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When preparing for the arrival of our son, I naively thought I’d just fly home with our newborn instead of endure the long, 14+ hour car ride back to my parents’ home in South Dakota. Reality: yeah, that didn’t happen.

  1. Plane tickets are expensive. I couldn’t get over the fact that it would cost way less to pay for gas, plus my husband could join us.
  2. I struggled trying to determine if I should purchase a ticket for my baby or not. You know those horror stories of babies dying because they were sitting on someone’s lap? It may not actually happen often (they saying flying is safer than driving, right?), but once the “momstincts” kicked in, there was no turning back, taking us right back to point number one.
  3. You still have to take a car seat for the drive home from the airport. And a stroller to get through changing gates at the airport. And a baby carrier to make holding an infant for so long easier. And bottles with pumped milk (I’m nervous and definitely not good enough at breastfeeding to do it in public…hello, peep show). And the baby’s diaper bag with something to aid in every possible scenario that could happen while confined in a very small plane cabin. And the list goes on. And on. And on.
  4. What if he cries and I can’t stop him?! Welcome to the list, anxiety.

And these are just a few of the many reasons I started to think of, leaving me with the dreaded solution of toughing it out in the car.

Related: How to Raise a Child Away from Family

So, being the way I am, I made a list of all the things we should take once we knew we were driving. I took extra bottles, my electric pump, my hand pump (refer to point number three and my irrational fear of public breastfeeding), way too many clothes for us all, way too much dog food for the dog, and way too much extra, well, crap.

I should also add that I drive a little Nissan Rogue. It’s a crossover, so it sits higher than a car and it might hold a little more than a regular-sized car, but it’s still small. Especially when trying to stuff it full of all the endless things I thought I needed.

However, in the midst of excess, I also discovered real gems to help us survive the trip.

So, from this all, (and having gone on another 4+ hour car trip since this mega trip), I have compiled a list of things actually useful for surviving a long road trip.

Items you actually need:

  • Your baby – duh!
  • Car seat
  • Your boobs – if breastfeeding; formula items if not. On our way up to SD, I pumped before each feeding and either my husband or I would feed our son at each stop. On the way home, I gave up on pumping and overcame my fear of public breastfeeding. So. Much. Easier. Pumping wasn’t bad, but then there were bottles and pump parts to clean – not an easy task when on the road.
  • Snacks and bottled waters – once baby is sleeping, you don’t stop. You have to pee? Too bad. You wait until the next stop when baby needs to eat. Plus, bringing a case of water along is waaaayyy cheaper than buying individual drinks at each stop. Ditto on the snacks.
  • Pacifier – lifeline item
  • Access to classical music – another lifeline item. We could make it a good 20+ more miles once he started fussing if we turned on the classical music. Pro Tip: the more you play classical music, the happier the baby. Seriously, this stuff worked wonders for us. I guess we’ll all become well-rounded and smarter together.
  • SwaddleMe swaddle blankets – MAJOR LIFELINE ITEM. These blankets are great. They have Velcro tabs, making swaddling in a car seat a piece of cake. Also, they have slits in the fabric covering the baby’s bottom to make the car seat buckle used between the legs accessible. So, lay the blanket in the car seat first, putting all the straps inside. Place your baby in the car seat and buckle him or her as normal, and then swaddle over the top of the straps. (Note: babies can get warm in car seats, so if you are swaddling your little one, dress him or her in a light, cool outfit.)

That’s it. That’s all you need for a long car trip. Learn from my mistakes: more isn’t always better. When we drove up to Kansas (our second major car trip with the baby), we could actually use our rear window. We didn’t have a bunch of junk blocking our view, making driving easier and safer. Plus, who wants to have to load and unload all that stuff, anyway??

Both on the trip up and the trip back, our baby was on a three hour schedule, almost to the minute. We left early in the morning, just after his 5:00 feeding, made it three hours on the road, stopped, fed him, changed him, re-swaddled with the pacifier, and drove another three hours. We were also fortunate to be able to stop in Kansas for an overnight stay both times, making it more like a 4.5 hour stretch, followed by a 10.5 hour stretch on the way there and vice versa on our way home. However, he handled it like a true champ, keeping us from losing our minds.

Another quick tip: in our case, trying to push through while he was screaming didn’t work. It was much better to take the extra time to stop and feed him, because usually after that, he’d fall asleep again or at least be content.

So, pacifier, swaddle blanket, and classical music. Good luck, mama!

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