Although I am back at work now, Anthony and I spent the very last bit of my summer vacation driving to Santa Cruz and Monterey to attend the gorgeous redwood-filled wedding of my cousin Josh. I have a set of cousins on my Mom’s side that we don’t get to see that often. They are educated, adventurous and liberal, so we get along famously. I was excited to go and see another cousin get married, I was excited to have an adventure with my extended family, and I was excited to take Isobel to the beach for the first time.
But ‘excitement’ would not be the word I would use to describe my feelings about traveling with Isobel.
By all accounts Isobel is what anyone would call an ‘easy’ baby. (I really don’t like that terminology—it implies that hard babies somehow choose to be that way to make your life difficult, when in reality they are just being a baby. But I digress.)
Isobel doesn’t cry unless there’s a pretty damn good reason, she is very social and friendly, and has a joyful disposition. But she does have tons of energy and very little patience. I blame Anthony and his athleticism for the former but take full responsibility for the latter. It’s one of my faults and I see it all too clearly in her. All this adds up to a girl who does not tolerate long car rides because she would much rather be running around at warp speed, thankyouverymuch.
I did not look forward to taking her on this trip with enthusiasm, but with trepidation.
But we did it! We survived. It was our first overnight trip with Isobel and we survived. I felt like we should have driven through a ticker-tape parade held in our honor on our way back in town. Here’s what I learned from traveling with a toddler.
Packing light was my goal. It has never been before, but I have been experiencing Stuff Fatigue lately and I wanted to be as unencumbered as possible. Even though we ride in style in my beloved Buick, most of that ample trunk space was taken up by Isobel’s stroller, a non-negotiable item. The stroller was how we planned to cart her around during the all-important nap time.
I succeeded on my end: I packed only the essentials for myself and Anthony and never before had we taken so little with us on a trip before. I’m proud to say that we used everything that we brought. I was slightly less successful on Isobel’s end as I brought too many shoes and some of the outfits I brought were too big. But it all fit in the car without too much of a fuss and even though at the time I felt like a packing light failure, in hindsight I can see I did pretty well. We just brought two pachas with those and washed and reused them. I have to say, though, Isobel could have used more on the clothes front. She immediately got chocolate shake all over her adorable cupcake sweater (thanks, Dada) and could have used another sweater along with more pants. She peed through the disposables several times and soiled the half the pants we brought. Honestly, this was the first time on a trip ever that I didn’t bring quite enough but we survived just fine. Overall, I’m happy with how that turned out.
We were gone four days. We did not have access to a washer or dryer and if we did it surely would have been polluted by Incorrect Detergent, so we ditched our cloth diaper efforts and broke down and went with disposables. I have no regrets. We barely have enough diapers for two days, meaning we are constantly in a diaper wash cycle at my house. I was also not happily looking forward to carrying around four days’ worth of soiled diapers in my trunk. I have to admit that it was very convenient to use disposable diapers, but as soon as we were home we switched right back. The extra work is worth it to us.
THE CAR RIDE
Strategically planning out our drives during Isobel’s nap times made a huge difference. This tip alone made the trip doable. I also was sure to pack things to occupy her in the car when things turned dire. I had her normal assortment of toys in the back seat: her “I <3 NY” purse filled with snot suckers and medicine spoons, her stuffed tiger, and her baby, but when the melt down begins regular toys just aren’t going to cut it. That’s when I pulled out my keys and wallet and let her have at it. If there is an item you know will capture your kid’s attention for a good while, bring it, but save it for when you really need it.
In addition to having multiple pachas for the road (including bringing bottled water and formula should her demand exceed my supply), I also was sure to have her sippy cup and a bag of Cheerios on hand. It’s been so hot that we travel with a sippy cup and water to make sure she stays hydrated. We also share appropriate bits of our food with her. She insists upon this by loudly saying, “THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU,” as soon as any sort of bag enters the car. How sad is it that she recognizes fast food bags? This is the human condition, I suppose.
When we got to the hotel room Isobel made a beeline for the phone. Instead of wasting precious energy constantly shooing her away from making long-distance calls I simply unplugged the phone line. There, kid. Have at it. She had a ball and I got many sanity-saving seconds to myself while she made calls to her various kitten and human friends.
Aside from her car toys (which stayed in the car) and her baby, we really didn’t bring any toys for her. This was a strategic move: not only were we packing light, but in my experience the Same Old Toy in a Brand New Location will be immediately ignored for the fun of exploring. This held true. And don’t worry, your kid will find things to turn into toys. Anthony’s comb and an empty water bottle were her favorite toys in the hotel but she also had lots of fun ‘diapering’ her baby and unpacking our suitcase. If it was safe & sanitary, we let her do it. She was blissfully entertained.
