Roadtripping with Three Kids (& Two Dogs)

We successfully made it home after a nice long trip to Kansas awhile back – 1,200 miles each way. Driving. With Mitchell (almost four), Julia (a young two), Aubrey (one month old), and our two beloved German Shepherds. Our pups are Zoe and Loki, so they don’t remain nameless. I will say the trip was as smooth as could be expected. Everything INSIDE the car went as smoothly as possible. Then there was everything OUTSIDE that went relatively smoothly with some unexpected, but pretty serious, traffic. Oh, and non-stop rain. On the way to Kansas, it took us literally 13 hours to even get out of North Carolina. It took us the anticipated nine hours to get ten miles from the border, then traffic jam. We were in the mountains outside of Asheville next to a beautiful waterfall, but I could have happily driven by them at a comfortable 55 MPH instead of standing outside of the car looking at miles of stopped cars behind us, while I stood in the freezing pouring rain, leaned inside the rear passenger door feeding Aubrey her single emergency bottle I (thankfully!!!!!) packed in a little cooler anticipation of a little situation like this. Oh, in a complete dead zone with zero service, so of course I’m worried that the hubby is worried about us since he can’t get ahold of us. Worrying about worrying is something I’m pretty good at, ha! To give you an idea how long it was, people were turning their cars off and walking their dogs. Except since we were in the mountains, there wasn’t really anywhere to walk because there was opposing traffic on one side and a rock wall on the other side. Which was pretty but left exactly zero options for people desperate for a bathroom. Thank goodness for pull-ups because the kids would have had some wet carseats. The kids and dogs were perfectly well-behaved, but goodness, I was getting more antsy than anyone watching it getting dark and knowing our hotel was still another five hours away. That was really the only hiccup on the outbound trip besides the pouring rain literally 9/10 of the drive on day one. Not exaggerating in the least, either. Two (MORE!!) hour long traffic jams and about 1/2 of day one driving in the rain on the return trip had me starting to think I was having some pretty bad road trip luck, but our little car trip champs and exactly zero vehicle troubles (thanks hubby for getting us new tires before the trip!!!) had me reminding myself otherwise. And by absolute chance, one of my childhood best friends (read about Ellie HERE!) who lives in Arizona just so happened to be in Nashville on the exact day we were passing through for her sister’s college graduation. Since it was the perfect halfway point, I booked our hotel in her town outside of Nashville and we planned a dinner meet up. So thankful for this time we had to reconnect and so happy for the woman she has become! Seeing how her life has been so blessed as we’ve grown up together and gotten married has been the best! So there’s a quick synopsis of our four days of crazy travel. And if that wasn’t enough, we jumped back in the car about a month later to head up to Martha’s Vineyard to see the other grandma and pop-pop. I’m under the philosophy with the hubby being frequently gone for training/deployments/etc. that we might as well live it up while he’s gone instead of moping around. There’s no time to waste enjoying these years with little ones – I’m learning already that they go so fast! Given that this military life has made us perpetual travelers (better than sitting at home alone!!!), I’m here today with a few tricks that I’ve picked up along the way. 

TRAVELING TIPS FOR NEWBORNS

I first decided we weren’t going to sit around the house with a newborn when Mitchell was born. With a deployed husband and family far away, we had nothing to lose hopping in the car and making the trip back to see family. Since it’s about an 18 hour trip, and with all the other factors thrown in on top of a nursing baby, I didn’t even entertain the idea of driving straight through or driving at night. I’ve done it in the past when it was just me, but I really don’t like the idea of driving tired with kids in the car at all. Because kids (especially babies!) just make things slow. I’ve honestly been blessed with some really good travel babies – I think because we are so far from particular and they are so used to just going with the flow! So here are my newborn must-dos when traveling:
1. Find privacy. My best stop ever was in a Hobby Lobby parking lot on a Sunday morning. Hello, empty parking lot. Other ideal places are Home Depot/Lowes type stores (big roomy lots with empty spots), and hotel parking lots. This is always my first stop off of a highway and I get the diaper change/nursing out of the way. It’s a lot more private and there’s no pressure from someone waiting on a gas pump in a crowded, cramped gas station parking lot! 

2. O-R-G-A-N-I-Z-A-T-I-O-N. All of my diapers and wipes go in the seat back pocket. When I stop, they’re handy to grab from the front seat or when I’m grabbing Aubrey out of her carseat for a lap-top diaper change.

3. Along with my diapers and wipes, I throw an extra sleeper in. I travel with the baby in a sleeper all day because it’s comfy and cozy, and she’s totally covered which gives me the illusion that she’s a little more protected from travel germs. I find that she gets pretty warm in her carseat so I tend to keep her in lightweight sleepers so she doesn’t heat up too much. 

4. Extra pacifiers. Aubrey is my third pacifier baby. None of them have had a single pacifier they’re attached to. A pacifier leash is also just as effective, but I’ve also operated with a stash of pacifiers in door compartment so I could snag an extra when one got lost in the depths of the carseat.

