Monday, June 21, 2010

Who Will be on Vacation in Just One Week?

These two!
The drive up North was smooth sailing - clear skies, very little traffic, and a pleasant, happy Bean. Seriously, it FLEW by. People always faint with shock when I tell them I make this trip, just the two of us. They cannot believe I would voluntarily spend 2 hours in a car with a toddler, let alone two 9-10 hour days. Don't get me wrong, there were definitely times when I was a little antsy. And I did say the following things more than once:
  • "I love you, but you make me crazy"
  • "Quit crying and just go to sleep"
  • "Well, if you'd quit throwing it on the floor, then you wouldn't be all upset"
  • "If you kick the DVD player one more time, I swear I will turn it off"
  • "I can't do that right now, mama is driving the car"
It's not like there weren't a few bumps in the road, let's be realistic. Luckily, I have gained incredible wisdom and knowledge now that I've made the trip a few times. There are several things I have learned, that I will now share with you. (I'm looking at my sister N, who will be making a similar trip but with two small children in just a few days, and my friends D&K, who may or may not read this blog but who will also be making a long trip with a youngster.)

Step 1 - Start the trip on the right foot (because that's the accelerator)
Make it exciting, despite the fact you probably only got 4 hours sleep, max, haven't showered, and really would rather be doing anything else in the whole entire world. Give the victim, I mean, toddler, a small new toy and book when they first get into the car. Have a special breakfast (for JR that meant hashbrowns Friday morning and corn chips Saturday morning. Very, very nutritious). Put on a new DVD or CD. Drink a Red Bull or a Starbucks. Breathe.

Step 2 - Be Prepared
Don't leave behind a sink full of dirty dishes - you don't want to deal with that when you get home. Have sippy cups poured the night before and in the fridge ready to go. The only thing you should be packing in the morning is the cooler, and it should include frozen and unfrozen water bottles, juice, milk, string cheese, easy fruit (grapes are best), Red Bull, and more water. You will be more thirsty than you expect, and if you have a hotel stop, the hotel room will be dry and water will be $575/bottle. If you are relying on a hotel continental breakfast, note that sometimes they don't get going til 7am on the weekends, and you want to be on the road by then. The traffic is better, you get to see the sun come up, and if you're lucky, you'll sneak in a morning car nap. Not for you, silly, for the backseat monster. Which is a time you'll refer to later as 'heaven'.

You should also have a snack bag with things like graham crackers, peanut butter crackers, animal crackers (basically, any cracker you can think of), pop tarts, raisins, popcorn, and chips for you.
Always pack triple what you expect to need for snacks - you may end up feeding a child a meal, or more than one if you hit bad traffic, out of the snack bag. Also, kids will eat more (and, sometimes, different things) than they do at home because they are bored and trapped in a car.
Bring at least 4 sippy cups per child. One for milk, one for juice, and two spares. At least one will disappear into the abyss under a car seat (hopefully not the milk cup). I also like to carry something like this in my bag at all times - it's been the last resort more times than I'd like to admit, and always worked admirably. Yes, I had to pull it out on this trip despite having FOUR sippy cups. *sigh*

Step 3 - When in doubt, bring it*
If traveling by car and you have plenty of space - bring it. I debated leaving pillows behind this trip but threw them in last-minute. How happy was I to have them? Well, since I don't keep sunscreens on the windows so that Jelly can look out, having a pillow to put up against the window was fantastic. Big, bulky, comfortable, and a piece of home (comfort/familiarity for Jelly), I plan to do this every trip from now on. I also brought a foot pump 'just in case' (totally needed it several times already), an extra sweatshirt (yeah, it's cool here in the mornings), and a whole full box of diapers.

Step 4 - What to take from the bottom up
Generally as a rule I pack at least 2-3 times what I think I need for diapers (I'll bet you've sensed the trend here). More if you're stopping at a hotel with a pool. With a 2-year old I stopped about once every 1 1/2 - 2 hours to make sure she didn't have a sore tush at the end of the trip. Don't assume that all gas stations/fast food restaurants have place to change a kid - I stopped at a Wendy's one time and was so pissed there was no drop-down changing table in the bathroom that I changed her on the dirty floor in the middle of the restaurant. Which I am not proud of. The staff and patrons were not impressed either. Changing a kid this size on the passenger seat of a car is not really an option in my mind - I'd rather pull to the side of the road and change her in a field (totally did this Sat. afternoon).

