Mama Greenest dishes some advice for a first-time road trip with a little one
By Shannon Gallagher
So last week we went on a little family road trip. Our plan was to drive to Portland, Maine where we’d spend a night and then continue up to Harpswell for another night. Then we’d truck on down to Cape Cod to join some friends at Nickerson State Park for two days of camping. It was going to be great — just me, Coraline, and her dad on the open road, visiting good people, breathing salty New England air. What’s that they say about the best-laid plans?
All said and done we spent about 20 hours in the car over the course of four days (way more than the collective amount of time we actually spent hanging out). The weather was our biggest obstacle as it seemed we simply chased the cold, rainy weather from New York to Maine to Massachusetts, who threw some 30 mph winds into the mix as if to say “thanks for coming.” As we drove from Maine to the Cape in a torrential downpour, both Bryan and I compulsively commented on how great it was going to be, since the rain, of course, was going to miraculously disappear once we arrived. An exercise in positive thinking. Thankfully the rain did abide, long enough so we could set up camp (under the largest tarp I’ve ever seen, courtesy of the Nickerson State Park dumpster), eat some veggie burgers, and drink some wine fireside with our friends. But by 5 a.m. the men were outside in their underwear wrestling the giant tarp in the pouring rain as it threatened to come ripping down upon us.
The next morning, bleary eyed and soggy, we decided to call it good and headed home a day early, a drive which took us no less than seven hours. That evening after Coraline was asleep, we sat on our couch with our consolation prizes — Chinese take-out and a few episodes of Sons of Anarchy — and couldn’t help but laugh at our camping misadventure: While it had been largely a harried grin-and-bear-it experience for us “grown-ups,” Coraline had the time of her life. No doubt thanks to expert planning on our part (cue rolling laughter). I mean, it could have been worse.
In all earnestness, there are a few preparations we made for the trip (and a few we did not), which made our lives a lot easier, on the road and off. Here are a few words of advice for those of you planning a first-time road trip and/or camping trip with your little one:
Add an hour or two to your estimated drive time if the total time is much more than the length of a nap. You’ll want to take frequent breaks along the way to change diapers, have a snack, and let the kiddo(s) run around, especially if they’re not big on car time (what toddler is?). If you can, try to locate some good places to stop along the way beforehand — for example, since it was raining, we Google-mapped Whole Foods Markets along our route. We knew we’d find clean bathrooms with changing tables, room for Coraline to run around, and healthy food if we were hungry.
Bring tons of toys and books for the car, but keep them out of view and offer only a couple at a time to maximize the novelty value. Coraline is really into putting stuff into things right now, so I’d offer her goodies one small Tupperware at a time for her to pack and unpack.
Check the weather! Aside from the obvious (like not camping in a mini-hurricane) it’ll tell you exactly what sort of duds to bring along for your adventure-baby. And bring extra everything, especially if the forecast calls for rain.
Bring an air mattress (or, if you have room in the car an entire futon mattress as our friends did). Even if you don’t co-sleep at home, you may want to in a tent for a couple reasons: One, it’ll be warmer. Two, it saves space.
Get a sleep sack. I think all babies and toddlers kick the blankets off, which may not be such a big deal at home, but could be problematic in the cold. I picked up a HALO sleep sack and was so glad I did. Since Coraline hated to be swaddled when she was a newbie, I had my doubts, but it was much roomier in the bottom than I anticipated and it kept her toasty all night.
You may want to think about picking up a portable high chair (like this one). Our friends had one and their daughter definitely ingested a lot more food and a lot less dirt than Coraline, who took advantage of the high chair-less situation and wandered the campsite with sandy corn on the cob in hand.
Stick some old washcloths and any plastic bags you may have lurking in your pantry in with your kitchen gear. Between spills, falls, blow-outs, and general toddler-mayhem, you’ll be glad you have them.
There is no reason you can’t take your cloth diapers on the road, though be prepared to triple wrap the dirty ones or else you’ll have to drive home with the windows down. If that seems largely unappealing, check out gDiapers or the bumGenius Flip which have disposable inserts — you can be eco-conscious with half the ick-factor.
Expect the unexpected. Over-pack.