country road trip. :)

  4. In order to avoid the “Are we there yet?” question when we’d go to Orlando, we always left with you kids at night. We’d have dinner somewhere, and you’d settle down to sleep. Your dad and I would take turns driving, but we’d drive straight through so by the time you woke up we’d almost be there. You’d have your little sketch pads, stuffed animals, whatever to keep you occupied in the van. None of you ever had any real trouble traveling.

  5. I just wanted to tell you that you should look into car seat safety. I’m not trying to be rude, but when your child is rear facing in the infant seat, the chest clip needs to be at the chest. Also those belts are not tight enough. The baby trend car seat also requires the handle to be down and clicked into the first setting. I can tell it’s down, but not clicked. You should take your seat to your local fire department or police station. They can help you install it properly.

    Thanks for the read.

    • Thanks for the tips and suggestions, Siddhi! Since this post was written over a year ago we’re already past the infant car seat stage, but other parents might benefit from the reminder to check those little things they may not even notice they’re doing wrong, and where to get assistance with car seat installation and safety if they need it.

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