Cross Country Coudray’s – Our Trip Across Country with a Toddler

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This summer we made a move back across the country from Virginia to California for Aaron’s next duty station move. We decided to make a trip of it and visit friends and family which meant taking the “long” route. Because we needed to get both cars to California we had to drive separately. I was not thrilled about this because that meant I would be solo with a 15 month old.

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Tips for long road trips with a toddler:

~ Try to establish a routine for the road: Leave a couple of hours after they wake up so the first hour or so of the drive they are napping. After he woke up I would only go another hour before stopping. This was sometimes around 11:00/11:30 so we would just have an early lunch.

~ Stop for an hour for lunch: This was so needed especially if we had gotten an early start. By the time we stopped for lunch and let him walk around and then got back in the car he would be ready for another nap. When traveling without my husband I really needed the break from driving too. Always make sure to top off gas at every stop in case naps don’t happen when you want them to. Nothing worse than having to make an extra stop for gas or pee break when the little one is sleeping. *(I once read a blog post where a lady recommended keeping several large diapers in the car at all times in case there was an “emergency” and the kids were still asleep. I would totally do it.) Also, most babies won’t poop while sitting in a car seat so they need time to walk around and “work it out.”

~ Book on tape: I got a couple before leaving thinking I would have more time to listen to them. Turns out it was best for nap time only. Still a good distraction for me though.

~Bag of toys for the road: I had a tote with a bunch of toys and books for him. The longest he would play with anything was about 15 minutes so I really only used it for meltdown prone times. I would just hand him toy after toy until the tote was empty then move them all back to the front at the next stop. I was happy that he “read” several books during the drive. I had gotten a few new toys and books to keep his attention longer as well.

~ They are going to spend more time than you would like “unhappy”. There really is no way around it. E is at an age where he can’t do things like color or read or play with typical “busy” activities so there was a lot of time that he was cranky and just done with it all.

~ iPad movies: I really didn’t plan on using this as much as we did but it was a total trip saver. Normally we don’t have him watch much tv at home but any time we were an hour from a stopping point and he had already napped I would put it on and he would be silent the rest of the time. SILENT. I came to terms with the fact that my sanity was worth the extra media time. Our iPad has a lot of stuff on it and we could only fit one movie. So we listened to Veggie Tales – The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything approximately 20,000 times over the course of a month. And he sat through it every. single. time. I actually found it a little amusing and not as annoying as some kids movies. He also likes to listen to the Veggie Tales Silly Songs which I happen to think are hilarious…

~ Food and Snacks: We don’t do a lot of between-meals snacks at home and I was hoping to not get him in the habit of eating every couple of hours on the trip. We packed a cooler with some yogurt, blueberries etc and a bunch of squeeze pouches. The entire trip we didn’t stop at a fast food restaurant once so it was pretty easy to find something for lunch and dinner on the go at restaurants or grocery stores that he would eat. (But he eats everything.) At home he has a spinach/yogurt/banana smoothie for an afternoon snack so when possible I would make one the night before (adding in orange juice to help it last longer) and then freeze it in reusable pouches. It would thaw in the cooler during the day and then I would squeeze two into his cup for his snack. I would also have some cheese sticks for him too. A couple of times close to dinner I whipped out the puffs to hold him over.

~ Overnight bag: I learned this the hard way the first night… I had to bring in two suitcases, a pack and play, his sound machine, video monitor, diaper bag, toiletry bag etc etc by myself. with a cranky toddler in tow. Luckily I was able to rearrange our bags for the rest of the trip. Some stops were for multiple days so most of our stuff came in, but a few legs of the trip were overnights and it was so much easier to just take a few things in.

~ Overnight diapers: Anytime we were driving more than two hours I would put an overnight diaper on him. E pees a lot and even stopping every two hours with an overnight on he would leak through a little to a lot. I think it’s mostly because of the way they sit in the car seat. So also…

~ Lots of extra clothes: A couple of days I had to change his pants at every stop. I had a bunch of PJ pants in the diaper bag as well as some PJ shorts in case the weather changed. Because our trip spanned so many miles and different climates I had to be prepared for all sorts of weather.

