Traveling with Roadies: How to have a chaos-free road trip (without relying on screen time)

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For Christmas last year, we took a long (think 15 hours with stops) road trip to visit family. An ambitious undertaking with a newborn and toddler in tow!  Read on for the gear, the details, and  what you need to know to make a road trip with little ones successful.

Who: 

Nick: dad/husband, Kylie Jo: mom/wife/navigator, Isaiah: son/toddler/explorer/

laugher at all things silly, Rebekah: daughter/newborn/loves the boob

What/When/Where/Why:

Christmas Road Trip! Traveling from Plainville, KS to Nashville, TN (835.5 mi) and 12 hours 18 minutes (in actuality, it took us about 15 hours with stops). We went for Christmas vacation, to visit my family on my dad's side, whom I've only spent time with once in my life. Needless to say, this was a big deal. 

OUR GEAR: 

Travel Treat Boxes. We included a new blanket and small flashlight in ours. One box for the trip there, the other for the trip back. Small enough to fit in the back seat.

WATER. Tons of water. Breastfeeding merits much more water than you think!

Cooler with ice packs and snacks. We chose nuts, trail mix, chips, deer jerky, fresh fruit, deer summer sausage, crackers/chips, and cheese. And some chocolate.

Chocolate. Momma’s gotta have chocolate on the road. Obviously. 

Fully-charged iPad with 2 downloaded movies (Veggie Tales’ Easter and Jonah)

Christmas Road Trip Playlist (With over 13 hours of music, tons of genres and tempos CeeLo Green, Ingrid Michaelson, Lauryn Hill, Adele, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Needham, LeCrae, Johnnyswim, Frank Sinatra, Bruno Mars, The Jackson 5, Pentatonix, Israel Houghton, Fall Out Boy, Jgivens, Alicia Keyes, and even some Veggie Tales ;-)

Pillows. Blankets. I used the Boppy when we stopped, to nurse as comfortably as possible. Blankets were great for putting in the windows for privacy and sun blockage.

How did it go?

SO WELL! 
I had thought it was going to be really rough. We wanted to leave at like 3 in the AM, but because the night before we had had some issues finishing up packing and Nick trying to get his last assignments for the fall Seminary term finished…we didn’t leave until almost 7 am! Good part is, we were rested, but the bad is that we were really anxious about traffic.

Traffic was actually very light, surprisingly. We left a few days before Christmas eve, and headed back to KS two days after Christmas. Traveling I-70 was actually very pleasant. The weather was okay - it was still super cold, so trying to keep baby girl bundled up became cumbersome, but we have one of those really nice car seat covers with the fleece lining. :-)

Toddler boy enjoyed his car treats very much! We showed him the boxes the day before leaving, and told him that he could open them in the car and use them only for the trip. He was so excited! They were the last thing to go into the car before we took to the road, and the first thing he did was open his first box and take out a piece of chocolate. Lord, help me I never let him have chocolate that early in the day, but it’s a road trip, MOM!  We do what we need to do. 

Baby girl had some issues with spitting up - as did her big bro during the early weeks of his life. She was three months old by the time we took our trip, but was still figuring out the whole being a tiny human thing. We kept her close when we were outside the car. Baby-wearing has become a big deal to us, and I looooooooove my Ergo.

How did you breastfeed on the road?

Very Carefully. I sat in the back for about 90% of the trip. Pretty normal for us, since its a lot less strain on the ol’spine to spin around every time the baby is crying. There were numerous times I had to feed Rebekah without stopping…and so that meant hunching over her car-seat with the boob pressed firmly up against the side of it so that she could reach it enough to nurse.

Frequently. Because baby girl was still in the phase of establishing my supply (I’m a slow milker), I didn’t want to use the pacifier very much. As much as she needed to nurse, I tried to accommodate. The shoulder of the highway was pretty cozy for us! Thankfully, I have marathon nursers and she would usually be finished within 15 minutes!

Confidently. Because we didn’t have to worry about being in Nashville at a solid time, I didn’t feel bad for having to stop and nurse as much as baby needed it. I was able to still watch her feeding cues, and rest in between when needed.

Unapologetically. When we stopped at truck stops or, say, the Chik-Fil-A in St. Charles, MO, I wasted no time unbuckling our little lady and nursing her while we ate or walked around. Rarely did anyone even notice that I was nursing. Maybe it was just the holidays, or maybe it was because I did my best to be discreet - either way, I didn’t feel awkward!

How did the toddler do? 

