June 26, 2014

3 lessons learned on our first toddler road trip

Sunday we drove to Glenwood Springs -- a mountain town about 2.5 hours away -- to wet our feet in the wonderful world of road tripping with a toddler. I'm sorry, did that sound sarcastic? It's not. Entirely.

This was a test. A test of our ability to get away for a weekend as a family. A test to see how the boy would do in a longer car trip. A warm-up to a much longer car trip coming in August.

The result? Not bad. Plenty of good things. And enough lessons learned to make the next one easier. After all, it was only one night and even if we didn't get 5 minutes of sleep it wouldn't take a week to recover. By the time we got home, we felt closer and more competent as a family. Like, Okay, we can do this!

The drive out was pretty non-eventful. After 1.5 hours of driving (and after the boy napped a little), we stopped for gas and food, and took this to a nearby playground so he could work out some energy. Unfortunately, this was cut short by a lightning storm, so we finished our fries in the car on the way to the hotel.

Once we were checked in, we headed to the indoor pool for recreation. After that, it was showers and relaxing in the room followed by our search for dinner downtown. We found a casual place with a 15-minute wait. I waited with the boy outside so he could run around. But by the time our table was almost ready, we decided it was too raucus and noisy (most were watching the big soccer game) so we walked down to another quieter establishment. The boy was still bursting with toddler energy, so despite the fact that we got seated right away, we decided this place was too quiet for us. What was just right? Getting pizza to go and eating in the hotel room.
  • Toddler road trip lesson #1: if your kid has been in the car for half a day or at least 2 hours, assume you will not be able to sit in a restaurant for dinner.
Our next challenge was getting our son to sleep in a queen bed surrounded by pillows. Until then, he'd never been in anything but a crib or toddler bed, so I was um... panicky skeptical. But I took DH's lead and we followed through with it. Did he fall asleep? Yes -- after an hour of tuck-in time and negotiation and drinks of water until he was too tired to fight it. Did he wake up? Yes. About 1 a.m., DH went into his room and decided to sleep with him so he'd settle down. I dozed in and out until I couldn't take the encroaching daylight at 6:00. The boy got up at nearly 7:00, and DH had the gall to sleep another half hour.
  • Toddler road trip lesson #2: assume it will take you at least one hour to put your kid to bed after a day on the road, because it will not be the same as his bed at home. And don't plan on him staying there.
Despite our poor night's sleep, we were all in a good mood. We ate breakfast in the lobby, then walked around outside so the boy could watch some construction workers and a garbage truck worker. There is no better entertainment! After we checked out, we headed to another playground to give our son plenty of time to get himself worn out before the trip home.

He did reasonably well on the trip home, but for some reason I had neglected to pack any toys for him - just a couple stuffed toys and his favorite blankie. So I bought him a Matchbox food truck at the grocery store before we headed out. Worked like a charm for only 99 cents. We even stopped for ice cream about 30 minutes from home, which was a fun diversion and his first experience with an ice cream cone. That was a sweet moment!
  • Toddler road trip lesson #3: toys. Just bring 'em.
I don't plan on bringing a ton of toys on the next trip, but I will remember the rules of airplane flying with toddlers: new toys, new books, old favorites, and room for more.