“Making Memories One Campsite at a Time” was written in golden calligraphy on the front cover of the notebook. I picked it up. One day, it would be filled with photographs and stories for my newborn daughter. When I showed it to my husband, we both felt the sudden call. It was time to hit the open road and get lost in nature.
Yup – we decided to travel cross country with our 3-month-old daughter.
My daughter was born in the summer of 2022, a few months into the global pandemic. My husband was working from home and we decided to take advantage of this extra time. We loved camping in our converted minivan , but my mommy sense told me that a converted minivan would not work well with a newborn.
So, we bought a camper.
Yellowstone or Bust! – My Cross-Country RV Trip with a Newborn Baby
Our new-to-us Springdale mini was the perfect size for the two of us, our dog, a baby, and everything that I thought we needed. Our camper, which I named “Dale,” was a complete impulse buy. He popped up on Facebook Marketplace and before we knew it – bam! – we were driving two hours to pick him up! It actually took a few YouTube videos to learn how to even hook Dale to our Ford Edge (which is NOT rated for towing that much weight, I confess).
Turns out, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. With a wanderlust heart desperately searching for something that reminded me of who I used to be, a rough road trip map from central Illinois to Yellowstone National Park, a loaded down Saab (which was, thankfully, rated to tow the camper), and a very anxious new mom, we headed west.
We never made it to Yellowstone.
Turns out it gets much colder in Montana in October than we had originally thought. After two weeks of westward travel, we did end up in the Black Hills of South Dakota and we loved it so much we decided to stay there a few extra days before turning around and heading home.
While this trip was not completed, it was not a total fail. We learned on this trip what works for us and our daughter and prepared us for many more road-trips.
Since then, my daughter has been camping quite a few times. We have added over 10 states to her “visited” map and enjoyed a camping road trip from central Illinois up to Copper Harbor in the UP, then down the Mackinac bridge, through mountain Michigan, and back home.
So what do you need to know about camper travel with an infant?
No worries, I made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to! Below, find my tips and tricks on how to have a smooth and memorable road trip with your newborn.
My Tips for Setting Up Yourself (and the Baby) For Success
My number one tip for traveling with an infant? LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS.
Lower Your Expectations – No, Seriously
Everyone knows when they have a baby, they need to lower their expectations of what they can accomplish in a day. This rings even truer when traveling and camping. Nothing ever really goes as planned, especially when traveling or when it comes to babies.
After all, you are just learning how to be a mom, your baby is just learning to be human, and your relationship may be a bit rocky. Everyone is sleep deprived and, honestly, most people would think you a bit crazy to try to wrangle a newborn and camper trailer.
While you can’t control everything, both in life and in motherhood, here are some tips for setting yourself up for success.
Bring the Right Equipment
Bringing the right equipment while not overpacking is a sweet spot.
- We’ve all tried to take the whole house with us when we leave with our smaller infants (hence why we bought a camper), but you most likely do not need a bouncer, exersaucer, and tummy time mat. All babies really need is a safe and modern car seat, nourishment, clothes, diapers, and somewhere to sleep.
- First aid kits are a MUST for anyone camping, but when an infant is involved, you’ll need to be sure you have the proper medication on hand. We packed Children’s Benadryl, Tylenol, and ibuprofen in addition to ice packs, bandaids, deet free bug spray, anti itch cream, and diaper rash cream. Check with your pediatrician for doses and for babies under 2.
- A jogging stroller and baby wearing sling or backpack are super helpful to have. My daughter loved her stroller naps as we strolled through some of the easier trails and the sling was great to free up my hands.
Relax, You’re on RV Time!
- Plan breaks from driving as babies and toddlers need to get out of their car seats every 2 hours. Find a nice park or rest area to pull over, change, feed, and give your baby time to move around.
- Improvise. We realized we forgot our baby bathtub, so instead, our daughter got baths in the camper sink! This only worked because she was so small, but even the shower in the camper has a small bathtub which works great these days.
Feeding Baby on the Go
Feeding babies on a road trip requires a little bit more planning than feeding adults.
My daughter was bottle fed breast milk, meaning I had to be sure I had my breast pump and places to store the milk. We invested in a car outlet that allowed me to plug in my pump and pump on the go during long drives. If you are pumping and storing breast milk, a small cooler in the car is a great place to store your milk until you can put it in your camper fridge. If you can’t afford the 12V fridge/freezers, just get a 12V thermoelectric cooler.
For formula fed babies, clean bottled water is a must and very important to keep on hand. Babies tend to take to one type of formula so if your little bub is a picky drinker, be sure to stock up on at least one extra can of their preferred brand. You never know what the local stores will have in stock (thanks for nothing, COVID).
Older infants that have started solids and purées will require even more planning.
- Jarred baby food does not need to be refrigerated until opened, so stock up your cupboards!
- On the go, mashed avocados and sweet potatoes make a great snack.
- My daughter loves cereal so we always make sure to have a baggie handy for stops during the drive.
Baby-Proofing the Camper
Yep, you read that right. Just as you would baby proof your home, it is important to make your camper space safe and comfortable for the baby.
