That first road trip with a baby can be a terrifying experience. These five essentials will help keep the baby cool, entertained and soothed. Ultimately, they will help make the trip easier on baby and parents.

Road Trip Essentials

A sunshade keeps your baby cool and shade on a road trip.

A sunshade keeps your baby cool and shaded. Photo by Jackie Gibson

Ah that beautiful time between four and six months. My tiny, colicky swaddled baby is now a chattering wiggle worm who has a predictable routine but lacks the ability to crawl around and tear down the house. For the most part, we know how her day will go. Eat, play, 45 minute nap. Eat, play, 30 minute nap. Four ounces here, poopy diaper there, record it in the notebook, wash up the bottles, we’ve totally got this.

Those first three months I was wary of leaving the house, even to get necessary items like medicine or wipes. Her routine wasn’t predictable yet. I kept worrying: What if she blows out her diaper while we’re there and what if I can’t figure out how to snap the car seat into the stroller and holy Babies R Us why the heck is the car seat so heavy?!

But now, I know what to expect. I’ve made several shorter trips around town and a few longer three-hour trips to Grandma’s house. I’m a pro at popping that car seat out of the base. I look so cool throwing that hefty stroller into the trunk with one hand like it ain’t no thang. I know what gear I can leave at home and what gear I can’t live without. Now I can go conquer the world. Now I can road trip.

If you’re ready to road trip and you’ve at least figured out the necessities, add these five items to your list.

1. Sun Shade

There was a time in pregnancy when I took a shower so hot that I feared (like really feared) that I had burned my baby. Then there was that first long car trip where we stopped to change her diaper and realized she was completely burning up because the sun was streaming through her window. Seriously, did I burn my baby again? Even when it’s 30 degrees outside, that sun can burn hot and reach right into the back seat. Protect baby and keep her cool with a simple sun shade. We bought the Britax EZ-Cling (you get two shades for $10), which uses friction to adhere to your window and easily folds down for storage.

Extra tip: Check the laws in your state to ensure it’s legal to have tints and shades on your windows.

2. Links

Life would be so much more difficult without our $5 Bright Starts Lots of Links Accessory Toy. I can’t count how many times I’ve popped a set into her hands to keep her happy. The great thing for road trips is that the links can be attached to the car seat handle so she can reach it (because she can’t reach the singing monkey hanging from the top of the door yet). Plus it’s easy for newly gripping babies to get their aimless fingers around the shapes. As she gets older, we’ll be able to entertain her in the car by naming their colors and counting each link.

Extra tip: If you’re able, seat one person in the back seat with baby. Once she sees your face and sees the toy, she’ll be more likely to play happily a few miles longer.

A changing pad is one of the 5 essential things you must pack for a road trip with a baby.

Photo by Jackie Gibson

3. Changing Pad

My best friend bought me the most beautiful, brings-your-eyes-to-tears polka-dotted Kate Spade diaper bag. But what I love even more than how fab it makes me look is that it came with a nylon changing pad. Changing tables in rest stops are generally cold and hard, sometimes even a bit dirty. Or if you’re of the unlucky sort like me, the place you choose to stop for a quick change won’t have a changing table so you end up changing baby on the floor of the fast food restaurant bathroom (barf). You need a changing pad. You just do.

Extra tip: You can get any brand of changing pad for your road trip, of course, but if you can find one that a) is made of some kind of slick wipeable material for easy cleaning and b) can be rolled up and Velcro’s shut, you’re really in business. Amazon offers several options in the $15 range.

4. White Noise Machine/App

We struggled the first few weeks with the constant crying and her need to be held or moving at all times…until the pediatrician recommended white noise. It drowns out all the things that frustrate baby so she can just focus on resting. And it also drowns out all the changes in noise and venue, which makes it perfect for road trips. HoMedics makes a portable machine for about $20—or you can just get the “White Noise Free” app in the iPhone app store at no cost. If you want an even more convenient (albeit annoying) option, flip the radio to a static-only AM station.

Extra tip: If you haven’t used white noise in the past, test it at home with the free app to see if baby will go for it, before you try to rely on it for a long trip.

5 Things You Must Pack for a Road Trip with a Baby

Photo by Jackie Gibson

5. Floor Seat

If your little peanut is steady enough to sit upright, grab a floor seat. We like the $40-$50 Bumbo multi-seat. Basically a booster seat, the Bumbo can sit anywhere—on the floor, on a chair, on a picnic table at the rest stop, at Grandma’s house. Straps allow you to secure baby if the Bumbo is off the floor, and a tray (conveniently tucked in the back of the seat) can be snapped on so you can place food down in front of her without having to buy serving ware that won’t topple. This is great for going places where you won’t have access to a high chair, which is basically everywhere but your house.

Extra tip: There are brands cheaper than the Bumbo, but often they don’t come with the tray or they’re really only intended for play. Consider your long-term use.

Total cost of your road trip gear: $70-$100. But really, can you put a price on your sanity?

What is your essential gear for a road trip with a baby? Share with us in the comment section below.