road trips

Here's What I Learned from An Autumn Road Trip (with a Toddler)

Here's What I Learned from An Autumn Road Trip (with a Toddler) | Writing Between Pauses

I am not a traveller.

I know, I know. It seems like everyone these days talks non stop about traveling. Everyone wants to travel and see the world. And in some ways, I definitely want to see the world. But I don’t like traveling.

I don’t like driving for long periods of time. I don’t like airplanes. I don’t like the stressed, naked feeling of being transitional between two places (home and destination). I don’t like the anxiety it gives me. And now that I have a small human I’m responsible for, I absolutely do not like having to pack up everything I can think of for him (including but not limited to: blankets, toys, any medication he might need, extra food, juice, cups he can use, forks he can use, emergency meals, and milk). The amount he needs has consistently gone down since he was a baby (no more giant container of formula, bottles, bottle wash, sanitizer bags, Pack’n’Play, and more), but it’s still a lot.

And doing it by myself? Excuse me, no thanks.

Well, I did just that on Friday. Danny had gone over to Central Oregon (Sunriver, to be exact) for a teaching conference in Bend. My parents have a cabin in Sunriver, so we had decided it would be a family vacation. But with Forrest in school now, I didn’t want him to miss a day so we planned to go over once he got done with school.

As the days lead up to Friday, I started to seriously panic. Taking a three-hour plus road trip by myself with a toddler? Packing up the whole car on my own? I was nervous. Danny told me he would be fine if I decided not to do it, but I knew he really wanted me to. And of course, Forrest was excited at the prospect of a vacation. Nothing makes him nervous.

As I wrote on Instagram, I didn’t want my anxiety to make Forrest miss out. Yes, it would have been better for me personally to stay at home for the weekend. But Forrest would have missed out on some potential fun and that prospect made me sad.

So I did it. On Friday afternoon, I packed up the car, got Forrest a Happy Meal (no judgement), and drove 3 hours with a potty trained toddler. Here’s everything I learned.

Road Trip 1
Road Trip 2

1. It’s probably going to all be fine.

Probably. My biggest worry was that, while going over the pass, Forrest would need to use the bathroom. Since he’s relatively newly potty trained (it’s been about 3 or 4 months), when he has to go, he usually has to go immediately. This is fairly normal for preschool age kids. However, while driving across a mountain pass, the last thing I wanted to do I was pull over and break out the little potty we keep in the car. However, my anxiety was for nothing: we stopped at a rest area before the pass and he was fine all the way until we got to the cabin.

So yeah, the thing you worry about? It’s probably going to be fine. (Please remember to tell me this next time I go on a real vacation aka go flying.)

Road Trip 2
Road Trip 4

2. It’s ok to do things you normally wouldn’t (or that you would).

I had all these plans for things Fo and I would do. Museums. Outdoor parks. Everything. I wanted him to have as much fun as possible while we were on our own mini-trip, especially as Danny was still in a conference on Saturday. However, we ended up going for a nice long walk to get coffee and a treat, then went shopping and spent time relaxing in the cabin. I felt bad that we hadn’t done any of the exciting stuff I had planned, but we did have a nice lunch out together (my first time taking him to a real restaurant on my own) and he really has fun no matter what.

Road Trip 6
Road Trip 5

3. The weather won’t cooperate, but that’s fine.

Part of the reason we didn’t do all the fun stuff I had planned? It was raining! I think of Central Oregon as very cold and relatively dry. But it had been raining at home and that rain followed us on vacation. So, the museum I wanted to go to? Mostly outdoors. The walking trails? Off limits thanks to the puddles and downpour. We made it for our walk in the morning, but that was about it. We had fun jumping in puddles outside the cabin, then retreating inside to warm up and go pick up Danny from the conference. The weather wasn’t really what I had planned on, but that’s Autumn for you, really!

This is a much more personal post than I usually post for Blogtober, but I thought I’d try something different! I had so much fun over the weekend (even when Forrest pretended to have a stomach ache to get us to leave dinner!) and I tried something outside of my routine—and it was all fine! What’s something you are challenging yourself to try this Fall?

4 Tips for Surviving a Road Trip with a Toddler

road trip with toddler

The trip to Disneyland, from where we live in Oregon, takes about 15 or 16 hours, give or take. 

15 or 16 hours, in a car, with a young toddler, can be torture. We had done a few road trips to places like central Oregon and Idaho, but nothing quite like two solid days in the car through the entirety of California. 

A few of my friends suggested driving at night so that Forrest would sleep. A few of them actually did this and had it backfire around the same time as our trip. The truth is, your toddler is not going to sleep great in the car, even if they normally sleep amazing in the car. If they're going to be in that seat for 14+ hours, they aren't going to sleep there very well. So prepare yourself for minimal naps and early bedtimes in hotels. 

We made it though, with minimal tantrums. How did we do it? Here are our 4 tips. 

1. Buy a DVD player for the car. 

Listen, I know. I always said I would never. But then my son reached toddler age and, you know what? Sometimes, you need to just distract them. A DVD player is perfect. We brought a collection of DVDs for him: Zootopia, Peter Pan, a Sesame Street DVD, a Barney DVD, and Toy Story. By the end of the trip, he was singing the theme from Zootopia whenever he had the chance. 

2. Bring snacks. 

When all else failed, we handed Forrest something to snack on. He is particularly fond of cereal bars, so we brought those, of course, as well as Goldfish, bananas, and apple juice. While sometimes he just made a mess (in the last 20 minutes driving home, he opened his milk cup, dumped it all over himself and the seat, and then mashed a cereal bar into it); otherwise, it was exactly what he needed to get over a tantrum. The first rule of toddlers is, if you can, distract them.   

3. Have someone ride in the back with him or her. 

For us, this was big: sometimes, it seemed like he was just lonely in the backseat. So, we would rearrange things and my husband would ride in the backseat with him. They would read books, watch Barney together, or just point out things along the road. 

4. Stop frequently. 

I hate stopping during road trips. I am goal oriented and, often, for me the goal is getting to our location. But with a toddler, it’s good to get out and walk around. We stopped at every other view point or rest area and got out just to stretch our legs; Forrest would walk around with his safety harness. We’d grab a snack or a soda and sit outside for just a few minutes.