SOLO ROADTRIP WITH A TODDLER

Friday, December 19, 2014

one: melissa & doug reusable sticker pads • two: m & d latches board • three & four: color wonder paper and markers (we have this travel tote, but I really think a clip board would be a better option)
• five: water wow painting pads • six: fisher-price travel doodler • seven: finger puppets • eight & nine: lots and lots of stickers & a pad of paper • ten: a play and travel tray

Whew.

So there are approximately five million and one things to read out there to prepare for a road trip with a toddler, and plenty of them have tips that were helpful while we went on this grand adventure where vacation and the depths of parenting meet, but I found it nearly impossible to find anything geared toward a parent traveling alone with a child, in a car (not on a plane), for days (not a three or four hour trip). There are two groups of women I consider the strongest women - military women and New York City moms, and while it's been comically trying at times, I'm proud to have been in those two categories in my lifetime. There's something about the lack of public bathrooms, physical impossibility of carrying your stroller, child, and all other normal items down four flights of subway stairs, and the overall chaos of city life that can't help but challenge you and refine you into a stronger woman and mother. As far as military women go, we've moved four times this year and while that isn't the norm, plenty of military spouses have similar tales to tell. When I told my family about my plan to head to Missouri, the response I got was, 'Wait a second. You're going to drive 1,000 miles, alone, 20 weeks pregnant, with a two year old, in the middle of Winter, to go live in a hotel for three months?' And I just nodded and went on my merry way because I don't think twice about these sorts of things anymore or I start to panic. When you have no choices, you learn not think about something too long and you just buckle up and go. You realize quickly that you can make it through pretty much anything. Two days in the car with a screaming two year old? Buy some earplugs and drive through it. You'll get there eventually and everyone will recover. Luckily, my kid has been training for this her entire life, since this is her eighth road trip in her almost three years of life. She's a road trip pro, but I feel like I've become quite the 'pack up and go' pro too. Though she's probably a bit more agreeable in the car than most kids, I was still a little intimidated at the thought of driving solo and entertaining her sans iPad, since I'm usually the one entertaining her from the passenger seat while Alex is at the wheel. We made it through and dare I say, we actually enjoyed ourselves a little.
Here are some tips for a solo road trip with your kid:

- plan out your stops: After one too many times of listening to a baby screaming in the backseat while we frantically looked for a good place to stop, we started planning our stops ahead of time. It's amazing how much more peaceful a road trip can be when you know exactly where you're going. There are plenty of options when you're traveling in warm weather, but it's much more limited in the Winter. I mapped out the Chic-fil-a's along the way, so that I could have decent food to eat and she could have a place to burn off some energy. I also mapped out all the Starbucks along the way, so I knew where the point of no return (no coffee) was in places like Oklahoma, where you can go stretches of 100 miles without seeing a gas station, much less a coffee shop. I went so far as to write down the mile markers for every rest stop and welcome center on our route in case I was caught in a panic and needed to know how far away the next one was. In the warm weather months, it's smart to find a few parks along the way. Sometimes it can be a bit challenging to find parks in a place you aren't familiar with, but the easiest way I've found is to look on town and city websites for the place you plan on stopping or to simply pull up Google maps and zoom in at the streets around the interstate, looking for green spots, then googling the name to be sure it's a legitimate park. Bubbles and a soccer ball are good things to stash away if you have to stop at a place that doesn't have a playground, so they have something to do besides walk in circles.

There are also the holy grails of road trips with kids that are impossible to find online - rest stops with playgrounds. You people are in luck though (or at least you people who ever travel i-40 through New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma, or i-44 through Missouri) because I kept my eyes peeled and wrote down where they are on this particular route. i-40 Eastbound, there is one just past the New Mexico/Texas line at mile marker 129, while there is one Westbound just before the NM/TX line at mile marker 132. On i-44 in Southern Missouri, there are rest stops with playgrounds on both sides at mile marker 111.

- get and stay organized: Keep things contained - in the front seat and floor board I had a bag for toys, a bag for books and Highlights, a bag for cold snacks, and a bag for dry snacks. At each stop, I would pull out a few activities and snacks from the floorboard and put them in the passenger seat so they were reachable until the next stop to minimize the swerving across two lanes unintentionally while digging for a toy incidents, clean up the chaos that had happened in the backseat while I was driving, and pull up the next stop on the GPS. You always feel like you're in too big of a hurry to get back on the road to clean, but it makes a big difference in your sanity level.