And don’t overlook natural things about hotel rooms that would engage a baby: we had fun putting things in the empty dresser drawers and she had fun opening them and finding a surprise. We were also quite entertained but taking photos of ourselves with flash. Flash was a big hit. Who knew?
Turning the TV on and off was also fun for her, but that got kind of annoying for us.
We are the nutty sort who co-sleeps with their kid, so bedding accommodations were not a big deal: she slept in between us like she always does. In fact, we enjoyed the spaciousness of a King-sized bed on vacation when we normally squeeze into a Queen. I actually felt too far away from Anthony. The bed was very comfortable though. Unlike our fashionably low-to-the-ground bed at home, this one was about four feet off the ground, so Isobel was carefully supervised whenever she was on it.
Since Isobel has the same attraction every toddler experiences with outlets I was sure to bring several outlet covers with me. I was very glad I did. Other child-proofing extras were making sure any hotel-offered goods were out of her reach, including the trash cans. We kept the door to the bathroom shut at all times. The room came with a safe that we set a chair against. This way she could enjoy pushing all the buttons without us worrying about her locking something in there.
This might horrify you, but we were so busy every day that we got home exhausted each night and we didn’t fret about bathing Isobel. I washed her face and hands and brushed her hair and wiped her bottom extra good during changings. I didn’t want to cart an extra towel, soap, toys, and faucet cover. If she had gotten really dirty I would have just dunked her in the tub with the bar of Dove soap I have, making sure not to get it near her eyes. But that wasn’t an issue and nobody died. A success.
(As you can see from the my photos the room was very modest, but for some reason it had the most glorious shower head on earth. Each time I showered I had to convince myself to leave. Thank you Quality Inn, Santa Cruz!)
We knew we’d be doing a lot of restaurant eating on this trip. I was a little apprehensive about that because she tolerates high chairs for about ten minutes. If that. Her goal in life is to sit on someone’s lap, either Dada’s or my own, but let’s face it, I’m a celebrity to Isobel, so she’s usually in my lap. The problem comes when she’s decided she’s done with sitting down and wants to run around the restaurant.
About three times a day we had conversations with her that went something like this, “You can sit in my lap, Dada’s lap, or the high chair. But you cannot run around. So where do you want to sit?” She fussed and rebelled a bit but there were no meltdowns or undue attention attracted toward us. We were next to several tables that experienced meltdowns, and here I’m guiltily admitting my relief—not only that we didn’t have a meltdown, but Isobel is fascinated by the meltdowns of others, so a crying kid the next table over meant peace and serenity at ours.
One of the places we ate at was a very, very popular café that was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives episode. Ever since that episode the place is crazy packed and busy. My family was split over two booths because a large enough table was not available. I didn’t notice my Dad totally photo-bombing this shot till I was going through photos later. Thanks, Dad! (If you’re curious, the food was meh. I’ve had worse, but I don’t look forward to going there again.)
Isobel’s easy to feed. She’ll eat pachas and tries whatever (and I do mean whatever) we’re eating. The problem is that she makes a mess. She rarely gets bibbed because she shrieks NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO like a tortured banshee till she pulls it off anyway. She may have ruined multiple pants by peeing in them, but dinner is where she ruined her tops.
THE HARD PART
Honestly, the hardest part of our trip was navigating using Google fucking Maps. That bitch told us we were fifteen miles any direction from our actual location. I nearly had an aneurism when we finally figured out where the hell we were only to learn that Highway 9 was closed for construction. We’d still be lost in the mountains near Felton somewhere in the with Isobel being raised by wild boars if it weren’t for two things:
- Angela’s generous use of her car charger (thankyou thankyou thankyou)
- Some Random Hippie
When we came upon the road block for Hwy 9 we pulled over to put our heads in our hands and sob and figure out what the hell we were going to do when a hippie ran over to our car and engaged us in conversation. He was looking for a ride to Santa Cruz and I was like, DUDE, WE ARE TRYING TO GET TO WATSONVILLE AND NOT GET EATEN BY BEARS OR LED TO OUR DEATHS BY GOOGLE MAPS. ALSO I AM MENTALLY UNSTABLE.
Random Hippie helpfully suggested we take Grahme Hill Road, which was absolutely correct. Thanks Random Hippie! He also correctly noted that our car was filled to the brim with Breeder Equipment and a sleeping baby and had no room for hitchhikers, so he went along his peace-loving, granola-eating, unshowered way without a fuss.
Other than Google fucking with our minds, the trip, even with Isobel, was a breeze. I’d like to think it was because we were prepared, but I’m sure it was also because we were lucky.