On the Road Again :: Summer Road Trip Lessons Learned

Earlier this summer, I was laid off due to the pandemic. Since we’d already planned to take a road trip to Colorado (where my husband is from) for the week of July 4th, we decided to extend the trip by a week or so because we weren’t sure when we’d have the chance to stay so long again. My husband is a teacher and was off for the summer, so the extra vacation days didn’t matter. This would be my first road trip to Colorado and, at 22 hours from our front door to my in-laws’ not including any stops, the longest road trip I’d ever been on.

It would also be our first road trip with a baby. An almost 11-month-old to be exact. I know what you’re thinking. And, frankly, I agree with you.

We WERE crazy to attempt such a feat. But, we all survived!

I was already nervous about being in the car so long with an infant, but the planner in me read up on tips for traveling with a baby, made meticulous lists, and (over)packed so we’d have anything we could possibly need during our journey to the mountains. Since my sister and brother-in-law live in Dallas (about a third of the way to Colorado), we decided we’d leave our house in the middle of the night to increase our son’s chances of sleeping and arrive in Dallas in the morning. Once at my sister’s, my husband and I could nap a bit while she entertained the baby. We’d hit the road again around our son’s bedtime and hopefully, he’d sleep his longest stretch overnight while we made our way to Colorado. It was a good plan.

That my son would have NONE of.

The first leg of the trip (from our house to Dallas) was actually pretty good. Although he was wide awake once we strapped him into his car seat, he didn’t make a peep. We realized that since we’d spent so long in quarantine, he hadn’t been in a car after dark in almost 4 months. He watched wide-eyed as we drove down the dark interstate for a solid two hours until we made it to Lafayette. He dozed off sometime around the time we started heading north on I-49 and slept soundly until around 6:00 AM when we were crossing the Louisiana/Texas line.

I fed him in the parking lot of a truck stop while we got gas and stretched our legs, then continued on two more hours to Dallas. It was wonderful to see my sister and brother-in-law (and equally wonderful to sleep!), and the baby enjoyed his day playing in completely new surroundings. After dinner, we bathed him, dressed him in his jammies, and strapped him into his car seat.

About an hour later, the wheels started to come off.

A screaming infant who has grown overtired and likes to sleep on his tummy does not do well in a car seat on a darkened highway. While I did have the foresight to bring a power inverter so we could plug in his nightlight/sound machine next to him in the backseat, it did little to calm him down. I tried sitting next to him in the backseat, but it only upset him more that I was close to him but not holding him.  My anxiety climbed to new heights as he’d fall asleep for 45 minutes or so only to wake up screaming again for another hour. This went on for roughly the next 10 hours (and, yes, we’d stopped several times). It was one of the longest nights of my life.

We reached my in-laws’ house outside of Boulder just in time for breakfast (even though we’d already had our fill of gas station coffee and road trip snacks). We spent a lovely two and a half weeks with them, seeing extended family and making several trips up to the family cabin in the mountains. My husband even strapped the baby in the carrier on his back and the three of us hiked up a peak near the cabin! It was the most outdoorsy I’ve ever been and made me feel kind of like a badass.

Even though the stress of job hunting was top of mind, I was grateful to have made memories that would last us a lifetime.

Speaking of memories, part of the reason I was so excited for this road trip was because one of my favorite things to do is “pin” new places we visit as a family on our U.S. wall map. I knew we’d have so many pins to place once we got home, and it’s so nice to relive whatever we did in each place as we mark the map. For our son’s first birthday, we gave him his own map so he’ll always have a record of places he’s been.

Since we learned the hard way that our son prefers to be awake in the car, we decided to make our return trip mostly in the daytime. We left Colorado early in the morning and made it to Dallas in the evening, just in time for his bedtime. That was a tough trip since it’s making two-thirds of the trip at once, but he handled it like a champ.

Driving in the daytime, especially through states I’d never been to before, I noticed a lot of intriguing places. In our pre-baby days, we absolutely would’ve stopped to check out whatever piqued our interest. But the agenda is different nowadays. As we drove, I posted on Facebook whenever we stopped (or didn’t stop) somewhere relatively notable.

Here are some notable things that happened on our daytime drive home:

  • Three hours into our fourteen-ish hour road trip, we had to stop at a truck stop to change the most epic poopy diaper our son ever had. Two people in the car had wardrobe changes.
  • We passed the site of the first rodeo in Deer Trail, CO. Found out my husband once had a date with a girl from there.
  • I learned that my husband has a slight phobia of wind turbines, something that Google told me is called anemomenophobia. His fear is based on the fact that they are extremely tall and extremely heavy and would crush you if they were to fall. He clarified that he does NOT have a fear of heights though.
  • I found out a place called Kanorado exists at the Kansas/Colorado state line. And found out that my husband’s uncle grew up there.
  • A sign in Oakley, Kansas invited us to stop in to see a 5-legged cow, but my husband told me “no.” A Google search returned images of a cow with not one but TWO “legs” growing out of its side. Stuff of nightmares. Glad we passed.
  • We saw lots of buffalo grazing on a prairie. Made me want to sing “God Bless America.” Made my husband ask me to stop singing “God Bless America.”
  • Somewhere in Kay County, Oklahoma, I spotted a billboard advertising a FREE PICKLE BAR. Jackpot, right? Wrong. Though I begged him to stop, my husband reminded me that we are in a pandemic and cannot partake in buffets of any kind. A Google search returned photos of said pickle bar that were underwhelming to say the least, so I wasn’t quite so sad we’d missed it.
  • Our son said his first word somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma! “Mama” has never sounded sweeter! ALL THE FEELS.
  • Passed the exit for the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. Yep, THAT Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. Once again, my husband said “no” — but only because it was closed for the Joe Exotic investigation. (I know, I know… that only makes it COOLER!)

Overall, our road trip was not nearly the headache my anxiety was preparing for. That said, it’s also not something I’m eager to do again anytime soon. I’d like to tell you I have a list of tried and true travel tips for road tripping with a baby, but all I really know is that it’s like the rest of parenting — you just have to learn as you go. So GO! Go load up the car and make the memories.

And maybe bring your own pickles.

What’s your best advice for road tripping with littles?

Joey Yearous
Joey is a New Orleans native, Dominican alum, and LSU grad who joined the ranks of motherhood in the summer of 2019. She and her Colorado born-and-raised husband, Phil, left their Mid-City apartment for a house on the Northshore about ten days before they welcomed their son, Sam, into the world. Though she’s always had a passion for writing, it’s her work as the Director of Marketing for a Louisiana-based electrical firm that pays the bills. She’s a longtime member of the dance troupe The Muff-A-Lottas and when she isn’t covered in glitter and dancing through the streets of New Orleans, she’s usually cooking, trying new restaurants, and listening to true crime podcasts. A consummate Pinterest fanatic, she’s always looking for her next DIY project or recipe to try. She believes good senses of humor and random acts of kindness make the world go ‘round.

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