5. Pack an emergency bottle. For me, bottles were hugely helpful. With Mitchell forward facing right next to Aubrey, he could give her a bottle and/or pacifier for me whenever I needed, which hugely cut down on the stops. He’s such a great big brother!

6. A bouncer is SO helpful if you have room – but not totally necessary! My must-have is a Pack&Play. Keep the play yard sheet and swaddle wrap and clean sleeper in the Pack&Play case so it’s immediately ready for bedtime without having to dig through bags! Getting baby down is always my first project when we stay in a hotel so you have all your hands free!

TRAVELING TIPS FOR TODDLERS

1. Wear pajamas and shoes that are easy to slip on and off – for Julia, those shoes of choice are cowgirl boots. 

2. Find fun places to stop! Chic-Fil-A playgrounds are the best – they have sanitizing wipes for the kids so you can wipe them down when they’re done playing! But we’ve also found some fun outdoor parks, and we’ve even found a Disney on Ice show to stop midway on a roadtrip to Quantico! Speaking of Quantico, the Marine Corps Museum is a hidden gem along I-95 – free and open to military&civilians, literally ON the highway, super kid friendly and awesome for adults, easy and super fun way to stretch everybody’s legs and use clean bathrooms!

3. I always charge up the iPad, since we have two movies on there. But! I’ve found the best thing to do is stream Netflix on my phone, which conveniently tucks into the back of the headrest perfectly and hooks up to the Bluetooth! A fully charged phone will easily buy me three hours of silence before they either (1) fall asleep (more silence!) or (2) get hungry (also more silence when they’re stuffing their faces with chicken nuggets)! I tend to save this option when I’m getting really desperate – and sometimes I don’t even have to use it at all! The kids were happy travel champs on our most recent seven hour leg, so I didn’t even use cartoons! But, ultimate sanity tip – fade that music to the back of the car so you’re only listening to Maui sing ‘You’re Welcome’ at half strength. 

4. I pack all of their clothes in the 2.5 gallon ziplocks. Whenever we get where we are going, I have coordinating, complete, clean clothes ready to open without having to dig through a mound of tiny people clothes in the suitcase. This might not work forever, but with three three and under, it’s the best system I can find! I tend to pack “rainy clothes,” “dressy clothes,” “cold clothes” ziplocks, so you can just grab whatever is best to wear that day! This easily saves us 30 minutes to an hour in the mornings!

5. Snacks! No better pick me up/distraction than a good old banana and Uncrustable PB&J. A little cooler with lunchables/fruit/string cheese/etc. for the kids (and/or adults!) is also a great way to save money and avoid the fastfood joints. Though I have been known to hit up a drive-thru and only buy milk because I was desperate and didn’t want to go in a gas station that much. That’s right, McDonalds. I’ll take four cartons of white milk and no fries. Please and thank you. I like to keep a roll of paper towels and a few paper plates handy so they can eat on their laps without a lot of mess. 

All of our kids fit three across in our SUV for now. It’s going to be a game changer when someone upgrades to the third row and they’re out of Mommy’s reach! 


TRAVELING TIPS FOR DOGS

1. Like a newborn, I look for open parking lots! A lot of hotels have designated pet areas with bags, but I always keep a role in our door just in case! As soon as I stop and start nursing the baby, I pop the tailgate open so they can get fresh air in their kennels until I am ready to take them out. I like to back up to a grassy area so they don’t bark at anyone walking by, and then they can just hop out to stretch their legs and potty!

2. I always bring their bowls with ziplocks of food (so easy to just scoop out their usual serving sizes this way), and water in an Arizona tea jug. You can find me buying sweet tea before a roadtrip if we don’t already have one just for that very purpose! Those jugs are really the best for holding water and a roadtrip with dogs must have for me! 

3. We have two plastic travel kennels that slide in the back of our SUV. They each have their own kennel, and while I wouldn’t kennel them in there normally because they are small, they’re perfectly happy laying in them for however long we’re driving. In fact, there’s a lot of times that I find myself questioning whether or not they are back there. (I’ve never forgotten them, in case you’re wondering – but they’re so quiet I actually stopped on our last trip on the next exit because I found myself second guessing myself, ha!). 



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 Nothing earth shattering here, though the Ziplock bag tip really, really makes our organization easier. Other than that, I throw everything I can away at every gas station because I can’t stand to have trash in the car. And I clean it completely out when we get where we are going and find a vacuum! I care a lot more at how clean the inside of the car is compared to the outside if we’re being honest. So there you have it. A lot of people asked how we manage traveling with three little ones (and sometimes pups) and it’s a lot of patience and repeating the phrase, “keep your hands in your carseat.” Lucky you, if you have captain’s seats but we wanted more seatbelts and so we opted for the bench seat and we’re just forcing our kids to get along! 😉 Hopefully, maybe, one of these will be helpful to you in future travels – and if you have any traveling with tots tricks that I’ve missed, PLEASE share in the sake of my future sanity!

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