*Step 4 - But bring what you'll really use
Once the kid can walk, ditch the stroller. They'll need/want to run around when you stop anyhow. Although it's handy for hauling stuff into the hotel, you really should only need to carry 2 things in with you if you plan ahead - the cooler, and an overnight bag. The overnight bag should include jammies and a change of clothes, plus an extra change of clothes for the young one (I've started changing her on our lunch stop the second day so she isn't totally wrecked when we arrive at our destination, plus it's good to have something handy that you don't have to think about in case of spills, accidents etc.). If there's a pool, pack bathing suits, slip-on shoes, and a plastic bag for the wet stuff afterwards. Tons of diapers/wipes. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, a comb. Your child's lovey, a doll/stuffed animal, and 1-2 books. Cell phone charger. Order a kid's show on pay-per-view, it will make them happy despite the $5 outrage.

I like to travel with a beach blanket. It's handy for lots of stuff. I try to grab lunch during a gas-up stop, then find a rest area with picnic facilities along the way. For this trip, I grabbed a sub (you already have chips, fruit and drinks, right?) and we stopped at the awesomely gorge-eous (ha ha) New River Gorge Lookout. If West Virginia can't give us pay-at-the-pump gas pumps (seriously, folks - it's 2010 already), it sure gave us some right purty stuff to look at. Next summer when we make the trip I plan to REALLY break my father's travel rules (1. Get in car. 2. Drive til you get there.) and stop in the national park or somewhere thereabouts and go for a lunchtime swim. How well will The Bean sleep after THAT?!

Step 5 - Surviving the drive
Remember that whole thing about comfort/familiarity? You can pack all the new, exciting DVDs and CDs that you want, but your child is going to want to watch what they know. My awesome CSM friends lent me an array of dog-centric films, but she lasted an average of 4-6 minutes on each. Then it was back to the same ol' Dora-Diego-Wonder Pets-Elmo rotation that I am insane from hearing every day. If that's what makes 'em happy, I say go for it. I always make kid-friendly CDs, but JR refuses to listen to them. She's a TV fan, what can I say. Have I had 'Isa turn the wheel, turn the wheel Isa!' in my head constantly, from watching Dora's Pirate Piggy Adventure? Yes. It's a small price to pay for quiet from the backseat when I'm having road rage because I'm stuck behind a farmer.
If you're lucky, your child will be like my sister N. They will climb in the car and be asleep before the final click on the carseat strap, and won't wake up until you pull in the drive of your destination. If you're unlucky, you will have a Bean, who hates to miss a second of the excitement and only sleeps for an hour or so, no matter how little sleep she had the night before or how long the drive. I wish I could have somehow trained her better, but she's just like her mama that way. If your child likes to look at books, bring 'em. Jelly was happy to flip through her favorites many times, although she did have to be reminded I couldn't read them to her.

As hard as it is to do, I try to stop around 4 pm. This gives me time to get settled in the hotel room, get a swim, have a relaxing dinner, and be in bed at a reasonable time. Book a hotel with a pool - it will be good for all of you. I was so dizzy and nauseous when I got out of the car the first day I wasn't sure I could walk. A swim (albeit, holding a small child) was great. Some places provide pool toys (the place I stop has noodles, beach balls, and even Diego water wings! Sweet! How many diseases do you think I got inflating THOSE?!). Also, stay somewhere that either has a restaurant in-house or onsite, or at least within walking distance. The last thing you want to do is get back in the car, and you probably don't want to order pizza if you've had a fast food lunch/breakfast. Plus more walking = good. Request a room away from the elevator or any large groups. Request a fridge (can't hurt).

Step 6 - Go with the flow
This is the one I always have the most problems with. There are always going to be things that come up that change the direction of your travel plans. You may not always leave at the time you expect or stop where/when you want to, but you can be flexible and accept that you can't control all the aspects of a long journey. You'll be happier if you can do this, and your child will be happier. I ended up taking a few wrong turns, but saw some nice unexpected scenery and still made it to where I was going
Don't try to do too much. Stay hydrated. Take lots of pictures. At the very least, you're together as a family, with no interruptions - this doesn't happen a lot, enjoy it!


Laraf123 said...

Your road trip sounds like so much fun! What wonderful memories you are making!

(And thanks for the good advice!)

chris said...

We're flying with baby G. in just over a month to see grandparents.. 3 flights, 14 hours in planes and 7 hours of layovers each way.. with a 1 1/2 old so thank you for all the traveling tips!!

Looks like you guys have a lot of fun on your road trips though. Getting a hotel with a pool is brilliant!

MommieV said...

We stayed at a Days Inn that had a paltry continental breakfast to say the least. One cereal type (sugar covered raisin bran) one fruit type (that my daughter doesn't eat) no plain oatmeal, just apple cinnamon. And no protein whatsoever for the preggo mama traveling with us having blood sugar issues.

I ended up being very thankful for the tons of cheerios in baggies in the hotel room, and we stopped at a food mart for an overpriced banana.

So I agree with the packing tons of food because they might turn into meals thing!

I must do diapers differently, tho, because I took tons more than I thought I'd use, and brought home tons more than I had needed!