- have a few new things up your sleeve: This is rookie advice, but don't bring all the same toys your kid has been playing with at home and expect them to be entertained for longer than say, five seconds. I'm not a huge proponent of buying my kid a new toy every week, but road trips are the exception. Keep in mind, simple things like stickers, tape, aluminum foil, or pipe cleaners can often keep them entertained far longer than any toy, especially because they're usually off limits at home. If we could have, a huge tote of library books would have been parked right next to Ev's seat so she could reach them all, but since we'll be gone for months that wasn't really an option. See the photo above and links for more road trip friendly toys. Also, don't underestimate the power of the Target dollar section and the like. Even if you don't want a bunch of junk floating around at home, $10 is worth a few hours of entertainment and you can throw it all out when you get home.

- try to keep to your normal schedule: Now some people swear by driving at night while their kid sleeps, but that's usually a recipe for disaster for us, so we try to stick to our normal schedule. We eat breakfast before we hit the road, have a 2-3 hour chunk of driving that needs to be filled with entertainment, stop for lunch and try our best to wear her out, get back on the road and declare it nap time so we can drive 60 miles with a full bladder but refuse to stop because she's sleeping, stop once more when she's finally awake and try to finish out the rest of the driving before dinner time. That kind of schedule limits you to eight hours of driving, nine tops, but we've just accepted that and don't push ourselves any further, which brings me to. . .

- have realistic expectations: Don't expect your toddler to ride six hours straight without protest, stay in the car during gas stops, or any other convenient, but crazy notions you may have. When you find yourself getting frustrated at their requests for something else to play with or the unceasing noise from the back seat, take a deep breathe and remind yourself they're two and this is a hard task for them. Muster up some patience.

- don't rush your stops: . . . or zone out on your phone at rest stops. Run, play games, be silly, be loud, climb in the play place with them and get crazy looks from all the other adults. Your kid will be much more willing to get back in the car if you've connected and played together, even for just a few minutes. There are also tons of ways to connect in the car. I would start a story and ask Ev to continue it, talk to her about what we were seeing outside the windows, ask her to sing me a song, teach her a new song, give her some sea creature stickers and ask her to color them an ocean/home and some food, etc.

- give in a little: We usually don't eat at fast food places period, but we rarely order kids meals or let Ev pick out her food. Road trips are the exception. We hardly let her down from the table to run and play during meal times either, but road trips are the exception on this too. Treat it a little bit like vacation.

- limit the sugar: While I'm all for giving in a little, a sugar hyped kid strapped into a car seat for hours is a force to be reckoned with. Try to pack healthy snacks and let the sugar splurges happen when they have time to run it all off. Be sure to open all packages and put everything into little snack packs that can be handed into the backseat without a worry of a huge mess. There's no reason to be passing a Costco bag of baby carrots back and forth the whole drive. A little basket with a few options for them to choose from that you can pass into the backseat might be fun too.

- save a few fun Pandora stations ahead of time: Good music makes everyone feel better when you're getting antsy in the car. And channel surfing while driving is no fun, so find some before you hit the road. Some of our favorite stations: indie singer-songwriter + classical relaxation are good for nap time, 90s alternative is good once you thumbs down some of the hard rock and thumbs up Matchbox 20 and the like, PG comedy is fun without running the risk of hearing your toddler repeating the F word from the backseat with the today's comedy station (and yes that happened on a past road trip), Ray Lamontagne will always be my perfect station, and Disney is fun for kids. We also have some old tapes in our middle console for backups when my phone doesn't get a good enough signal to use Pandora. Books on tape might be a good option to entertain you during nap time.

That's all I've got! If you have anything to add, feel free to comment below. I also thought it might be fun to share your favorite Pandora stations because we all need new music, even when we aren't road tripping!

2 comments:

  1. Great advice Andrea! But wait...when did you move to Missouri??!!!!! I can't keep up with your moves, haha. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas, my friend!

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    1. Not a permanent move! Ha! Alex is here training with the Air National Guard until March and I originally had planned on staying in New Mexico, but really didn't want Ev to spend the last few months before baby comes without her Papa. I thought it would just be too much for her, so we're all crammed into a hotel room for a few months. It hasn't been too bad though! Alex's schedule is really open, so we've been able to spend a lot of time together. It's kind of been a little like a vacation before baby and real life catches up to us again. ;)

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