New Dad Action Plan: The Road Trip
Road tripping can be a very viable option for parents with small children, especially those that know that their child would be a nightmare on a four hour flight, or those with smaller vacation budgets (even with gas prices as high as they are). They can be planned relatively quickly and in most parts of the United States they can be done year round. A road trip can be a fun long weekend, a holiday trek to grandma and grandpaís house, or a two week long adventure. No matter the length of the trip if you plan on taking a road trip with a small child there will be tons of things that youíll need to do in preparation. Iím going to talk about some of what I think are the more important prep must-dos.
First you have to ask yourself: Is my child a car kid? Car kids tend to be able to sit comfortably in their car seats for extended periods of time. They like to look out the window while in motion and are generally content to be in the car. If your kid is also chatty and full of smiles while riding along, you are the parent of a car kid.
Another type of car kid, which in my opinion is just as good as good as the one I previously mentioned, is the one that falls asleep once the car starts moving no matter the amount of sleep he had the previous night or how many naps he had that day. If your child is not a car kid, your biggest concerns on this road trip will be distance and destination.
Some kids, with the appropriate bribes (usually crackers, juice, milk, cookies and good entertainment), can go for long distances, often up to 12 hours of driving in a day, with little effort so long as there are several stops for leg stretching and short walks. Others peak at about half that time and thatís fine too. Thatís what layovers and shorter trips are for. So choose wisely how far you plan to go and base it on you childís temperament as well as what youíd like to see on the trip, because at the end of the day itís your road trip, your kidís just coming along for the ride.
In order to make sure you have the right bribes handy while on the road you and your co-parent must efficiently pack your childís diaper bag. You can put this chore off until the night before the trip as long as you purchased all of the essentials in advance. Diapers themselves will probably need a separate bag because youíll be in the world for several days. Donít be afraid to just throw a pack of 26 to 52 diapers in the trunk and call it a trip.
You may even want to consider bringing a few over night diapers for the road. They will not only come in handy at night, but they also tend to take a longer time to fill up and the good ones will keep your kid dry longer than a regular diaper and may allow you to push it through a couple of extra rest stops while on the road. Fill the diaper bag itself with the typical baby stuff like a few loose diapers, wipes, powder and a change of clothes which will allow you to avoid opening the babyís suitcase until you reach your destination. Pile the bag with as many snacks as you can because odds are that you, New Dad, are going to be occasionally dipping in the bag for yourself even if you brought your own snacks.
You should store all of the non essential baby stuff, like lotion, soap, and hair products in the suitcase in your trunk. It is a good idea to bring a soft baby bathtub mat if you are staying at a hotel. Donít forget to bring a cooler big enough to store and keep cold a half gallon of milk, juice, water, and a few sodas for you and your wife or co-parent. And if you have room the best place for your cooler will be on the floor of the backseat where your co-pilot can reach it. You can always refill the cooler with ice for free when you get to the hotel. Pack a few gallons of fluoride baby water if you use powder formula for your little road tripper.
Whether the destination is grandmaís house, a hotel, or both, your child will likely take a while to adjust to her new surroundings. If grandma doesnít have a crib handy and you donít want to risk the kid getting used to sleeping with you, you may want to consider bringing a portable playpen to double as play and rest area. This may come in handy even at hotels that offer cribs because hotel cribs tend to be smaller and shallower than standard cribs and they may not be appropriate for some toddlers. Many companies make portable playpens, but they are not all created equal. Some are deeper and wider, some fold flat, others more compact, either way do your homework before you buy and determine whatíll work for you.
When you reach your destination forget about the babyís regular bedtime, New Dad, no matter how tired you are. Over-stimulation is a strong possibility, especially if you are staying at a hotel for the first time, and your child may be ready to have some fun after the long ride. Let your child explore his new temporary home, but always keep a keen eye on him. Lamps and electrical outlets are usually easily accessible. If you are lucky the child will tire quickly and fall asleep before too long. Getting infants to bed on road trips is often as easy as a warm bottle.
Remember, no one knows your child better than you. Modify my advice as you see fit, consult with your co-parent if you have one, and have a great road trip!