You know how there are those things that you’ve loved your whole life and can’t imagine ever not liking? Yeah, for me that was going on road trips: with friends, with family, on my own – anything. Some of my favorite childhood memories were camping with my family, far off in the Rockies or up in Canada. As an independent adult I got to explore the lighthouses of the Oregon coast with my besty. I’ve trekked the Cassiar Hwy from Seattle to Anchorage solo and the ALCAN back with a friend (much better with good company). I’ve journeyed down the Mexican coast, camping with my future husband… The list goes on and on.
Well yeah, so um, when you have a baby, what was once an awesome 12 hour drive with some chill pit stops all of the sudden becomes an 18 hour drive, split into two days with an unplanned overnight somewhere off the freeway and so, so many more stops than you ever thought acceptable. You’d think that there’d be ways to prepare for a road trip with an infant to make it smooth, but there’s not. You can stock the diaper bag and prep bottles/food, but yeah, no. You’re going to take a burdensome amount of time not going anywhere.
So, having said that, here’s what we learned and what will make the experience better:
1.) Over estimate ALL aspects of your trip. I don’t mean plan. I mean think about what you think will happen, add twenty minutes to each hour and be cool with it. Example: you get in the car twenty minutes later than you’d hoped for, and then you have a surprise poopy diaper after only two exits down the highway. Rinse and repeat.
2.) Plan where you’ll be staying. It used to be that we could hop in the car and drive and not care how far we did or didn’t make it. That may still be the case, but as a gay couple with a child, it’s better to be ready to check into a trusted lodging establishment than to happen into a seedy motel in rural Oregon and be uncomfortable and uncertain of your night. I’m not saying that that will happen, but picture it: it’s late, raining hard. We pull off the I5 and roll into a dark parking lot. The clerk is insistent we need two beds and delays our sleep a little more with each glance and question. We get to bed (two beds) and lay there because we assume the worst of what we’ll encounter in the morning. Morning comes and we’re all okay, but then we get to breakfast where the glances and questions continue.
**I know it sounds like I’m just touchy, but I’m not normally, so know that having an encounter that could’ve been avoided, yeah, I like to steer clear. Also, I do love to support the little guy and non-corporate businesses, but there’s something to be said for booking a room that you know you’ll be comfortable and safe in, if for no other reason than you know that there is a corporate brand that will fight for your business.
3.) Snacks. ’nuff said. Actually maybe a bit more. Have snacks for everyone that will keep you comfortable in the car. Dried fruit, while tasty and healthy, is a poor choice sometimes. Example: I can’t get enough Craisins…which have a swift effect that can be quite sudden. ’nuff said. It might sound weird or complicated, but hummus with pretzels and fresh fruit is the best car combo I’ve ever found. Something everyone likes, it’s satisfying and not too messy. Oh, and don’t forget water. Water is energizing, tasty and if you have an infant that needs bottles, well, you need water.
4.) Choose an appropriate destination for your crew. If you’re traveling with a baby, they won’t care if you’re in a city or on a beach, but they will care if you’ve set up an itinerary or activities that don’t allow for enough solid nap time. And picture going someplace that you can’t even really find a comfortable spot to sit and quietly give a bottle. I’m not saying to let a tiny person dictate your experience, but think about what’s going to make for a less-stressful day for everybody. Example: San Francisco in the winter is going to be damp and dreary. There are always great things for adults to do, but considering an infant’s needs, are you going to want to find a wet park bench in the Mission to polish off a bottle? No.
These were our four biggest take-aways from our first family road trip. I’m sure other parents have some more key thoughts about this. Feel free to comment about other important considerations below.