Packing with Kids: Crossing the Border

My husband and I have traveled at least 60 plus times from Ontario, where we currently live, to New Jersey, where I am from.

We know the trip like the back of our hands and don’t need a GPS or directions anymore. After we had our daughter, Anna, in June 2011, we planned our first road trip for the beginning of August 2011. She was just over five weeks old at the time.

When she was two weeks old we started the process for getting her passport. Since we were driving, she didn’t technically need a passport. At the cost of only $22, it was worth the peace of mind to me.

I am in the process of immigrating to Canada and I wanted everything to be as straightforward as possible when crossing the border.

Additionally, Anna can have a new passport done free of charge if we submit her application for renewal before she turns three!

We had some problems with Anna’s passport photos and we had to have them retaken before we could submit her application. It isn’t exactly easy to get a good passport style photo of a two week old!

We applied in person at a Service Ontario location about an hour from our house because applying in person only takes about ten business days to process.

We received Anna’s passport in the mail about one week before we left for New Jersey.

When we travel, I keep all of our passports together in a little wallet that we keep in our center console in the car. That way it is in a central location and it makes it easier to locate our passports and hand them to the border guard when we are entering or leaving Canada. While we don’t necessarily need it, I also bring Annabelle’s birth certificates, social insurance card and health card.

On our August 2011 trip, we left in the early morning. Amazingly, Anna slept in three hour stretches! We stopped at rest areas about every three hours for 30-45 minutes. I would nurse Anna, change her diaper, hang out a bit and get something to eat, and then get her back in the car seat.

Back when she was five weeks old, she still nursed for about 30 minutes per session during the day, so that is really what made up the bulk of our stops.

I was very worried because prior to this trip, Anna did not do well in car seats for long periods of time. We could maybe get 45 minutes out of her before she had a meltdown. So, needless to say, three hour sleeping stretches were such a surprise and more than welcome.

When we drove down without Anna, the trip would take about ten hours including stops. With Anna, we average about 12 hours. So, my biggest piece of advice is when driving with your child, expect that it is going to take longer. If you have an expectation that it will be “X” amount of hours, forget it, you will just end up getting frustrated when it takes longer.

As a newborn, frequent nursing or feedings are expected. I knew that there were portions of the trip that would be extremely difficult for us to stop if Anna got hungry.

We decided to purchase a manual pump and some bottles just in case. I pumped a bit on the ride down, but we never ended up using the milk.

I stored the milk in a small cooler with ice packs and put it in the fridge when we got to New Jersey. Anna never drank expressed breast milk, so even if I had offered it to her, she most likely would not have taken it.

Looking back on it, purchasing the pump was really a waste of money for us, and is not something I would likely do again if given the option.

Additionally, I did talk to my La Leche League leader, and she said it is not recommended to give a baby a bottle in a car as it is possible for them to choke, especially when they are younger. You are better off stopping before you expect your baby to be hungry to try to avoid a meltdown in advance.

One of the things we worked on prior to leaving was introducing a pacifier. We didn’t have any success before, during, or immediately after our trip with this.

But, I was able to soothe Anna for a while when we got stuck at the border by using my pinkie finger with the padded side up as a soother for her to suckle on.

Overall, it was an excellent trip with few meltdowns. We have traveled several times since our first little adventure, and plan to make another return trip in October 2012 when Anna will be 16 months old.

Traveling with a toddler will be significantly different than traveling with a newborn, so I look forward to the differences that I will be presented with during our next trip!


Some of the tips and tricks I have picked up:

  • If you have a partner who is able to drive during the night and split the trip with you— do it! Your baby will sleep longer overnight than they will during the day. But, if you have to manage the trip on your own, and then have to be awake during the following day as well, it might not be worth it if you are exhausted!
  • If you are able to, pack things you know will be of use to you with your little one, especially if you are staying with family that doesn’t have many baby items. I made sure to pack Anna’s bouncy seat. I had to break it down and put random parts in different places in the car so everything would fit, but that seat was sometimes the only way I could get Anna back to sleep overnight, so it was an absolute must-have item for me.

  • Keep a diaper bag stocked full with anything you could possibly need, including a change of clothes for you and baby and make sure it is easy to access. I keep the change of clothes in a zip top bag so if the clothes she is wearing get dirty, I can keep the mess contained in a sealed bag.
  • Keep a smaller bag that has just diapers/wipes/etc. that you can just grab and bring in to the rest area for a quick change. It is easier to hold your little one and a small bag than it is to carry around a large bag and squirmy baby. And don’t forget to have a change of clothes handy, inevitably if you don’t have them your child will have a “poosplosion!”
  • Bring toys and things to keep your baby entertained. This may seem obvious, but your little one will likely grow bored of the same toys after a while. So, make sure to bring a selection. This includes items like rattles, books, and sippy cups.

  • Have a white noise machine and other sleep aides. We used the Gentle Giraffe to keep a constant white noise going during the trip and a Playskool clip-on vibrator that we clipped on to the car seat that would keep a vibration on the seat. This worked out well for when we were stopped, either at the border or in traffic, and kept Anna asleep when she would have otherwise woken up.
  • Expect to have someone sitting the back of the car. I removed the passenger seat headrest so that I was able to see what was going on when sitting in the back seat. There is definitely less room in the back, but it is much easier to entertain your little one when you’re in the back with them.
  • No matter what happens, keep your cool! Things may not go as planned. A six hour trip might take ten hours, or your kid might sleep and you make it to your destination in record time. It is really hard to predict how things will go. Just remember to keep the things you are most likely to need in an easily accessible spot, and if need be to stop. Take a break, regroup, and try again. After all, they are only kids; it is rough work sitting in a car seat for hours on end staring at a head rest.

Some information specific to crossing the U.S./Canadian border by car with your little one:

  • U.S. and Canadian minors 15 years and younger do not require a passport for land crossings. An original or photocopy of their birth certificate is acceptable. (There are other acceptable documents if you are unable to produce the birth certificate- check here.) If traveling by air, all parties will require a passport.
  • There is no restriction on breast milk or formula when entering the United States by car. I was unable to find anything specific to entering Canada by land, but breastfeeding is a protected human right and you shouldn’t have any issues. You are allowed to bring up to 20 kilograms of infant formula per person, and you may need to declare this at the border. It should be sealed and commercially packaged. There are different guidelines for airline travel, so please look into that before traveling. For air travel in Canada please check here. For air travel within the U.S. please check here.
  • It is okay for a child to travel with only one or no parents. The lone parent should have a notarized note explaining the details of travel, as well as a copy of birth certificate, and contact information of the non-traveling parent. Be clear, specific, and as detailed as possible. See more here.
  • As an American, it is permissible to use your U.S. car seat in Canada as a visitor; however, it is illegal as a Canadian to purchase a U.S. car seat for use in Canada. As a Canadian, it is also acceptable to use your Canadian car seat in the U.S. as a visitor.
  • Health insurance coverage is not guaranteed in the U.S. as it is to a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. You will need to purchase travel insurance or ensure any secondary coverage provided through your employer will serve as your travel insurance. Check with your provincial health coverage to determine if any medical costs will possibly be covered while traveling in the U.S.
  • As a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you will need to check with your health insurance plan to determine whether or not you have any medical coverage while traveling outside of your state or the U.S. If not, you will need to purchase travel insurance.


One Response to Packing with Kids: Crossing the Border

  1. great tips and resources… thank you Jessica!

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