Before the trip I searched the internet for guides on how to travel with toddlers. The only suggestions that were out there were tips on how to fly with toddlers and how to drive with older kids. For other moms and dads out there, here is my survival guide for parents traveling with little ones for extended periods of time. Keep in mind that I was alone during the entire 13 and a half hour trip there and 12 and a half hour trip back.
- Leave at the appropriate time. This is a tricky one. When both of us were driving the appropriate time was 8pm so that Ethan could sleep all the way down and then the grandparents would be ready to greet and play with him while we could crash. However that requires shift driving through the night. For this trip I waited to leave for my destination until 11 or noon. The key to this method was keeping Ethan awake during his usual morning nap. Before we left I did that by going to church! Ethan refuses to ever sleep at nursery so that gave me a chance to delay his morning nap until noon when we rolled out of the church parking lot (he was sleeping when I got to the light at Middlebrook and Cedar Bluff, about a mile away from church).
- Chicken McNuggets are great. So after his late morning nap I went through the drive-thru at McDonalds. I just ordered the 10 nugget meal for the both of us and I cut up about three nuggets for Ethan. Then I used this handy dandy treat dispenser to put the cut up nuggets in and we were back on the road. I also gave him a few fries each trip but he wasn't really impressed.
- A rest stop makes for a great distraction. On each trip Ethan and I took a stop at a good rest stop that had security guards on duty. I don't recommend those that don't just for safety reasons (esp. if you are traveling alone). For these stops I packed my handy dandy umbrella stroller. If someone knows of another way to go to the bathroom with a 12 month old they can let me know, but this worked pretty well. Ethan also loved pushing the stroller back to the car. Just by letting Ethan walk to and from the bathroom building we probably spent 20 minutes at each rest stop but it was worth it. I only stopped once during each trip but each time it was a nice way to let Ethan get out and stretch his legs.
- New or unseen toys. Ethan's birthday was a week and a half before our big trip. As soon as I made the decision that I was going to make the long trek I sequestered most of his new toys. I also made a trip to Toys R Us to buy a set of Elmo board books (with travel box) and an electronic steering wheel toy that sat on his lap. During the trip I had a small suitcase on the passenger seat that was stocked with all his toys. When ever he would get upset or bored I would just hand him a new toy or book. It worked out great. I even made it to Louisiana without giving him two of the toys in the suitcase.
- Dinner! So a little over half way of our trip we stopped for dinner. On the way we stopped at Chili's in Meridian, MS and on the way back we stopped at the Cheesecake Factory in Birmingham, AL. At both restaurants there was a wait during which Ethan could walk around the waiting area. Also at both restaurants I requested a booth with a booster seat for Ethan. Until the food came I just let him walk around the booth. I love the Cheesecake Factory because they bring you a little plate of bread (rye and white) and banana slices for your little one before you even order.
- Nighty, Night! After dinner (which was later than usual) he was pretty pooped and pretty much fell asleep. Well, on the way back he was asleep before I could get back on the interstate. On the way to LA he didn't fall asleep until it got dark outside, but until then he just sucked on his paci and snuggled with his softee.
- Clothes. Although this is a smaller thing to consider I did dress Ethan in just a onsie for both trips. That way he is ready for bed when we finally do arrive at our destination.
- Oooooo (The wild card that I saved for the return trip) Before I left Knoxville I did get permission from our pediatrician to turn Ethan's car seat around. While I was in Broussard my sister helped me turn it around and what was Ethan's reaction? "ooooooooo" For about 5 miles after I left my dads house all I heard from the back seat was "ooooooooo." It was so cute!
How about tips for the driver? Well, I forgot to check out an audio book from the library so I pretty much listened to my iPod for both trips. I really enjoyed listening to some of Paul Washer's sermons that I downloaded the night before the trip. If you never listened to the message he delivered at a youth conference it is worth every minute of your time. Of course the cell phone is a must and I used it to talk to many a friend during the long journey. My sister even met me in Baton Rouge and took me out for beignets before continuing on to Duson. She also "drove" with me there so that made the last part of the trip bearable.
I do have one final thought about this trip: We live FAR away from my home state!
Well, I think that is the end of my advice for any parent traveling alone with their kidlet. I did it and so can you!