~ Be prepared to change a diaper anywhere: SO many gas stations and restaurants don’t have changing tables or anywhere sanitary to make do. And of course our car was packed full so we had to get creative. Random picnic tables, semi sitting on the car seat etc. Panera is the best bet for changing table/sometimes kiddie area/kid friendly food combination. Another shout out for the best diaper bag: Petunia Pickle Bottom with built in changing pad. Made me feel much better when the ground was the only option. And it often is.

~ Bring push pins or command strips. I actually didn’t do this but wish I had. Hotel rooms are not set up for ideal toddler/ parent sleep conditions.  E’s bedtime is around 7:00/7:30 and that’s when we want to unwind for the day. Unless you can afford a suite, you have to think out of the box. The best bet is usually right inside the door. There is usually a small hallway next to the bathroom that you can string a sheet or blanket across to create a partition. We would then turn all lights out and watch a movie on a laptop with headphones on while he fell asleep. I really wish someone would invent a better way for families to sleep in one hotel room… The command strips are great for a video monitor. We have stuck ours up on the wall so we could see when he was actually asleep. In some cases we have stayed places where the restaurant is on the other side of the wall from our room and we can enjoy a nice dinner with the monitor at the table.

~ Be prepared to improvise: This past month we had another road trip (yes I’m crazy) to Idaho for a cousins wedding. The AC went out on the way home which included several hours through 95-104 degree temps. I broke the trip up into two days and left early. My parents bought us some travel fans and I picked up a fan/sprayer to get us through. Here is my ingenious result:

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~ Keep an organized car: I try to have everything from shoes to toys to snacks in its own container or bag. That made it easier to take things in and out of the car and kept the mess to a minimum.

 

 Virginia~Missouri~Minnesota~Montana

The first leg was just Eli and I. Aaron stayed behind while the movers packed up our stuff in the truck. I’m glad we did this because it would have been difficult to keep him occupied in the house while they were clearing it out and then cleaning it. I went on to Missouri to visit my best friend and her new baby. The first day was ROUGH. I left a few hours after he woke up so that he would nap after we got started. He did not agree with that plan and was very upset for about an hour. I stopped at a rest stop and let him walk around and then we went on again. He finally did fall asleep, but not for very long. The rest of the day went a lot like that. There was a lot of rain as well which made it even slower going. By the time I got to Lexington, Ky for the night it was 8:00 and I was EXHAUSTED. I hadn’t thought through that first night and had to bring in three bags and a cooler with a toddler in tow. After getting everything in the hotel room (on a dolly with Eli sitting on top) I then realized I still had to move the car. I set Eli on the back seat and parked the car around the corner. He thought this was all great fun. Earlier that day he had spilled milk all over himself so I still needed to bath him too. By the time he got to sleep it was around 9:30 and I was beat. The next day went much better and we made way better time.

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I was thrilled to get to Ash Grove to meet Baby H and spend time with my bestie and her family. They have three dogs, a barn and a mini pony. Eli was in heaven! We even had a bonfire one night with some friends of theirs, it was totally a country weekend 🙂 Unfortunately E didn’t adjust to the time change well and had been waking up at 5:00 AM. Aaron closed out our rental and joined us (driving the whole 1200 miles in one day).

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Amanda’s adorable son

 

 

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College besties! We met up with our A Phi sister Chey in Springfield
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mini pony Samson!

 

Monday we left for Aarons parents house in Minnesota. This was another long drive and almost completely straight North. Aaron and I switched cars for a few hours so I could take a turn with some silence 🙂 Minnesota was a lot of fun. We hit up the zoo and the kids museum (which is the best one we have ever been to). Grandma and Grandpa C loved having E there. From MN We drove to North Dakota for the night and then he on to Montana. Aaron hung out for the weekend then went on to CA to meet the moving truck at the new house.

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A late birthday dinner with my man

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E and I had a great time in Montana with my parents. Their house is up in the foothills of Helena with an incredible view. They back right up to the hillside andthere is lots of room to play outside and explore. I think E’s favorite part was this cool carousel downtown.

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E and my parents puppy Bailey
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incredible view from my parents porch

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life saver, and it fit between the seats!

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Great audio books for when the kiddo is sleeping

 

~ Next Up: The second half of our trip! (Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California). For more travel pics check out #crosscountrycoudrays on Instagram.

 

 

 

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