By Guest Blogger Taylor Hansen
Road trip. Road trip with an infant and toddler. Road trip with an infant and toddler during a global pandemic … Yes, we did that.
When the first shutdown due to COVID hit our country in March, I was five months pregnant. No big deal, no panic at all right? Aside from the fact we were being told, “If you test positive in labor we will separate you from your baby!” All we could think about was how to safely introduce our family to our brand-new son. The majority of our family lives in Michigan. We live in California. Bit of a hike when you take out the option of flying.
As COVID escalated, per our doctors’ orders, we were not allowed to have visitors for the birth. Once our son was one month old we felt comfortable enough to take him to meet his Michigan family. We decided flying would not be a safe option for the kids, but a simple 2,300-mile cross-country road trip seemed doable. Are we nuts? Yes!
Just hopping in the car and seeing how far we could make it that day didn’t sit well with me. I planned each stop down to the hour, all of which we hit ON TIME. Not sure how we pulled that off, it definitely had to be beginners’ luck.
Here are some tips and plans that will hopefully help with your next road trip with little ones!
How we planned the travel days:
1. We picked the amount of drive hours we wanted to accomplish each day. We chose 8-10 hours as the drive amount depending on the day (thank goodness my husband likes driving.) We planned the trip to be completed in 3.5 days driving.
2. We made sure we did one long activity (2-4 hours long) to start the day. Due to COVID we only stopped at places where we could be outdoors, low crowds and easy social distancing. We did the following COVID safe activities along the way:
California to Michigan (Northern Route):
– Zion National Park in Zion, UT
– Denver, CO – hotel pool play to start off the relaxing day.
– Davenport, IA – lunch to see great grandparents.
– Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton, IN
Michigan to California (Southern Route):
– Davenport, IA – lunch to see great grandparents.
– Kessler Park in Kansas City, MO
– Myriad Botanical Gardens in Oklahoma City, OK (I highly suggest buying tickets to walk inside the Crystal Bridge Conservatory, such stunning views!)
– Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX (This was VERY crowded, we wanted to spray paint our names on the cars as well, but chose to just walk around the perimeter to be extra cautious!)
– Coconino National Forest in Sedona, AZ
3. With our newborn we had to stop every two hours to breastfeed. This was a great way to sneak in snack breaks, exercise and refill on gas.
4. We had hotels booked for the nights going towards Michigan ahead of time. This way it forced us to keep moving at a steady pace.
A sample of our drive schedule for day two of our three-and-a-half-day journey is below:
ZION, UTAH to DENVER, CO (total drive time 8.75 hours)
10:00am-12:00pm Explore Zion National Park
12:00pm Begin drive to Grand Junction, CO (drive time 4.75 hours)
– stop for feeding when needed (approx. 2:30pm)
Between 5:00pm-6:00pm Stop in Grand Junction, CO
6:00pm-8:00pm Dinner, watch sunset, long stretch!
8:00pm Begin drive to Denver, CO (drive time 4 hours)
– stop for feeding when needed (approx. 10:30pm)
1:00am Arrive in Denver, CO
Tips for what to bring in the car to keep things calm, cool & collected:
- Burp Cloths- SO MANY BURP CLOTHS. We flew through these throughout the trip.
- Diaper bag- even though we had everything in the car, it was nice to have easy access for those quick stops.
- Outdoor blanket- we used this at all of the stops for stretching and tummy time.
- Pop-up canopy tent- we didn’t end up using this but it would have been great if we had not found shade at stops.
- Dock-a-tot- we used this to help with roadside diaper changes.
- Shades for the windows- crucial for keeping the sun out of the eyes, especially during naps.
- We had a bag full of books in the car.
- iPad, fully loaded with favorite games & shows.
- Portable battery pack to charge electronics.
- Plan long drive stints around naps and bedtime.
- Use a convertible car seat. We would rotate to rear facing during naps, it was much more comfortable.
- Change of clothes. Snacks in the car proved to be very messy.
- Bowls, bibs, straw cup, fork & spoon. Finding kid friendly utensils on the road was very difficult.
- So many snacks. Change up the snack options. The more variety the better. This is a great distraction for toddlers in the car.
We had a “COVID KIT” in our car, which stored the following items:
- Antibacterial Wipes
- Hand Sanitizer
- KN95 masks (we used these at gas stations if we had to go indoors for snacks, bathroom, etc.)
- Fabric Masks (we used these for our outdoor activities)
- Coffee filters to put in fabric masks
Fun little things we did along the journey to document:
1. State Signs: I followed along on my phone to see how close we were to the state sign. As we got close we guessed what each slogan would be. We almost captured every state on video – we had a minor meltdown at the Iowa state line. It was a “Well, we made it to Iowa!” as our newborn screamed at us.
2. Sunsets: We stopped at sunset to enjoy the view. Sometimes it was an EPIC location, sometimes it literally was just the side of the road. No matter the view, we created such fond memories watching the sunset together as a family.
3. Postcards: We picked up postcards in every state. These are getting harder to find but Love’s Truck Stops always had options to pick from! We wrote a quick memory on the back.
4. Mirror Selfies: We took a quick mirror selfie every morning right before we left the hotel. Not a perfect family photo, but a fun way to capture the moods along the way.
Our biggest piece of advice when it comes to planning a trip during COVID is to stay flexible. We had planned other fun stops along the way but due to crowds, lack of social distancing and wearing masks, we had to steer ourselves in another direction. It helped our boys are so young, they didn’t notice the difference. Even with a few detours & long drive days, the boys (and my husband and I) still had the adventure of a lifetime. Plus, the look on the grandparents’ faces when we finally arrived was definitely worth it.
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