Balancing Act

First "Real" Road Trip With Our Infant in Our 3rd Gen Prius

Many parents we've conversed with said that once our newborn enters the world, our favorite pastimes and routines will all go out the window. Instead, sleepless nights and nonstop exhaustion will take their place. While I do not 100% dispute that statement at all, I don't agree with it completely either. Sure, our daily routines will be altered to accommodate the little one, especially for the first three months. But after that, our routines, for the most part, should return to normal albeit with some changes.

One of our pastime is going on road trips. We are known as avid road trippers in our circle of friends and acquaintances. And every single one of them, those that are parents at least, said we won't be going on road trips for a few years once we have a baby. Wrongo Bongo! Like anything else in life, it's without a doubt more challenging but not impossible. Unless your baby is colicky or have other areas of concern that requires constant attention, I just don't buy into the idea that having a baby will prevent us from doing anything we enjoy doing, just like I don't buy into the axiomatically preposterous idea that once you have a baby, even your second baby, you are automatically expected to get into debt so you can buy a 7 or 8 seater SUV or a mini van to "make room" for a family of just 3, or even 4. Going off on a tangent for a moment here, in my opinion, it's just a whole lot of wasted space and wasteful monthly car payment. But to be fair, we are relatively petite people and can do well in a Prius. I can understand that it may be too much for taller folks to make such a compromise.

To take a road trip with an infant, extra planning is no doubt required. And we are planning to take multiple road trips every year with our infant in our gracefully aging 2012 3rd gen Prius as he grows. Don't overdo yourself and take a newborn on a road trip just because you can or feel the need to prove something. You'll wish you haven't, especially if you're making multiple short stopovers along the way. All the additional packing, loading and unloading in addition to the lack of sleep will take a toll on your body, take away the fun of a road trip and turn the ordeal into a second job rather than a vacation. Wait until your infant is ready and has received his or her first set of vaccination, then gauge his car seat temperament by going on short day trips that are between 50-100 miles.

The great thing about the Prius is that it sits 5 with plenty of cargo room left over in the hatch area. We are not gigantic people, nor are our kin, which is a plus. For us, taking a road trip with an infant means making extra room for cargo. We'll need to bring our big ticket items along, such as our:

and extra items for the baby in addition to our own bags. We also love to grill on the road, that also means hauling our Weber Q 1200 portable gas grill when the opportunity arises. This was once an easy task with the rear seats folded down, but now requires us to play Tetris with our cargo.

Here's a view of the cargo in various configurations when we traveled with our baby:

Going on road trips with an infant in a 2012 Toyota Prius Four liftback.

Our road trip crib not pictured in this photo.

Front passenger serve as extended cargo space when going on road trips with an infant in a 2012 Toyota Prius Four liftback.

Front passenger seat served as extended cargo space when going on road trips with an infant in a 2012 Toyota Prius Four liftback.

How the 2012 Prius Four liftback's cargo look like when we go on road trips with our infant.

Playing Tetris with the cargo space, configuration 1.

How the 2012 Prius Four liftback's cargo look like when we go on road trips with our infant.

Playing Tetris with the cargo space, configuration 2.

This is where a roof rack and a SykBox comes in to save the day. A bare roof, like a stock Prius, calls for an initial investment of around $1,000 ~ $1,200. Our complete set up would cost us a cool $1,009. I say "would cost us" because we purchased the base rack system minus the SkyBox. For this trip, we borrowed a friend's SkyBox 16. We also took advantage of a Yakima winter 20% off deal on all their base rack systems during winter 2016.

Yakima BaseLine Towers and JetStream roof rack set for a bareroof 3rd gen Prius.

Yakima BaseLine Towers and JetStream roof rack set for a bareroof 3rd gen Prius.

