Thursday, February 12, 2009

Road trip with a 20-month-old

We've just returned from a week-long vacation to Oregon. We had given up plane trips after giving those a shot at 4 and 7 months, and after realizing that now that Mikko's walking, restricting him to a plane seat would give us even more of a struggle. We figured a car trip might be possible, though, and a family wedding gave us the opportunity to try it out.

Well, we had mixed success.

Things I discovered:

     1. My toddler no longer enjoys napping in the car. Since we were usually out doing something during naptime and had already checked out of that day's hotel, there was no other choice.

     2. Mikko didn't want to go to sleep in the hotel room before we did. He didn't want to sleep longer than we did.

     3. Add up numbers 1 and 2 and you'll see we had a very sleep-deprived baby. This mostly worked out, in that he was so interested in everything that he didn't scream the entire time. Not the entire time.

     4. Hotel beds are high. And narrow. We've gotten so used to our king-size mattress on the floor, where we have room for all three of us to spread out and I have a place at my back to put a support pillow for comfort in breastfeeding through the night. The pillow at my back on the hotel beds kept falling off the bed, and I was worried enough that our baby, unused to such heights, would roll off that I would have been loathe to leave him alone in bed even if he had agreed to sleep when we weren't there.

     5. Being outdoors all day with new things to see, as on the first half of our trip, or being with family all day with relatives to play with you, as on the second half, were very good for entertaining our little one and curtailing whining and boredom. It's made me wonder, in the first instance, how we can incorporate more outdoor and active time into our lives at home, while still getting our work done, and how, in the second instance, we can gather more of a multi-generational tribe of adults and kids around us for Mikko to interact with.

All of these experiences have given me a theory for the ideal toddler-friendly vacation. I haven't tested this out yet, but it sounds plausible. See what you think.

     *You pick a destination within a few hours of your home.
     *It should be somewhere with easy, walking access to nature, such as a beach or forest, but also some day-trip options, such as a nearby museum or shops.
     *You travel there the first day, by car or train.
     *Then you check into one hotel or campsite for the whole week.
     *Each morning, you wake up and have a small breakfast, then take off for that day's adventure. Maybe it's a tourist attraction or museum or outlet shopping.
     *After a few hours, you return to the place you're staying and your little ones have a settled, real-live nap time.
     *Anyone too old for a nap spends the time reading, playing quiet games, watching the hotel's HBO, etc.
     *After the nap is a leisurely lunch.
     *The afternoon is spent in the nature area, with everyone goofing off as is considered pleasant. The parents might be able to get their kids playing and then settle in with a book to relax.
     *The evening gives time for a leisurely dinner. Lunch and dinner can either be supermarket-bought picnic-style or enjoyed at a local restaurant.
     *Then everyone returns to the sleeping location and winds down for bed. If the kids fall asleep early, the parents have time to relax some more.
     *To add another element of help with the little ones and enjoyment for the adults, take a trip with another compatible family or two, preferably with a mix of ages. We found that a 13-year-old cousin loved to take walks with Mikko while we enjoyed some undistracted conversations, and my mother and aunt also enjoyed taking charge of him for periods of time.

All right, that's my plan for next time. I'll let you know how it goes!

ETA, to explain why I am trying to engineer a tear-free vacation strategy: I told my mom that I was sad Mikko wasn't sleeping well on the road, and that it was stressing us out to have all of us be so tired and for Sam and me to have no downtime, and she told me about her difficult travels with my siblings and me when we were babies. I reiterated my aversion to airplane travel with a toddler, and now circuitous road trips as well, and she looked me in the eye and told me, "You just do it." As in, suck it up. Now, I can see compromising if you're heading for a funeral or moving overseas (as was the case in one of my mom's stories) or have another emergency, but this is supposed to be vacation. But it made me realize that maybe my tips are only for those parents who don't enjoy being miserable or having their kids be miserable. Is that a select crowd? (P.S. It's possible my mom just wants us to visit more.)

Beautiful Oregon coast photo to illustrate why we took the trip courtesy of Mike Mcgarry on stock.xchng



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