After the crazy year we had in 2020 of never really leaving home, we didn’t get to take our first road trip with our one year old until a few weeks ago when we made the 6.5-hour drive to visit my grandpa in Ohio. I’m not sure if we actually did things right or if we just got lucky with this particular road trip, but it went surprisingly well! Let’s talk about what we did to prepare for our road trip to make it as easy as possible for my husband and me, as well as for the little one.
I was a little nervous about how my son would do on a long trip since the longest he’d been in the car before this trip was about an hour at a time. It was the same trip my parents took my siblings and me on all the time when we were kids, but it was all new to Oliver and me as we took on the new challenge of taking this road trip with a one year old to care for.
I tried to think through what our basic routine was at home, what would need to be adapted, and what we just weren’t going to worry about at all. The major categories to consider were sleep, food, entertainment, and diapering. Babies and toddlers come with a lot of stuff and adding a road trip into the mix made it seem complicated, but we tried to essentialize the plan as much as possible.
Ultimately, I think the biggest point we had to remember was that this trip was just a few days. If our son’s sleep schedule or eating or anything else wasn’t as it normally was, these few days wouldn’t be a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
Right away I threw any semblance of a napping schedule on our car trips to and from Ohio into the “not going to worry about it” category. At 17 months, my son is down to one nap a day, which he takes right after lunch. I figured he’d nap in the car whenever the riding lulled him to sleep, so I had no plans to try to keep him awake until a certain time or to keep him from dozing off more than once a day.
On our road trip to our destination, he ended up sleeping for an hour before lunch and then again about 45 minutes before we arrived when I handed him a pacifier to keep him happy. On our way back home, he slept in the morning and again in the middle of the day. Both times it ended up working out fine and didn’t interfere with his nighttime sleep.
I cared a little more about my son’s sleeping while we were at my grandpa’s house, so I wanted to keep his sleep routine for naps and nighttime as familiar as possible. We packed his pack & play crib, his sound machine, his sleep sack, and his stuffed bear. Between having those comfort items, still rocking him to sleep like we do every night, and a lot of prayer, sleep went better than expected! He slept through the night, and our only issue was that due to the difference in time zones and daylight, he was a pretty early riser each morning.
Our son has been a little pickier with food lately than he has been in the past, but all things considered, I think he’s still a pretty great eater. (I attribute a lot of that to baby-led weaning.) I knew he’d probably do okay with eating, so I didn’t worry too much about this. We considered bringing a booster seat, but ultimately it made the most sense for us to disassemble his IKEA high chair and bring it with us. It takes maybe two minutes to take apart or put together, and it took up very little space in my trunk!
Besides the high chair, we packed the basics: one silicone pocket bib, one straw cup (which I forgot the straw for…), one bottle for the milk I pumped, one open cup for meals, and one silicone plate. I packed a container of puff snacks, and my mom picked up some bananas for him while we were there because that boy loves fruit. My husband also picked up a half gallon of whole milk for him once we got there.
I knew once we arrived at my grandpa’s house, my son would have no trouble with finding ways to entertain himself, which definitely ended up being the case. A change of scenery and a new house to explore was plenty of entertainment for him! I definitely wanted to pack some of his favorite books to read (I only managed to narrow this down to eight books because he and I are both serious book lovers and I couldn’t bring fewer than that.), but my main focus for toys was small things that he could play with in the car.
I packed a tote bag to keep in the front seat with me, which held our road trip snacks, all his books, my e-reader, and some small toys. If he started to get fussy, I’d just grab a toy out of the bag to hand back to him. Often, the problem wasn’t so much that he needed a new toy but that he’d dropped whatever he’d already been playing with and wanted it back. This was the primary job of the parent in the passenger seat, who always happened to be me because I’d rather throw out my back reaching for dropped playthings for hours on end than be the driver.
We don’t use a ton of electronic toys on a regular basis, but we had one I’d been saving in the closet specifically for a road trip so it could be new to him and as entertaining as possible. That seemed to work for him. I also threw in a teether toy, a maraca, a cloth book, a baby mirror, and the stuffed Curious George who is always his travel companion even if we’re only headed to the grocery store. I was glad to have all the other toys as diversions when he began to get fussy (which thankfully was rare and short-lived), but for the majority of the time he was perfectly happy snuggling George.
We use cloth diapers, and I did consider buying disposable diapers just for the trip, but since we were going to have access to a washer and dryer, we decided just to stick with cloth! If you cloth diaper, this information may be helpful. I packed just enough diapers in the diaper bag to get us through our time in the car and packed the rest in my suitcase. We washed a load of diapers once while we were at my grandpa’s house, and then we had plenty of clean diapers to return home with. The whole process worked almost exactly as it does while we’re home, with the exception of us not having access to our diaper sprayer while we were away. To address that issue, I just brought some disposable diaper liners with us so we didn’t have to worry about number two.
Aside from all of that, we packed his clothes, toiletry items, and some Tylenol for teething, and we never felt like we lacked anything. We really enjoyed our trip, and our son traveled like a champ! I’d call our very first road trip with a one year old a success.
If you’re here from Pinterest or Instagram because you’re also planning a road trip with a one year old, I think the biggest things that helped us were packing the familiar comfort items that would help our little one feel at home and releasing our grasp on trying to make our road trip schedule look exactly like our schedule at home. Changing up the schedule a bit for just a few days was fun, and I don’t think I’d change a thing!