Make sure your baby's car seat is the right size and that it's properly installed. "Only 80 percent of child safety seats are installed correctly," says Dr. Christopher Ryder, author of Take Your Pediatrician with You. Hospitals, pediatrician's offices, fire departments, and police stations often hold car seat installation checks to teach parents how to properly install their child's car seat.
Be prepared to keep Baby busy by packing all the food you might possibly need, an assortment of toys, books, and any other items your baby is attached to. Bring Baby's favorite music or a CD of nursery rhymes. If you're traveling alone with Baby, keep your bag of tricks handy so you can reach over and hand it to the baby when needed. A packing checklist will come in handy.
Drive when it's most likely Baby will sleep for a duration of the trip, if possible. Crystal Drennan, a mom from Utah, says she took a five-hour road trip to Idaho with her baby. "We left at bedtime," she says. "I bathed him, gave him a sippy cup, put him in the car, and he slept the whole way."
Bring along soft, appropriate toys. Experts say anything in a car becomes a weapon during an accident because of the high speed of travel. Do not give your child heavy objects in car rides such as clunky toy trains or toys with sharp edges. Or consider buying a toy that attaches to Baby's car seat.
"Get one of those additional rearview mirrors that permit you to view your child in the back seat, so you can read body signals and respond proactively," says Bob Lancer, author of Parenting with Love, who also suggests bringing another adult on the trip when possible. "For longer trips it is not only helpful, but safe to have a grown passenger whose primary task is to keep the baby occupied," Lancer says.
Aside from plenty of diapers, toys, and snacks, you should pack a first aid kit customized for Baby needs. Your kit will vary according to how many children you have and their ages, but you should include basic instruments and supplies, such as tweezers, scissors, a thermometer, medicine dropper, disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, bandages, gauze, and tape.
You should also include medicine for fever and pain, such as acetaminophen drops; allergy, cough and cold medications (depending on age), such as saline nose drops and Benadryl liquid for children over 6 months; medications for constipation and diarrhea; basic first aid creams and ointments, such as diaper rash ointment, antibacterial ointment, hydrocortisone cream, aloe vera gel for sunburns; and insect repellant.
Dr. Ryder also suggests packing your pediatrician's phone number, the US Poison Control phone number (1-800-222-1222), medical insurance cards, and Baby's medical records (names of any medications he's taking, allergies, details of chronic illnesses, etc.).
Avoid feeding Baby in the car seat while on the road. All too quickly babies can choke, even when drinking a bottle or out of a sippy cup. It's best to pull over when Baby is ready to eat or needs a drink. (And think how much cleaner your car will be!) Also, it's always good to know infant CPR, so consider taking a class before leaving on your trip.
As always, do not drink and drive and avoid medications that might impair your ability to drive, such as allergy medications and sleeping pills.
According to Lancer, the first key of a successful road trip is to stay calm. "Any tension in the car translates into baby stress," says Lancer, who explains that taking charge of children begins with taking charge of yourself first. "If the child does become upset, do not allow that to cause you to be upset."
"Road accidents are the No. 1 cause of deaths on vacation, both at home and abroad," Dr. Ryder says. "Do not plan to drive in a foreign country right after a long flight when you are exhausted and jet-lagged—you may be driving on the 'wrong' side of the road, on less than ideal roads and in an unfamiliar vehicle."