Who knew the bond could get even stronger– As most of you know, I spent the past 10 days traveling back and forth to Northeast Ohio. I decided to travel for many reasons and most looked at me like I was crazy. Without a baby on the board, the drive typically takes at least 10 hours going through Chicago. With baby on board, it ended up taking about 17 hours.
I tried to look up articles on tips and tricks for driving a baby solo that long, but nothing seemed relevant to my situation. Maybe no one had been crazy enough or adventurous enough to do it with a 4 month old and write about. I figure since I am a little of both, I will share what I learned so you too can experience the fun of traveling solo with a baby!
First, expect the unexpected. When planning your route, it pays to know a little about the highway. While you cannot plan exactly what rest stop or exit you will need to get off at, make sure there are plenty of safe options. For me, I didn’t want to get caught in downtown Chicago, or worse, a not so good suburb before or after, so I went around the city. Knowing I couldn’t avoid the traffic no matter what time of day I tried to go, I at least wanted a safe escape plan when needed. Under no circumstance would I pull over on the shoulder of the highway and I didn’t want to let Bekytt go more than 5 minutes crying, if at all possible, at this age. Usually his cries means hunger or in need of a diaper change, and I wanted to provide what he needed without stressing behind the wheel. We used the 3 minute rule and it worked out great. Once he was crying for 3 minutes, I would know it was usually going to last and I would start looking for the next exit. Sometimes before the 3 minutes he’d fall back asleep. If he hit the 3 minute mark, it typically wasn’t going to stop unless I stopped and released him from his car seat.
Second, don’t expect to drive more than 4 of 5 true driving hours a day. Babies need to get out of the car seat every 90 minutes, you can sometimes push 2 hours but doctors won’t recommend it. Stopping to change him, feed him, and interact with him takes at least 30-45 minutes each time. I also really wanted to have fun with him and not make him hate traveling, so I would spend some time playing with him as well. He likes to sit on my leg these days and rock back and forth as he looks at people or lights or fans. He is working on his head and body control and it is a lot of fun to see his progress. I didn’t want my timeline to interfere with his development. Add these breaks in with only 90 minutes of driving while he slept in between, and you don’t really get too far. Knowing this ahead of time and not having a specific time of arrival set will help you enjoy the experience more and get there safely. Items needed for these stops are the same as anything you’d normally pack in your diaper bag-changing pad, diapers, wipes, new diapers, extra clothes just in case, Moby wrap, blanket, and one small toy.
Third, have a CD of songs your baby likes in que. I know, none of us listen to CDs anymore, this is why this is perfect. You can have the radio or your phone set to whatever you’d like while he is happy, but as soon as you need a distraction, you can just switch your audio input over to disc! For us, this was his kids classical music. We got a set of 6 CDs from one of his aunts that has sweet lullabyes on them, but the classical music is what he calms to the most. He is part Minasian, so that must be why he has good taste in music! At times my philosophy was the louder the better. Not just to drown out his cries, I’d never do that! But because sometimes that is what it took to shift his attention and really start listening. The right song helps in those moments you know you have to pull over, but when a safe exit is more than just a few minutes away. Staying calm while driving is a must.
Fourth, be ready to tune in to your child. I knew I was asking a lot of Bekytt to come to Ohio and then travel even more once we were there. Most of my family and friends live within a 30 minute car ride, but this meant every day we were there we’d have to get up and get in the car again. The only way he was going to do this is if I made his experience fun and followed his lead on when we could go, how long we could stay for, and when the right time to get back in the car was. What I learned from Bekytt was that he liked to wake up happy at about 8am. We would FaceTime with dad during these happy awake moments and slowly get up for the day. At about 9 or 9:30am, he’d need another feeding and a nap. During this nap, I was able to get ready and pack the car for the day. (Side note, I would recommend bring your baby monitor with you because you will need it to do things like this if no one else is there with you). He would wake to eat again before we headed out and then he’d nap on the way. If we did this routine, we could usually get somewhere by 11am and he’d stay happy. Any earlier would have been asking too much of him and he wouldn’t be so happy. Once we arrived at our destination, I’d continue to read his cues and tune into him no matter how many people I was visiting with. If I was sure to take care of his needs before it turned into a screaming fest, things usually went pretty smoothly. I’d never leave unless he was napping and this also turned out to work very well for us. It was also interesting to see the more background noise he was around, the longer he’d sleep.
Fifth, expect to bond even more than you knew possible. While I had help at home that I am thankful for, 99% of his care fell solely on me. Which I knew of course would happen, but I also did not have housework, laundry, cooking, or any other thing to distract me with. I was not working from home and the eating I did was simple and easy thank you to the many family and friends who provided meals or a kitchen for me! I was able to heat and eat basically and it was so nice. I learned so much from Bekytt on this trip. I am finally starting to see a schedule develop, recognize his cries, and expect what he will need almost before he needs it. He has shown me endless smiles and is even starting to laugh. He truly seemed to grow up on this trip. We no longer have the nighttime screaming hours for no reason and I feel extremely connected to him and I love it. Routine is now something that I don’t want to mess with. I never thought I’d get that way, but when I let him go off of it, even for Halloween, things are not as fun.
I became a parent to experience what it was like to raise another human being and teach him how to be a great person, but what Bekytt is teaching me everyday is so much more than I ever imagined. He is teaching me patience, love, understanding, language without words, and I’m soaking it all up. This road trip was needed for us to see family, but after doing it, I can’t wait to take him on another road trip just to experience the road trip, but with his dad this time too. Travel is good for the soul and while coming home has been amazing, I already miss the not having to clean or having other house chores to attend to.
My last bit of advice is that if you can ever pull over for a break at a Culver’s, it’s definitely worth it! They are clean, they have their changing area in the bathroom stall so you can actually put your baby down safely and go to the bathroom baby free. They have big booths to feed in, they have great gluten free and quality food, and their staff is always super friendly. I was sad that they were only in WI as no other stop, besides maybe the OH toll plazas, could compare to what a mom needed while traveling.
So before the snow hits, head out on a road trip either by yourself or with your little one! Don’t forget the baby monitor and some type of pack and play so he can sleep anywhere without getting trampled on. You will discover things you may not have known before and may go into winter with a better frame of mind. –Kathryn Kraft, MPT