Mommy lesson #49: Traveling with a toddler (part 1)

We did it. Drove all the way to Denver, Colorado, and back, without going completely insane. Let me tell you that fourteen hours in a car with a fourteen month old is no picnic, though C held up really well and was, for the most part, a great little traveler considering she can hardly stand to be still for sixty seconds at a stretch. We broke up the drive into two days both directions, which was the right decision (for us anyway). Going we left about 1:00 pm and made it to Wichita, KS in about five hours with one stop. The next day we made the drive from Wichita to Denver in about nine and a half hours (?? not sure exactly, since we happily gained an hour) with only two stops. Whew. Coming back we got a bit of a late start, were a little slower, and needed slightly longer and more frequent stops.

I am by no means an expert on traveling with kids, but I thought I’d share a few of the lessons I learned along the way. Hopefully they will be helpful :).
1. Not every public restroom has a changing area

Now you would think that if your establishment is right off an interstate and long-distance travelers are your bread and butter, you would naturally provide this amenity. Not so. Even several fast food restaurants that we stopped at lacked this all important feature  It was very inconvenient, especially since on the way back we had piled the backseat high with stuff. Have you ever tried to change a diaper on a squirmy toddler in the front seat of a car? Not easy people. My advice? Make a place somewhere in your vehicle for diaper changes, just in case. (I will mention that the McDonald’s in Hays, KS is an exception. It had excellent facilities and a huge, indoor play place, including an area made especially for tots! Five stars!)
2. Bring extra wipes

I’m talking at least twice as many as you think you will possibly need. I had two regular packages of wipes and at least four sets of travel wipes spread throughout the diaper bag, my purse, and a backpack and we still had to buy more. Twice. These little items are essential, since while you’re on the road (and throughout the whole vacation) they will serve a multitude of purposes beyond their intended use. Cleaning up hands and face after every meal. Wiping dirt from knees to check for owies after yet another tumble. Cleaning mud and rocks from between toes after wading in a creek. Cleaning up the inside of the car (and Daddy’s shirt) after an incident with a baby food squeeze pouch. I’ll say it again – bring tons.
3. Don’t count on baby to nap in the car

Don’t let the picture fool you, sleeping in the car did not come easily for C (and no, I have no idea how she got her leg into that position, much less how it could possibly be comfortable…we might have a future contortionist on our hands). I know every child is different, and yours might be a great car napper. Baby Girl…not so much. This picture was taken after she’d worn herself out trying to climb all the rocks in the Garden of the gods, and she slept for a grand total of fifteen minutes. I think the longest she slept in the car was thirty minutes. She would generally fall asleep for about ten minutes, then wake up crying. I’d give her back her paci and try to cushion her head with her blankie or a travel pillow (glad I found one at TJ Max for a third of the price, since it wasn’t very effective) and she’d sleep a bit longer before waking again. I’m not sure if she just couldn’t get comfortable (she generally sleeps on her tummy with her legs curled up under her) or if the light was bothering her since she usually naps in a darkened room…I don’t know. It was a good experience for me though, since it helped me to relax a little about naptime and sleep in general. She only took one real morning nap the day after we got there, and other than that just slept briefly in the afternoons. So yeah, expect less sleep over all, for both you and your little one. 🙂
4. Expect mealtime to be more of a challenge than usual

Again, your child may be a great eater and have no trouble with eating as much as usual, but my daughter the social butterfly decided it was much more enjoyable to look around at the new places, waving and saying hi to all her new friends during meals than to actually eat anything. I gave up on trying to keep her meals balanced and healthy and was just happy when she would eat more than two bites of anything. I’m pretty sure she subsisted on cereal bars, mum-mums, and baby food squeeze pouches the entire trip. And that’s ok. I told myself she wasn’t likely to get a nutrient deficiency after one week of less than healthy eating, and just let it go. She’s definitely making up for lost time now, eating eagerly and heartily at (almost) every meal.
5. Bring lots of things for baby to do, but don’t be surprised if she still gets bored and restless

I packed two canvas bins full of toys, books, and “busy bags” for C to play with on the trip. She did play with most everything, but her attention span being what it is (about as long as a squirrel’s after a shot of espresso) nothing captured her attention for hours on end. Well, except for the iPad. I avoided using it for the first day, but after that her periods of “screen time” got longer and longer, until by the last day I think she watched one full-length movie and two Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episodes. Hey, you do what you’ve got to do. It would have been easier if she had had a flat surface to play on. I looked everywhere for a tray that would work with her car seat, but the only thing I found that fit over the arms was a “breakfast in bed” tray and it ended up being too high for her to use comfortably. She just needs to get a bit taller. 🙂 In my next post I will tell you the different “travel activities” I put together and rate them on how well they held C’s attention.
What lessons have you learned about traveling with young kids, and what advice do you have to make it go more smoothly?

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