Overlanding with an Infant – An idiots guide

Overland - Cross Country Travel with Infant 01

Airing down & Ogling at the Shafer Trail Trailhead at the Canyonlands National Park.

An Idiot’s Guide to Overlanding With an Infant or Baby in the 5th Gen 4Runner

I recently returned from a cross country voyage in my 2018 4Runner TRD Off-Road outfitted with my 10-month-old daughter.

Here are my takeaways: 

Compressor: check. Recovery gear: check. Med kit: check. Pack-and-play: Check. Bottles and Formula: check. Light up Farm Yard Sing-a-long play panel: check. Delusions of Grandeur: check.

Take all of your memories of traveling with your significant other – the relaxing feeling of being away, the excitement about adventure and the freedom of spontaneity – and throw it in the trash.

Traveling with a new baby is a whole new game…baby?

If you have a second and want to continue down this rabbit hole with me, keep on reading.

If you don’t, feel free to scroll down to my learning points for some key takeaways and things I learned from the trip. If any of these pointers sound obvious, they likely are.

Unfortunately, I conveniently overlooked Every. Single. One.

The Proposed Trip from Fort Worth, TX, to Durango, CO, to Moab, UT

If you’re still with me, humor me for a second; imagine driving cross county, visiting national parks, EPIC Instagram-worthy wheeling, and stopping into small, but quaint towns to check out the local brews and to sample the local fare…

A few months ago, I, too, was sitting in my office romanticizing about the same things, but more importantly, taking the 4Runner out to put it through its paces.

A quick back story – shortly after my daughter was born in the summer of 2018, my ½ ton GMC Sierra “conveniently” broke down and finally gave me a reason to go car shopping. 4Runner.

No question, no other option.

Since then, I’ve spent a good part of the last year building the truck to do everything listed in my cross-country fantasy. It is the ultimate cross-country adventure vehicle (at least I think so).

Problem was, also during the last year, I was on daddy duty and trying my best to keep up with my wife in the growing of this tiny human being.

Suffice it to say, there weren’t very many opportunities for epic adventuring.

Enter Summer 2019 – my wife was off from school (she’s a teacher) and my kiddo nearly a year old.

It only made sense to finally plan some Epic Epic-ness. The proposed trip: a 2800 road trip from Fort Worth, TX to Durango, CO and finally Moab, UT.

Also on the proposed trip, as many trails as possible.

2800 Miles & 4 States Later, I’m still here, I’m still alive

Driving through Avalanche Territory & Little did I know…

Driving through avalanche territory on CR-110 north of Silverton, CO. Most of the passes up in the San Juan National Forest and in San Juan County are still closed due to recent storm damage. Look for more posts about how I set up my truck for the trip soon.

I planned, I over planned, I packed and I over packed.

As we embarked on the trip I quickly discovered that every aspect of my fantasy was going to be different; very different. The trip was eye-opening and put all of my delusions of off-road grandeur in check.

My dreams to spend days upon days wheeling on the trails came to a screeching halt.

I had to re-learn how to plan, travel, pack, and most importantly, relearn expectations.

I won’t go too much into detail about trip details, routes, and sites as that’s not the purpose of this piece (I’ll reserve my after-action report for another day). What I do want to share is my main takeaways of this learning experience.

2800 miles and 4 states later, I’m still here, I’m still alive, and now I get to write this.

What to Consider When Traveling Cross Country

The Nitty-Gritty Learning Points

An unexpected poopy diaper stop on US-285 just outside Cline’s Corner, NM.

  • Pack with efficiency in mind. Weight and quality are essential. If you don’t think you’re going to use it, don’t bother. If you end up needing something, 9/10 you can find a place to purchase it.
  • Keep essentials handy. If you’re working with a full trunk, make sure the bags on top have everything you need. Diapers, but no wipes because they’re in the bag that you inadvertently threw into the bottom of the pile is no Bueno.
  • Not all of your gadgets are necessary. It feels great to be MacGyver until all of your fancy stuff slows you down and gets in the way.
  • Not everyone wants to wheel every day (I know right?). Plan for downtime and days where your crew can separate to enjoy other things or to relax. Keeping a baby crammed in a car seat, regardless of how bougie it is, is not ideal.
  • Don’t try to plan too much. You may want to knock 10 things out in a single day, but trust me, with a baby on board, the kid is the boss. If you don’t think so now, sit in a car with screaming and/or poopy baby for a trip around the Alpine Loop. All day can become, quite literally, eternity.
  • Plan for the most, don’t expect too much, and welcome changes.
  • Diaper wipes are Jesus’s gift to humanity. Everyone uses them. Everyone.
  • Do what works for you and your peeps. Adjust, adapt, and problem solve. Work it out. Don’t take other suggestions or pushback too personally or with disappointment. Everyone has different expectations and goals. Be open to unexpected surprises; they can be fun.
  • Oddly, the best clutch changing table is not a table, it’s the back seat of the truck. It’s by no means ideal, and with a lifted vehicle, less so. However, as diaper changing station availability is still hit and miss, the trusted back seat offers moderate privacy and the ability to spread all your organized chaos of changing gear. It also provides for an ample platform so that you may be better equipped to exorcise whatever No.2 demons may be present in youngling’s ‘nappy diappy’. You also have the flexibility to pull over anywhere and get down to business on the spot.
  • If you have a baby who still conducts their business in their pants, I highly recommend an exterior trash receptacle similar to the Trasheroo. We opted not to spend the extra cash for one on this trip and instantly regretted it. Suffice it to say, I’ve been home for 72 hours and already I have a new Trasheroo sitting with my kit.
  • DO NOT. I Repeat, DO NOT try to be helpful and pack your wife’s sh*t. You screwed it all up from the moment the idea was conceived in your mind.