Luckily, campers tend to be smaller than houses, so it requires less area to be concerned about. If your baby is not crawling, I would not worry too much about baby proofing, just be sure to keep an eye on them if there are any bedding or benches that are off the ground. They roll quickly!
- Always be sure the door to the camper is closed tightly! You do not want Baby to pull up and lean on the door just to have it open.
- We also removed our shoes outside the camper to avoid tracking in dirt and other gross things as the baby played on the floor.
- We brought along a play mat to avoid her being directly on the floor.
My camper drawers had a stop in them that required you to press down on them to open fully. This was all the baby proofing we did for the drawers. We made sure to keep any extension cords, cleaning supplies, or tools out of her reach. The bathroom door was always shut when not in use. My daughter was not walking or I would have invested in a way to make sure she couldn’t open it.
Things to consider when baby-proofing your camper:
- The age of your baby and their personal development will change how you baby proof. A mobile baby is a curious thing, get down on their level and see what baby sees. You will be amazed at all the things we would otherwise miss.
- Try switching to organic and chemical free cleaners. This makes the area safer for baby. They tend to put everything in their mouths. My daughter chewed on the side of the dinette once and I was relieved that I had switched from a bleach based cleaner to a natural one when I saw a chunk of the edge in her mouth.
- Baby proofing does not stop inside the camper. You will also want to make sure the campsite is safe for baby! Remove any large or sharp rocks from areas that baby will be playing near. We invested in a small gate that we placed around the camper to prevent my daughter from going under it. Keep your children away from moving cars and keep them in sight while backing the trailer in.
Putting Baby to Bed in the Camper
My kid is a bad sleeper. I cannot stress enough how needy she is when it comes to bedtime and sleep. Until she was over a year old, I had to rock her to sleep, in pitch black, with a white noise machine AND lullabies going. If I can get my kid to sleep in a camper, you can too.
- Choose a sleeping arrangement you are comfortable with. My daughter slept in an arm’s reach 3-in-1 co-sleeper bassinet which fit perfectly between our bed and the kitchen counter. This was the same free-standing bassinet we used in our home. Other options include pack and plays, Moses-style baskets, or co-sleeping. Now, my 2-year-old daughter sleeps on the converted dinette during our camping adventures.
- Bring a battery-operated white noise machine. Some places do not have Wi-Fi or electricity so if your child needs a white noise machine to fall and stay asleep, be sure to bring a battery operated one. Also, bring extra batteries.
- On the same note, a battery-operated fan is a great investment as well. If you are boondocking or somewhere you do not want to run your AC, you can keep baby cool and the air circulating.
- Double the amount of swaddles and sleepers you think you need. Sleep, at least for us, was super important and my daughter was super picky. She would only sleep in her Love to Dream swaddle. We brought four. You never know how many blow outs one night may see and if it is something your child needs to sleep, bringing extras is always a good idea.
- Lower your expectations. Once again, things never go as planned. Some babies have a hard time sleeping in new environments and may not sleep well at all in the camper. Other kids sleep wonderfully in the camper thanks to being outdoors all day. Take it easy and allow your baby to adjust to the new surroundings.
Sightseeing With Baby
Unless you are an avid and experienced hiker, hiking long and treacherous trails 3 months postpartum with an infant on your back probably doesn’t sound appealing. Here is how we did our sightseeing with our 3-month-old baby.
- Try choosing places that are more kid-friendly and also laid back for parents. My daughter loved the donkeys in Custer State Park and mommy and daddy loved the scenic drive.
- Skip places with long lines or lots of crowds. We decided against going into Mount Rushmore and instead pulled over at a lookout that shows the side of Washington’s face.
- National Parks make great places to travel with babies. They usually have scenic drives allowing you to relax while sightseeing. Grab a picnic blanket and pack some food for lunch with a view.
- Postcards make great memory keepers. We picked up some at every park we visited and wrote down what we saw and did so we can look back and remember!
Traveling with a newborn or small infant can be extremely overwhelming to even the most experienced campers. Trying to navigate new parenthood, a global pandemic, and a brand-new camper trailer was the adventure of a lifetime for my husband and I. Our trip to Yellowstone might not have made it successfully, but we did see some beautiful places and make some amazing memories with our daughter.
By taking some extra time and steps to properly prepare for your road trip will help it go much more smoothly. Be sure to have ways to pump and store breast milk on the road, keep extra formula stocked and water away in case of an emergency, and be sure to stop every 2 hours to feed and change Baby.
Setting the camper up for your child’s sleep may be the most important step, next to childproofing. Be sure that you and your baby are comfortable with the arrangement and change what you need to. Try to keep things as similar to home as you can to help Baby adjust to sleeping in a new place.
Planning family-friendly activities that allow you to sightsee and rest are great options for new parents. We opted for driving tours over intense hikes and enjoyed many picnics with amazing views. Choose what works for you and your family.
Now that you know all the tips and tricks, you can be out there making memories one campsite at a time with your own baby!