This figure includes the complete Yakima BaseLine JetStream roof rack set up and a nice size SkyBox. Since the SkyBox does not have non-skid padding, the optional rooftop cargo net is necessary, especially when the SkyBox is only half filled. To give you an idea of what this figure bought us, here's a list of all the Yakima parts that sits on top of our Prius on our road trips going forward. And if you have a 3rd generation 2010-2015 Toyota Prius, these parts will fit your car:

The official Yakima fit guide suggested a 40" Windshield, but I believe that size is too small, leaving about a 3" gap between the ends of the Windshield and BaseLine towers. I opted for the 46" version and it covered the towers sufficiently. Minimum cross bar size is 50" with 60" and 70" models available. I picked the 60" Medium bars in anticipation for larger loads in the future. Your mileage may vary so choose a bar length that is compatible with your life style. Here are several photos of the Yakima 60" JetStream and BaseLine towers installed on a 2012 Prius Four. As for wind noise with this roof rack set up, there are absolutely no audible noise, even traveling at 75 miles per hour. At 80 mph, a faint but audible sound can be heard, but nothing really noticeable.

I don't have photos of the SkyBox 16 Carbonite since I took off the set up before realizing I forgot to take pics and was returned to a friend we borrowed from. I'll post a pic once we own our own SkyBox and re-install it for our next road trip.

Installation of the towers and crossbars was easy and straight forward and took about 45 minutes. Mounting the SkyBox was more challenging due to the width, size and its weight ~47 lbs. With that said the SkyBox provided ample amount of space to house most of the baby supplies. It even comfortably housed our Weber Q Portable Grill Cart with minimal obstruction. The Weber Q 1200 gas grill fit in the hatch area, but it would be a better fit to strap down the grill onto a trailer hitch cargo carrier instead. In the future, we'll pack a lunch cooler with reusable ice packs to store multiple squeeze pouches containing fruit and vegetable puree for the baby. The maximum rated capacity of the JetStream cross bars on a Prius roof is 165 lbs. Subtracting the 47 lb weight of the Carbonite SkyBox 16, 9.6 lbs of the 60" JetStream cross bars and 5 lbs of the BaseLine towers give us 103.4 lbs of acceptable cargo load for the Prius' roof. We try to limit our roof load to 100 lbs or less.

On longer road trips, ones that last more than a week, I recommend investing in a set of Samsonite 32.5" Tote-A-Ton 3 Piece Duffel Set to pack your clothes and essentials in, rather than travel luggage. These duffel bags are versatile, light weight and have plenty of room to store just about anything and everything.

Since all the parents we spoke with literally plant themselves inside their home with their newborn and the idea of embarking on a road trip with an infant is out of the question, we did not receive any tips or pointers from any of them and had to do our road trip research ourselves. The following is our personal account and we hope it serve as a general overview guide for the expectant road warriors!

While we've taken our son on mini excursions, as far as 50~120 miles (i.e. Solvang, San Diego, etc.) to ease our baby into road trips, this trip was our first trip that spanned over 200 miles. We took our first "real" road trip with baby Ethan to Cambria, a pristine coastal town in the central coast of California. While not as far as a road trip up to San Francisco or further north (which we will subsequently pursue), it's a good 276 mile/4.5 hour drive from our home in SoCal. We chose Cambria because it is a familiar town and one of our all time favorite road trip destinations, a town we've been returning together multiple times a year for the past 9 years. It is far enough from home to be a road trip, but still close enough to home. The nearby boardwalk that runs along the coast line give us exceptional nature walk and exposes baby Ethan to the natural beauty of Cambria's coast.

Abby, my wife, sat in the back seat with baby Ethan for the entirety of the road trip to tend to his needs and play with him while I did all of the driving. I kept it safe and drove at a constant 65-70 mph, sticking to the far right in the slow lane. For the most part of our 4 hour drive to Cambria, baby Ethan was well behaved and slept the whole time, only waking up to snack. We used a Munchkin Travel Car Baby Bottle Warmer that plugs into our car's accessory power port to warm our baby's bottle. The warmer stays plugged in at the 12v socket inside the arm rest and takes approximately 10 ~ 15 minutes to fully warm up a 5 oz. bottle. Since we know our baby's feeding interval, we were able to time and warm his bottles accordingly without any fusses.

We essentially packed all of our baby's supplies in a very well organized Baby Boom PACK RIGHT 12 Piece Travel and Day Care Diaper Bag Set and placed it at the footwell of the front passenger seat. Everything our baby needed is stashed in this travel bag:

  • baby formula
  • baby oil
  • blanket
  • baby wash
  • bibs
  • bottles
  • bottle warmer
  • clothing
  • diapers
  • diaper disposal bags
  • diaper rash ointment
  • pacifiers
  • toys
  • water
  • wipes

It even comes with its own portable changing pad and laundry bags. A little on the pricier side but absolutely well worth it if you are obsessed about being organized and keeping everything in one place!