Baja Designs Lighting was Lifesaving For Cross-Country Trips

This one is personal, but Baja Designs lighting is Life and, on this trip, lifesaving.

Super thankful to have been outfitted with some S8s and Squadrons on my way up to Durango. Due to multiple unexpected stops on the way up, we ended up having to do the last leg of our trip from Santa Fe to Durango at dusk.

For those who have not done this drive before, it’s mountainous and incredibly dark.

On this particular evening, it was also incredibly hazy. The amber auxiliary lighting help cut through the particulates in the air and ended up helping us avoid the countless deer hanging in the middle of the road.

Products Used For Our Trip

  • Two 30” Baja Designs S8 Bars with Amber Combo Lenses: Check Price
  • Squadron Sport Fogs with Amber Combo lenses: Check Price
  • Squadron Pro Ditch/Spot Lights with Amber Spot Lenses: Check Price
  • Cali Raised LED Low Profile Ditch Brackets: Check Price

Final Thoughts (Would You Do It Again?)

My wife and our little hell raiser cheesing at Arches National Park in Moab Utah. Yeah, we made the sunscreen look like war paint.

All said and done, the trip was eye-opening (not going to lie, I considered turning around and heading home on multiple occasions).

Wheeling with Infants?

Many lessons were learned on this trip; several the hard way. Although my expectations of endless wheeling were quickly quashed by the realities of traveling with a tiny ball of screams, I was still able to spend a significant amount time in the San Juan National Forrest, visit three National Parks and spend time with the fam in neat towns like Silverton, Ouray, and Moab.

Most importantly though, I saw smiles, lots of smiles, from everyone, and, I don’t know about you, but that’s enough for me to do it all over again.

Stay tuned for trip number two.

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4 years ago

During my last PCS my wife and I decided it was a great idea to take our time on the drive the backroads as much as possible and stop at every National Park along the way. We were moving from FL to WA so there were plenty of stops along the way. Did I mention we were doing this with our six month old? The first couple of days were good, but by the fourth day of spending 8+ hours in the car everyone was at their breaking point. It wasn’t uncommon for my wife and I to not be on speaking terms by the end of the day. Our daughter was doing plenty of screaming for everyone. Once it was all said and done we look back at the trip and laugh. We also have a whole photo album full of pictures of the three of us at every state welcome sign, dozens of photos from six different National Parks, the Continental Divide and pretty much every other roadside attraction we could find. It was the trip of a lifetime.

4 years ago
Reply to  Trevor

Hahaha “it wasn’t uncommon for my wife and I to not be in speaking terms by the end of the day.” So true! Props to you for literally going cross country! I was surprised I didn’t get divorced by the time I hit Amarillo.

4 years ago

I hear ya man! I’ve been camping with my three seven year olds and it’s a trail of fire and patience every trip. The last trip ended with one of the boys fighting over a stick with a five year old of the other family we went with. We’re in the freaking forest, it’s filled with sticks!! 😛 But as long as they have fun and learn to appreciate the outdoors and nature that’s what matters. Keeping your wife/partner happy and comfortable is a big factor in any trip staying positive and fun. https://www.instagram.com/ben_out_co/

4 years ago
Reply to  Ben

“But this stick is different!” Hoping the kiddo will love being outside and respectful of the out doors. You’re absolutely right. Happy wife, happy life was a hallmark to this journey.

4 years ago

Good for you getting out there! Traveling with infants and toddlers is a totally different ballgame. Our first off-road trip with our daughter resulted in her getting carsick and me washing the car seat in the lake. But hey, we caught fish! Trasharoo is a must for those diapers. We also look for moderate climates. Too hot or too cold make for an unhappy camper. Keep adventuring!

4 years ago
Reply to  @turkey.runner

Hahaha. I’m so thankful kiddo didn’t get car sick or have too many issues with the altitude. Fair share of soiled diapers though! Trashroo has been purchased and will be on hand All. Of. The. Time.

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