Once of my all-time favourite trips that we’ve taken as a family was a month-long road trip through Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) that we did when Isabelle was 11-months-old. Road trips and babies don’t really go all that well together (especially with the majorly-car-averse babies that I seem to produce), but my wanderlust self was determined to make it happen and so we did. And I’m so glad we didn’t let having a baby stop us from going! Some of my favourite travel memories are from this trip, from the stunning scenery, to the beautiful architecture (and interior design!), to the friendly locals who just adored Isabelle.
We started out in Munich, drove up to northern Germany to visit family for a few days, and then headed up to Denmark from there. That’s over 10,000 kilometres of driving with a fussy baby over the course of a month! There was a lot of trial-and-error to figure out what worked and what didn’t but, by the end of the 4 weeks, we felt like we were really in a groove and could have stayed for a whole extra month.
Here are some tips and tricks I learned on this trip as well as several others we’ve undertaken before and since then.
[ 1 ] Pick a scenic route and make sure the passenger side has the beautiful views
Let’s face it, the days of stopping every 10 minutes to jump out and take the perfect picture are over. Babies and young toddlers are not going to like the constant stopping and starting, especially if you need to take them out of their car seats only to put them back in 5 minutes later. Plan your trip with that in mind and drive your route so that most of the views happen to fall on the passenger side of the car. (So if you’re thinking of doing a Scandinavian road trip, drive north along the Swedish coast, across to Norway, and back south down the Norwegian coast.)
(All of the landscape photos in this post were taken by me with my SLR camera whilst my husband was driving. I shot at a really high shutter speed so he didn’t have to slow down and so we wouldn’t lose any precious driving time because of my incessant picture taking. Haha.)
[ 2 ] Drive during nap time
If your babies are anything like mine, being in a car is not their favourite past-time. So driving has always been restricted to nap times. The best strategy for us to maximize travel time was to start driving a little ahead of nap time, early enough to get a good 20-30 minutes in before Isabelle passed out but not too early that she resisted getting into the car. And once Isabelle woke up, we would ignore her as long as possible (sounds harsh but the second we acknowledged her she’d want out of her seat for snuggle time) so as to get in an extra few minutes of quiet driving time. With her still napping two times a day, this allowed for up to four or five hours of solid driving!
[ 3 ] Have the passenger jump out while the driver keeps driving
For those absolutely essential stops that happen to fall right at the beginning or middle of nap time, consider having the passenger jump out to get a few snaps. I did that recently in Iceland because the kids had just fallen asleep. My dad let me out with my camera and we planned for him to be back 10 minutes later. I did a quick run around of the place and took a few photos and I’m so glad I did because it really was a stunning spot that we unfortunately couldn’t see from the road.
[ 4 ] Pack lots of snacks
Food, rather than toys, has always worked best for both of my kiddos. Extend a nap drive with an in-car post-nap snack – something easy to hold, not a choking hazard, and that takes a bit of time to get through (think rice crackers, mum mums, etc.).
[ 5 ] Pick routes with lots of potential places you could stop for an hour or two
Because you never know how long your littles will last before they want to get out, plan any longer driving stretches with loads of potential stopping points. This way you always have a nearby option when a meltdown happens (or is about to happen) in the car. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just somewhere you can get out, stretch your legs, and – if you can swing it – find somewhere with a playground or something similarly interesting to older babies and toddlers to let out some of their energy (near water is always a good option).
[ 6 ] Consider using a rear-facing convertible seat rather than an infant bucket seat for fussy car riders
If your baby isn’t a big fan of the infant bucket seat and is old enough to go into a (rear-facing!) convertible (some can even take newborns), consider using one for your road trip. Both of my kids became infinitely happier in the car once we switched to more upright rear-facing convertible seats. I’m guessing it has to do with them being a bit higher up and being able to actually look out the window rather than staring at black leather for hours on end.
[ 7 ] Book your accommodations ahead of time
Since you need to be pretty flexible when doing a road trip with a baby, this might seem counter productive. But the last thing you want to do when you’ve got a fussy baby who’s had just about enough time in the car is search for a baby-friendly hotel or guest house. Do yourself a favour and plan your accommodations ahead of time. It’s better to shorten your daily driving times to make sure you’ll be able to reach each location and have a baby-friendly place to stay overnight.
