Our Second Road Trip with Baby (Now a Toddler)

Our first trip with the baby was not the complete disaster we expected it to be.  It was less than optimal, but I was proud of us for finally hitting the road as a new family with a child.  We learned several important lessons about how to road trip more efficiently and more comfortably for all of us the next time.  We kept all of those lessons in mind.  Yet, despite that, driving long distances with a small child and a dog is incredibly challenging.  

We packed less stuff… sort of.  The trunk is overly full of stuff we’re taking to my sister, but our suitcases aren’t expanded.  Louise’s toys were much easier to pick through in her in-car bin, not entirely filled with books, toys, emergency cheerios, and her diaper pouch (small diaper bag with just the basics).  The floor of the car had our electronics, the cooler, the snack bag, and the lunchbox with pre-made, pre-cut sandwiches for everyone (especially now that Louise loves peanut butter and jelly!).  The dog is sitting comfortably in a less-filled front seat.  And I’m sitting in the back seat across from Louise handing her a toy every few minutes to keep her compliant.  We are six hours into an eight or nine hour drive.  And I’m typing while James drives.

All things considered, this trip is going remarkably better than the first one, primarily because I’m far more relaxed about the situation.  Louise has slept far less than on our first trip, but she’s also older and recently made the transition down to one nap per day.  Twenty minutes isn’t quite a long enough nap for a normal day, but hopefully it’ll cut it until we get to my parents’ house this evening.  Once I accepted that we’ll all be uncomfortable for periods of the drive and that Louise will cry a little bit when we try to have her take a nap, and when she’s bored and desperately wants to stretch her legs but we’re still 20 minutes from the next rest area, this drive feels like it’s going so much more smoothly (regardless of whether it actually is or not)!

{Writing pause for playtime with Louise to try to distract her from said 20 minutes remaining before next stop.}

{One week later.}

Well, so much for multi-tasking!  We made great time on the rest of that drive, but the last couple hours were tough.  No matter how long the stop at a rest area, Louise was NOT happy to get back in the car for another extended period.  She had a clean diaper and a fully tummy, but nothing can replace that well-rested feeling after she has a good nap.  And she did not have one of those on this drive.  So, for the last hour of the trip, the only thing that kept Louise from screaming of exhaustion was holding her hand and singing through more than our entire repertoire of children’s songs.  Once we arrived and unloaded, Louise went straight into her bedtime routine to get some much-needed rest.

The trip itself was great.  With Louise now walking like a champ, we planned ahead and pre-shipped baby-proofing supplies to my parents’ house — cabinet locks for the dangerous kitchen cabinets, foam edging for the stone fireplace hearth (also covered in blankets), baby gates for the stairs, and electrical outlet covers.  We didn’t make the mistake of trying to baby proof the entire house, but it was so much more comforting to know that the biggest dangers were minimized in the primary part of the house where we’d spend our waking time.  Baby-proofing also gave us a greater sense of security when Lou’s grandparents offered to babysit so we could have some time away.  

For the first couple days, Louise didn’t need many toys at all to play with because she enjoyed exploring the new space so much — finding the dog bowls to tip over, the tissue box to pull all the tissues out of, and the playing cards to scatter across the floor.  Luckily, she didn’t discover the unlocked drawers and cabinets in the kitchen or the electrical wiring behind the TV stand.  There is always plenty of danger around any space, especially one not carefully curated for our new young explorer, but also plenty of fun for the curious mind of a toddler.

We tried to keep our routines consistent, including similar meals to what Louise would eat at home, similar naptime procedure (though the times she went down varied more, based on her energy levels).  Plenty was also different than at home.  With Louise being under two years old, she normally watches almost no television or other screens.  Our house is typically fairly quiet during the day, occasionally with some music playing either quietly with lullabies or a little louder during an afternoon dance party.  On the trip, she got much more noise and visual stimulation.  Not to mention the stimulation of being around more people than just primarily mommy during the day.  So, our calming routines in the early evening, like going outside for a walk, were even more important to maintain.  She didn’t sleep through every night (she’s still a toddler in a new, highly stimulating environment); but for the most part, the trip went smoothly.

Driving back home at the end of the week, we again got off to a later-than-expected start.  There’s a LOT of gear, even with our much lighter packing, but we also stayed longer to eat breakfast before we hit the road and say a nice goodbye. We stopped several times on the way back to let Lou stretch her legs, and we still got home with just a thirty minute car-capella concert of toddler tunes to stave her off for dinner and bedtime.  Thankfully, she was thrilled to go to sleep, back in her own crib! All in all, our second road trip with a toddler in tow was easier, if only because we had better expectations than we did during our first trip with baby Louise.

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