Road Trip Themed Birthday Party (Preemie 1st Birthday Party Ideas)

We recently hosted celebrated our miracle baby‘s 1st birthday. Rawley overcame enormous odds to reach this milestone, so we pulled out all the stops for this bash!


Rawley is a 21-week pPROM survivor, a 62-day NICU graduate, and has logged almost 4,000 miles in road trips in his first year. Plus, he’s lived in three states, and is about to live in his fourth! So, for his first birthday party theme, we choose “Rawley’s Incredible Journey,” inspired by the famous book The Incredible Journey, about a family of animal friends that survives a great journey together.


Chris Copley of 4108 Designs, who has designed all of our holiday cards, did a fabulous job on the invitations. I sent her sketches of my idea, and helped find the license plate, car, and suitcase graphics. I requested 1) an orange and brown color scheme (Rawley’s nursery colors) and 2) a two-sided invitation with a clean design on the front that would look cool in a frame, with all of the party details on the back.



Donations in Lieu of Gifts

We suggested that guests to donate to organizations that supported us during my bed rest and Rawley’s NICU stay in lieu of giving Rawley a gift. The Ronald McDonald House of Oklahoma City provides a calm, homey space inside the OU Children’s Hospital for parents and families, complete with a fully stocked kitchen, free food, sofas, laundry, and internet access. The March of Dimes reaches out to families with a preemie, and is also always researching the causes of prematurity.

Encouraging gifts to these great organizations was our way of giving back, and saying thank you. Additionally, we didn’t want family and friends to skip the party because they weren’t in a position to bring Rawley a gift during the busy Mother’s-Father’s-Day-Graduation-Party gift season. (If any of you readers would like to support either or both of these organizations in Rawley’s honor, we’d be delighted!)


We planned a menu that included food representative of each of Rawley’s states of residence (OK, WY, AZ) and future state of residence (IL), demarcated by real license plates from our vehicles. I made a menu sign using paper from vintage state scrapbook kits, so that I can just tuck the menu into a party-scrapbook for Rawley to keep (you’ll see this idea repeated throughout this post).



  • BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders, smoked by Kevin
  • Coleslaw


  • Ranch Style Beans with Bison Meat
  • Hot dogs, buns, and condiments


  • Homemade salsa and guacamole
  • Homemade chips, by Kevin again
  • Chipotle Chicken Taco Bar, Nathan’s specialty
  • Watermelon
  • Peach cobbler made with peaches from my parents’ peach tree


  • Beer Nuts, made in Rawley’s future hometown, Normal-Bloomington, IL



This party marked my first attempt at real cake-decorating, and I was terrified I’d ruin it – but I was proud of the result! Using a USA map cake pan, I made a red velvet cake with buttercream icing (tip: cream cheese icing doesn’t work as well for decorating; buttercream is more stiff). I made state flags for Rawley’s states of residence using the scrapbook kit mentioned above, and found the perfect little wooden cars for cake toppers.



We kept things simple, using mostly 1) things we already owned, 2) items that represented Rawley’s NICU journey, and 3) things that would become mementos of the party, rather than throw-aways.

  • We displayed a few prints from Rawley’s one-year portrait session with Allison Anne Johnson Photography (one shown above; here’s another favorite below):
Photo credit: Allison Anne Johnson Photography, Phoenix, AZ

Photo credit: Allison Anne Johnson Photography, Phoenix, AZ

  • We set out the hiking boots from his newborn photo session (see nursery where-to-buy post) and the suitcases from his 1 year photo session.
  • I arranged his name with Elegant baby Spelling Blocks we already had in his toy collection.
  • My brother Ryan sent us the bottle of RC Cola (shown below) when I was on bed rest as a joke; Rawley’s nickname in-utero was “RC,” the first letters of our favorite boy and girl names (we didn’t know which we were having until he was born).
  • I strung a “clothesline” of orange twine and miniature clothespins, hanging the super-tiny items from Rawley’s NICU days: 1st bottle, 1st diaper, 1st outfit, 1st blood pressure cuff, and jaundice-light eye mask.


  • I strung up a chronological set of Printstagram prints of the Instagram photos I took of Rawley throughout his first year, using more of the scrapbook paper mentioned above.



We wanted to offer favors that would be useful and fun for both children and adult guests. Since our road trip party fell over Memorial Day weekend, the kickoff of summer-travel-season, we gave guests a “Road Trip Survival Kit,” including:

We displayed the favors under a sign I made using more of the Vintage State scrapbook paper to add to Rawley’s party scrapbook.



We wanted guests to just relax and hang out around the pool, so we set out two simple and non-intrusive activities:

  • The scrapbook kits mentioned above include pages that look like “postcards.” I pasted on each a photo of what Rawley looked like while living there, and wrote in our address from that state. Guests then wrote Rawley a birthday message on one or more of the pages for us to preserve in his party scrapbook.


  • We held a “Most-Traveled” contest with a simple entry form that guests completed at their convenience. The most-traveled child  received a copy of both the book and movie versions of The Incredible Journey, and the most-traveled adult received a USA-map flexible cutting board.

FavorsSuch a fun evening! We were so thankful we could celebrate this special day in Phoenix with so many loved family and friends!

Thank you for being there for our little RC! 🙂



About Mosaic Collective, LLC

I am Holly Baumann Ambuehl, founding member of Mosaic Collective, LLC, which was founded in early 2017 and is based in Central Illinois. I own and operate Mosaic Collective with my partner in business and life, my husband, Nathan. Mosaic Collective, LLC houses our rental property, my consulting contracts (with the nonprofit and public sectors on various work), and also my commercial and portrait photography business, which has been doing business as Holly Baumann Photography since 2008 long before the formation of our LLC. My blog posts feature client work, but I just love to write, so I also write about owning a business, food and drink, travel, and sometimes, my personal life! I am always honored when clients trust me to capture their vision, and equally so when my readers converse with me about what I've photographed or expressed here. I hope we'll have an opportunity to collaborate professionally and/or become friends. I'd love to hear what you think! - Holly
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5 Responses to Road Trip Themed Birthday Party (Preemie 1st Birthday Party Ideas)

  1. Love your little one’s name — that’s my father’s name and it is not one you see very often. (“Now, how do you spell that?” I’ve heard on more than one occasion.) Congratulations to Rawley and the rest of the clan for beating the odds. Love your ideas for this travel themed party!


  2. Pingback: 30 Blogs Featuring the Most Creative 1st Birthday Parties | Newborn Care

  3. Shawn Cannon says:

    OMG, thanks for sharing this! I have a 27 weeker who will be 1 on Jan 5, been looking for ideas while also staying on a budget. LOVE everything you did! xoxo


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