Some of my friends call me crazy. I have a 15 month old son named Jack, and he has been to 22 states, Canada, 13 major cities, and has had his feet in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I travel for work, to be able to see both mine and my husband’s family, and for adventure. Sometimes he is traveling with me and my husband, but sometimes it is just me and our dog. I didn’t plan his first year to be so full, but it happened. I learned a few things from my various trips, so I thought I would write a few tips.
1) Be mentally prepared and realistic. Just a couple of weeks ago, I loaded up the car with Jack and our dog, Duke, and drove from Washington, DC to Dalton, Georgia. Normally, it’s a 10 hour drive, but it would have been torture to try to make it in that time driving by myself with a toddler and a dog. I managed my expectations to be more realistic and knew it would be closer to 14 or 15 hours. We stopped every 2 hours — mainly so Jack could play. Because I was mentally prepared, it was a pleasant trip. I also try to make sure my expectations of the day match what it will be like.
2) What you wear matters. Of course, I want to be comfortable. But I am more on top of things if I don’t feel and look sloppy. I usually wear stretchy jeans, a shirt that it is not terribly noticeable if it is a little dirty from toddler hands (but still cute), my Puma ballet sneaker flats, and a stylish hat. Also, bringing an extra shirt is ideal. I highly recommend not wearing one piece suits (this is important for the bathroom… I’ll get to that).
3) Ration the toys. I keep most of Jack’s toys up front with me (or in my bag if on a plane or train) and hand them back to him one at a time. I have them positioned to be handed back safely. If I give him all of the toys at once, he gets bored much more quickly. Once I have handed him all of his toys, it is usually time to stop for a break. (It would take about 1.5 to 2 hours to go through all of his toys. We do this at home as well, and I have been told it helps with focus.) I usually bring a mixture of 15 toys and books.
3) Think ahead about entertainment. The last trip I mentioned was 14 hours long. We did that with no TV. I was prepared with a playlist that had songs we both like, some NPR podcasts, and audiobooks. When he was happy, occupied and content, I would listen to the podcasts or audiobooks. When he started to get fidgety, I would play the surefire songs that make him smile and clap (for Jack those are Mind Games by Leagues and Shake it Off by Taylor Swift — pretty much a guaranteed smile). Swing by the library and spend a second on iTunes; you will not regret it.
4) Nature does call. For me the hardest thing when traveling with a baby or toddler (and a dog!) is going to the bathroom. With the baby, I wear him as I go to the bathroom. He is too busy and public bathrooms are too nasty for me to let him down at all. Once in the Seattle airport family room, there was a little chair attached to the wall that had straps. That was a luxury! Especially since I was a wearing a fashionable jumpsuit that was one piece (learned my lesson there because not all airports or bathrooms have those and we had other layovers).
5) Snacks. Jack was 7 months old when I drove from DC to Wilmington, NC by myself. It was the first time traveling alone with him. I was so worried about food and snacks, but another mom showed me the dissolvable snacks. It was such a relief to know that he couldn’t choke on them.
6) Traveling with a dog. Our dog, Duke, is a six year old boxer that is a saint. He is a therapy dog, has a wonderful demeanor, and loves the car! I actually have to spell C-A-R if I am not ready for him to know we are getting ready to go. Traveling with a dog brings its own obstacles. We can only do drive-thru restaurants unless I packed meals. I do not travel with him without another adult in the summer. I have to leave him in the car when I need to go to the bathroom. My sister recommended leaving a sign saying that I am just running in to go to the bathroom so that there is no confusion and so people know he is in there for just a few minutes. I always leave the windows down enough for him to get air and park in the shade. I also put the air on full blast for a few minutes before parking. Dogs should not be left for more than a few minutes. I hurry and then let him out to do his business.
7) Bring the right supplies; borrow the rest. A mirror in the backseat so I can see Jack while I am driving and travel dog dishes that go flat when not in use are the types of things that I find irreplaceable (I am hoping that the right carseat goes without saying, but just in case…). Highchair, portacrib, infant bathtub — I try to borrow in the destination city. In the day of social media, it only takes one post to find someone’s friend’s sister’s cousin who has what is needed.
8) Be ready for THOSE moments. Like when your son is asleep, you’re listening to a Desmond Tutu audiobook, and you are overwhelmed with the beauty of the moment as you drive through the Shenandoah Valley. Or the flight from DC to Minneapolis where he is looking out the windows and giggling at the clouds. Or when a restaurant in Knoxville lets you, your son, and your dog sit in the fenced in patio, and your son stands at the fence holding his sippy cup and waving to people as they pass by. Those are the moments that make you glad you were crazy enough to take him on this adventure no matter how much work it is for you. Those moments.