[ 8 ] Book an apartment or house, if you can
If your budget allows, try and get an apartment or house that includes a kitchen and, if possible, a separate bedroom. If that’s not an option, try and find a hotel that at least has a good common area and bring a baby monitor (request a room nearby so your monitor will work and you can run back to the room quickly). That way you have somewhere to sit and unwind at the end of the day, watch a movie, anything really but sitting silently in the pitch-dark hotel room so as not to wake baby up.
[ 9 ] Consider night drives for any long stretches
If there’s no getting around a long stretch of driving, night time driving might be an option. If you’re lucky you’ll get several hours of straight driving in (although it’s not as fun for pretty scenery) and, in my experience, car to bed transfers are still doable when it hasn’t been more than half of their night. Don’t drive too much though! You need your sleep as well.
[ 10 ] Change your car’s air filter
Did you know that the air inside your vehicle can be up to 6 times dirtier than the air outside? That definitely doesn’t sound great when you’re on a road trip with your precious cargo and spending countless hours in the car. The cabin air filter inside your car cleans the air entering the vehicles interior of dust, dirt, and allergens so it’s a good idea to replace your filter from time to time – FRAM recommends annually or every 24,000km, but make sure to follow recommended change intervals as noted in your vehicle owner’s manual. (We raked up over 10,000 km on our Scandinavia road trip alone!) Replacing a cabin air filter also maximizes airflow, which helps make your heating, defrosting, and A/C more efficient. Sounds pretty good to me!
Now, if you’re anything like me you ( a ) had no idea your car had a cabin air filter, ( b ) have no idea where it’s located, and ( c ) definitely have no idea how to install said air filter into your car. Not to worry, I’ve got you covered! And, from one newbie to the next, it was a lot easier to do than I expected.
[ Step 1 ] Buy a FRAM filter at your local Canadian Tire store. The automotive department is definitely not where I usually hang out (I’m more of a paint and cleaning supplies kind of Canadian Tire shopper), but it was easy to find as everything is well marked and they had an entire aisle dedicated to FRAM filters. Cabin air filters are in the green boxes, engine air filters are in the red boxes. Make sure you grab both!
Optional: bring along your crabby three-year-old who wasn’t happy to be woken up from her car nap, especially when mom requested a picture.
[ Step 2 ] Find the location of the cabin air filter in your car. (Hint: Read the instructions that come with the filter. There are also super handy video tutorials on the FRAM website. Just select your vehicle make and model and it will take you to the appropriate video and PDF instructions. Easy peasy!)
[ Step 3 ] Pull on the latch to open the cavity where the filter is installed.
[ Step 4 ] Fully remove the cover (lift up and out) and set it aside.
[ Step 5 ] Remove the old filter. This might require a bit of pulling or pinching of the existing filter to completely remove it.
Here’s a side by side comparison of the new filter (left) and the old filter (right). Um, gross. And our car had only had the filter exchanged at the last inspection in spring this year.
[ Step 6 ] Pinch the filter on each side to make the install easier. Make sure you line up the filter so that the arrow for ‘AIR FLOW’ points from the front to the back of your car – that is the way it should sit in your car once fully installed.
[ Step 7 ] Insert the filter and push it in all the way. It may take a bit of wiggling to get the filter fully into the cavity.
[ Step 8 ] Close the filter cavity with the cover that you unlatched in Steps 3 and 4.
Next up was the engine filter. I definitely waited for my hubby to come home from work for this part because I’ve only ever opened the hood of a car to add wiper fluid and even that makes me super nervous (don’t ask me why). It was just as easy to swap out the engine filter as the cabin air filter though – just follow the instructions in the box. A dirty engine filter can contribute to decreased acceleration and horsepower, definitely not something the German in me wants (no good for zooming around the autobahn, wink wink).
That’s it! Now you just need to pack your suitcase, grab your little(s), and head off on your once-in-a-lifetime road trip!