Meltdowns: We had one moment of all-out-make-me-wanna-cry tantrums. And it was because, unfortunately, some Dollar Store toys easily fall out of the booster seat and onto the floor. And even mommy’s long arms aren’t long enough to reach them. Thankfully, the shoulder of the road proved to be a respite for retrieving lost toys.

Electronics: We only had to employ the use of an electronic device twice. He fell asleep once, and the other time, it was just before we got into Nashville. He started to get restless, and so we decided to let him watch some Veggie Tales while we navigated the winding roads of Mt. Juliet, TN. They may not have been as winding as we thought - but it was almost 10 o’clock at night, and we’d been on the road for quite some time by that point!

Food: we had to make some compromises. I had wanted him to be satisfied with deer sausage and jerky and cheese, but in the end, the golden arches were very enticing. We didn’t eat as much fast food as we would have without our fresh snacks, though! In a bind, Wendy’s and Taco Bell have some healthier options, and cheaper! We like the quesadilla for little dude, and burritos for us!

Potty Training didn't work on the road. Unfortunately, and I know many parents will say it’s not something they’re willing to go back on, but it just didn’t stick with us for the trip. We had made such great progress before traveling, but I didn’t want to deal with wet clothes or false alarms. We had to pick our battle, and the curious toddler-in-a-dirty-truck-stop-bathroom was not a battle we wanted to fight! We chose to stick with diapers until we got back. Of course, as children do, Isaiah reverted on the trip…but, also, as children typically do, once we re-introduced our routine back home, he was a champ and did great with potty-training again.

Observations & Things I wish I'd known: 

Sleep schedules will be off. Isaiah’s sleep schedule had been off-kilter since we moved, a few months before, and we had hoped it would even out sooner, but traveling just kind of brought out more issues. It’s hard to sleep comfortably in the car, and even though he took a nap at a normal time, the combination of eating weird, not having a physical outlet, and media made his sleep pattern really funky. So, we did what we could while in Nashville to have a better outlook on sleep and rest, but in the end, we just wanted to enjoy our stay and didn’t stress about making him get a nap. That didn’t come back to haunt us, as it made his bedtime pretty early, and helped us to all get a good night’s rest as well!

Pack N'Play for the win. If you don’t have a Pack-N-Play, they’re GREAT. My aunt loaned us one and I loved it. We also had a Rock-n-Play that we had borrowed from a parishioner, and it was very helpful for Rebekah during the day at my uncle and aunt’s house. I used it like a bassinet, kept it downstairs, while the pack-n-play was upstairs in the guest bedroom.

Blowouts will happen. I think every mom knows this, but we are usually in denial. I eventually just put a cloth diaper behind her in her car seat to soak up any spillage. A leak proof piddle pad also works wonders for this... either way, put some layers between baby and carseat. 

Crying. I learned a lot about Rebekah’s cries during the drive down. I had underestimated my ability to decipher what she needed based on her cries, but I used that to know whether she needed to just burp, or was hungry, or just wanted to cuddle for sleep. It made the stopping less stressful because I knew what to do, instead of having to guess. That could be because of a second kid….lol that tends to make things a little easier when you’ve done it before!

Pack. Extra. Outfits. See blowout note a few points back. I’m so glad we had extras.

You can always use more hand sanitizer.

Take the pump. My family wanted to give us a date night, and when they asked if I had my pump, I felt so ill-prepared! Hand-expressing works, but it takes a little bit of work! So, I hand-expressed about 4 ounces into a Tommee Tippee that I bought on sale from a Target near my aunt and uncle’s house. I wish I’d have just taken my pump!

It was an amazing trip, with minimal bumps in the road! I was still taking my placenta capsules, and we have a steady flow of whole-food multi-vitamins, probiotics, and fish oil in our diet. That helped with energy, lactation, and also overall mood, I think. The weather was a lot milder in TN than KS, and that made being outdoors much more pleasant. Rebekah and Isaiah got to meet family they’ve never seen before, and we all got to celebrate Christmas with a new group of relatives.

We learned that traveling doesn’t have to be stressful. At best, it’s peaceful and full of wonder. At worst, it’s adventurous and full of surprises! Either way, there is always something to learn and something for which we can be grateful. Whether with crying newborns or fussy toddlers, road trips are worth the family effort to enjoy and create family memories/traditions.

Planning a road trip with littles?

Tell us your plans! And share your best tips and tricks in the comments below. 

Kylie Jo is a wife and mom of two. She works as a doula and birth educator in rural Kansas and blogs at seasoningsalt.org.