As far as changing diaper on the road goes, we only had to do it once right before we hit the road for the long haul, both ways. When we become aware that a diaper change is on the horizon, we pull over to the closest gas station, pull out the portable changing pad and lay it on the passenger side rear seat area, unbuckle Ethan from his infant seat and change him on the pad inside the car. The used diaper is then placed in a Munchkin Arm and Hammer Diaper Bag, tied up and discarded into the garbage. The whole process takes about 3 minutes while I gas up or grab a snack at the snack shop. Longer trips will definitely require more stops, and again, no two babies are alike so it depends on your little one.

For this trip, we stayed at the Pelican Inn & Suites along Moonstone Beach in Cambria. We picked Pelican Inn & Suites because it is owned and operated by Pacifica Hotels, one of our favorite hospitality establishment in the San Luis Obispo area. It also afforded us one of four ocean front superior king room with a private patio.

Pelican Inn & Suites, Cambria, CA

We stayed in a Superior Ocean Front King Room, located at the front along Moonstone Drive and offering us spectacular view of Moonstone Beach over a glass of red wine. We were able to visit our favorite shops and restaurants with Ethan during our holiday stay. Each day, we placed him in his Recaro Denali stroller and strolled along the 1 mile of boardwalk, enjoying every breath of fresh oceanic breeze while listening to birds sing their songs in the morning hour before breakfast. I also had the opportunity to fly my DJI Phantom 3 Standard drone and got a pretty good view of the Central Coast from above.

Our stay in Cambria lasted 4 nights with a return trip back home to Southern California for 3 days before trekking back up to Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA for another 3 nights. The drive to Carmel took about 5 hours and again, our baby slept through the entire car ride and only waking up to eat. On the return trip, we took Pacific Coast Hwy 1, which added an additional 2 hour drive to our itinerary.

A glass of fantasic cabernet sauvignon in Moonstone Beach, Cambria, CA.

A glass of fantasic cabernet sauvignon in Moonstone Beach, Cambria, CA.

Family photo by the Bixby Bridge at the outskirts of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Family photo by the Bixby Bridge at the outskirts of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Photo with Jack Galante, owner of our favorite bold red wine tasting room and vineyard in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Galante Vineyards.

Photo with Jack Galante, owner of our favorite bold red wine tasting room and vineyard in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Galante Vineyards.

Along the boardwalk of Moonstone Beach in Cambria, CA after plowing down Hwy 1 south.

Along the boardwalk of Moonstone Beach in Cambria, CA after plowing down Hwy 1 south.

All in all, our first road trip with our first baby was a success and we are blessed with a very well behaved baby who slept through car rides, behaved at restaurants and wine tasting rooms. He even slept through all nights while we were at home away from home! Don't let any pundits scare you into thinking what you can or cannot do, especially to all the expectant road warriors out there - only you can fully understand your limitations. More importantly, only go on leisure road trips as far as your little one can handle and do not push further. And just because you and your partner have a baby together doesn't mean you need to automatically get into debt so you can upgrade to a larger vehicle. Save some cash and consider a roof rack + cargo box set up instead. One thing we learned from this road trip is, it is best to start a road trip on a Sunday morning, stretch it to Friday while hitting multiple stops and return home on Saturday. Not only will you have Sunday to rest up, you'll also avoid rush hour traffic along the road trip route. Hotels and lodgings are also upward to 75% cheaper during the weekdays. While this is common knowledge to many, we seldom took weekday road trips in order to save up our vacation time.

We'll be making a return trip to Cambria to celebrate my wife's birthday and to recharge. Our next big trip will last two weeks and span across California; we'll venture into Klamath, Aptos, Sonoma, Half-Moon Bay and Santa Barbara. Later into the year, we'll drive to June Lake, Las Vegas and Sedona (AZ).

For those that are curious, a fully loaded 2012 Prius Four carrying 2 adults, 1 infant in a rear-facing Recaro Performance Coupe infant seat + base, with a Yakima JetStream roof rack, Yakima WindShield (aka fairing) and a Yakima Carbonite SkyBox 16 filled with ~80 lbs of cargo, the going fuel efficiency was 46.2 mpg, driving between 65-70 mph.

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