How to Make an Emergency Car Kit for Taking Babies on Road Trips

A carefully curated emergency kit won’t help parents avoid disaster, but it’ll help them recover from it quickly when away from home and on the road.

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Babies need a lot of stuff, and because of that harsh reality, it would impossible to bring everything a baby needs every time parents venture out of the house. But as Franz Kafka wrote in The Metamorphosis:  it is “better to have, and not need, than to need, and not have.” Any parent who has struggled to recover from a road trip diaper blowout armed only with a used Denny’s napkin and a half-empty bottle of Fiji water can attest to the truth in that sentiment.

How prepared should parents be? Well, that depends a great deal on their lifestyle and how far they typically travel from a home base. That said there are emergency baby kit must-haves (and a couple optional extras) that can be packed in a duffel, extra diaper bag, plastic tote that would make even the pessimistic Kafka feel at ease.

The Minimalist Emergency Kit

This is the Bear Grylls of baby kits for those not expecting to take any long trips, that have a small vehicle, or great deal of survivalist confidence.

First and foremost, this pack relies on a reliable base: a pack of diapers, a pack of wipes, and at least a couple of seasonally-appropriate outfits. This means that if a back-end crisis strikes and you find yourself stuck in a gas station bathroom trying to fix a messy baby, there is at least everything needed to clean up the worst of it and get home.

But it’s important to remember that babies grow rapidly. Make sure that any spare outfits and diapers packed are roomy enough to allow for developmental expansion. A little loose is better than a little snug.

Parents can also protect themselves from the stench by packing a stash of plastic grocery bags in the kit. These can help hold in the smell of soiled diapers during the drive home. For maximum odor control, gallon-size Ziploc bags are aces.

Parents feeding with formula should also pack an unopened formula container, a couple of sterilized bottles and nipples (the more you bring, the less you need to sterilize in the field), and a two-gallon bottle of water for mixing.

The Weekender Emergency Kit

Parents who venture out-of-town, out of state, or grab their passports and hit the Pan-American Highway will find that a well stocked kit will take them incredibly far.

This kit starts with the minimalist base but adds more long-term solutions to mitigate bigger problems that might arise, such as sickness or injury. Bear in mind, though, that when it comes to emergency medical supplies, less is more.

“Babies are really pretty simple,” says seasoned paramedic Matt Ozanich, Director of Prehospital Care at Steward Medical Group. “Maybe some band-aids in case something happens. Definitely a lot of wipes because of mucus production.”

A bulb syringe can help if baby gets really stuffed up. “Babies do tend to be nose breathers, so it’s pretty good to have one of those handy” says Ozanich. “You can use a nose syringe to suction that out.”

Parents should pack a rectal thermometer (sorry, kid) to check a baby’s temperature when fever is suspected. Infant pain reliever has a place in the emergency kit as long as parents have already discussed appropriate dosing with their pediatrician; if the kid gets sick and is experiencing a high fever, acetaminophen can help bring it down. There are clear instructions on the packaging, Ozanich says, but always check with a pediatrician first.

Babies don’t normally get cuts, scrapes, and bruises. But it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Feel free to pack some antiseptic ointment, Ozanich says, but for most instances soap and water is preferable. “It’s less irritating to the skin, so you can use it more frequently.”

Essential Items for an Emergency Car Kit for Babies 

  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Spare clothing (upgrade sizes regularly)
  • Plastic bags
  • Ziploc bags
  • Formula
  • Bottles and nipples
  • Bottled water
  • Band-Aids
  • Tylenol
  • Rectal Thermometer
  • Soap
  • Antiseptic ointment

The Doomsday Prepper Kit

If  Jason Bourne were a father, he’d need be able to drop everything in an instant and hit the road. This would be the kit he’d need to prepare for every eventuality.

Parents could easily spend a lot of money here. But since the essentials are covered, it might be a case of diminishing returns.

For those determined to go all out, consider augmenting the baby wipes supply with Shittens, ingenious disposable gloves that allow you to handle even the wildest diapers without fear of getting poop on your hands.

Also, Pedialyte can replenish baby’s electrolytes if they get sick or dehydrated on the road, so pack some of that, along with the extra bottles and nipples. Again, make sure to clear this with the pediatrician first.   

There’s lots of specialized emergency medical equipment available online too, but if parents are not trained how to use it, it will likely just take up space. That equipment is often unnecessary for babies anyway, Ozanich says, because “a lot of the stuff with babies is doable by hand. Even If something happens and you need to do compression, babies are pretty easy to do chest compressions on and pretty easy to do mouth to mouth on.”

Pediatric External Defibrillators are available online. They’re easy to use and they don’t take up much space. “Defibrillators are generally set up so that anyone can use them,” Ozanich says. “It’s preferred that you have the training to use them, but generally speaking you should be able to use it because it walks you through every step.”

This might be overkill, though, with the equipment taking up valuable kit space that could be used for essentials. “With a baby, it’s very rare that they need to be defibrillated,” Ozanich says.

Focus on stashing the essentials to keep the baby fed, clean, and well. Anything else might just be wasted space.

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