Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Road trip baby seattle

Don't forget the tent on your solo road trip. Photo courtesy Jenna Vandenberg.

Have baby, will travel!

Road tripping tips from a mom who traveled solo across the country with her baby

When I had my first baby, I was a single parent with serious wanderlust. My little one and I traveled to 12 states during her first 12 months. Sometimes we took quick weekend jaunts, sometimes multi-week road trips. Here’s what I learned about solo road tripping with an infant.  

Road trip baby seattle

Who wouldn’t stop at the Rabbit Ears Motel? Photo courtesy Jenn Vandenberg

Stay at motels, not hotels

At a hotel, getting from your car to your room involves traipsing past an office, down a hallway, and riding up an elevator. Because you’ll have a kid strapped to your chest, it’ll take three trips just to get your suitcase, cooler and portable crib into the room. And you’ll probably leave something important in the car, which you’ll realize after the baby falls asleep. I once had to wake up my sleeping child because I’d left the bag with my contact solution and toothbrush in the car and was too paranoid to leave her alone in the room. At a motel, your car is right outside your door so you can deposit the baby in the room and then bring in the suitcase, cooler, diaper stash, crib, grocery bags and toiletries. 

Road trip baby seattle

Hitting up botanical gardens on the road. Photo courtesy Jenna Vandenberg.

Pack all your overnight essentials in one bag

 This eliminates the need to slink out to your car at night to retrieve your toothbrush. I have to admit that while this is excellent advice, I’ve never been able to do it myself. After two hours on the road, my car descends into a collection of bags, each carrying disparate essential items. You’ll be glad you did if you can pull it off.  

Don’t book lodging ahead of time

If you are afraid places will book up, or are positive you’ll make it to your destination, then book ahead. But if you’re traveling through a string of towns, flexibility is key. Suppose the baby falls asleep right before reaching your planned destination. Keep your foot on the accelerator and make it to the next town. On the other hand, if that screaming from the backseat isn’t going to end, waiting allows you to stop sooner than expected. When my daughter and I drove from Denver to San Francisco to Seattle, we hit our planned destinations about half the time. When she started her “I’m bored” scream an hour outside of Salt Lake City, I was glad I hadn’t booked a place in Utah’s capital. Instead, I spotted a camping sign, made a quick left turn, and pitched a tent on Strawberry Reservoir. She was happily crawling through the dirt moments later. 

Bring a tent

I hadn’t planned on camping between Denver and California, but luckily had thrown a tent in the car just in case. My daughter and I watched the sun set over the lake and ate snacks for dinner. The next morning I stopped in Salt Lake City to treat myself to a Starbucks with the money I’d saved by foregoing a motel. 

Road trip baby seattle
Eat picnics, not at restaurants

The last thing your baby will want to do after being strapped in a car seat is spend time in a high chair at a restaurant. Pack a cooler and find parks for meal stops.

Have food to last a day, and keep that fuel tank above the halfway point

You won’t want to wake the baby to get gas, and sometimes you won’t want to leave your motel (or campsite) for dinner. 

Join a nationwide fitness club where child care is included 

Without my jogging stroller, the best way for me to stay in shape while traveling is to stop at 24 Hour Fitness clubs along the way. There is a glorious rush of freedom when you hand off your kid mid-roadtrip. Or, consider planning a child-free afternoon for yourself mid-trip by Googling for daycares or nanny services in the area and asking about a daily rate. Or, set up a sitter for a day through services like Helpr, and Sittercity

Follow other parents posts

To figure out what to do with kids along the way, follow the Instragrams of families who live in places you are traveling. 

Never drive exhausted

Ever. Even if your baby is asleep and you are desperate to make up some miles. It’s not worth it. While we’re talking safety, consider these purchases: 

  • A well stocked first aid kit and plenty of extra water to keep in the car.
  • A roadside assistance plan like AAA.
  • Consider a satellite communicator like Garmin’s inReach. This device (once you purchase a monthly subscription) will allow you to text, email or even send out an SOS in non-cell areas. 
  • Consider using an app like Find My that will allow you to share your location with a friend or family member.
Enjoy the ride! 

Traveling with an infant gives you an excuse to stop every couple of hours at weird places you normally wouldn’t explore. I never would have discovered Dinosaur National Monument or picnicked near tiny Trout Lake or tasted pickle upside-down pie in Pie Town, New Mexico if it hadn’t been for my daughter.  

More at Seattle’s Child:

How to plan (and survive!) a summer family road trip”

About the Author

Jenna Vandenberg

Jenna Vandenberg is a Seattle-area writer, runner, mom of two, and high school teacher. Her service on a national book review committee keeps her happily surrounded in stories.