Traveling with a Potty-Training Toddler

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Keeping a toddler confined to a bathroom requires lots of “stuff”

Now that it is summer (I don’t work in the summer…woohoo!) and Boo has been showing signs for months, we decided to take on the potty training challenge!  We opted for the 3-day boot camp style.  Basically, you lock yourselves in the bathroom on the first day (the entire first day), you leave the house for an hour the second day, you leave the house twice (for an hour) the third day, and voila!  The kid is potty-trained!  This is the basic plan we chose to follow – except we added a 5-hour road trip adventure to day 6!  Seriously, who does this?!

Did I mention Husband was working, so I took on this whole potty-training, road trip adventure all by myself?  Yikes.

Boo was doing pretty good by this point.  Not perfect, but good.  She would still have 1 or 2 accidents a day and she really doesn’t have the ability to tell us when she needs to go in advance.  Most of the training has really been training for me – recognizing the signs and figuring out her needs.

My biggest fear for this road trip was the obvious – an accident in her car seat (Or worse…a #2 accident in her car seat – EEK!).  Car seats are tricky to clean, especially on the road.  So I loaded up her car seat with prefold diapers**.  I’m talking legitimate diapers here – not those Gerber prefolds that are better used as burp cloths.  Absorbancy is key here (We used to cloth diaper and developed a preference for Diaper Rite cotton prefolds).  They make special seat covers for potty-training kids, but we already had the prefolds.

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Please ignore the dirty car seat.  It is in desperate need of a washing!

**Note: It is not recommended to add anything to the car seat and bulky clothing is strongly discouraged.  However, we used to cloth diaper her.  She was sitting in a diaper at least this thick and strapped into her car seat for the first 15ish months of her life.  Judgment call here, but I decided she was fine as long as everything else was snug.

My plan was to stop every hour (unless she was asleep – she has been dry for naps for several months now).  This would allow me to choose our stops (safe places!) and (hopefully) prevent any last-minute demands for bathroom breaks.

I also brought along a carefully-selected travel potty, just in case we couldn’t make it to an actual toilet.  After quite a bit of research, I chose the OXO Tot 2-in-1 Go Potty.  This potty has legs that allow it to stand alone or sit over a toilet.  It also folds reasonably small and seems like it would be great for hiking (after teaching your kid that pee and poo go in the potty, how do you teach them it is OK to go in the woods?)!

Photo credit: oxo.com

After a 5-hour road trip – as well as the return trip and several lengthy side trips throughout the week – I am proud to say Boo did not have a single accident in her car seat!  (There was one close-call thanks to a leaky water bottle!)

Here is what I learned:

  1. Get your kid used to the travel potty before you leave. Boo rejected it the first time I asked her to use it.
  2. Use the travel potty on every toilet.  It provides a sense of familiarity for the child.  Also, your kid is more likely to use something gross, like a port-a-potty, if it is covered with their very own travel potty!
  3. Make sure your little one goes potty before you do.  Just the sound makes Boo empty her bladder (all over the floor) every time.
  4. Listen to your kid.  If your child is really fighting the potty, maybe they actually don’t have to go.  On our return trip, Boo flipped out because I tried stopping an hour after my first potty stop.  We stopped every two hours from then on without incident.
  5. Bring lots and lots of spare clothes.  And shoes.  And wipes.  And some kind of bag to put the dirty clothes in.  You just never know.  I once walked a half-naked Boo across a parking lot because she had a second accident (How many times can such a tiny person pee in an hour?)  and I only brought one spare set of clothes.  I spent the rest of the evening washing things like her shoes, my wallet, my key chain…good times.

At times it was frustrating…very frustrating…but I think this was a huge step forward in our potty training adventure!  Boo has learned to be flexible and I have learned to trust my child’s instincts (for the most part).  We have a huge road trip/camping trip coming up in a couple weeks, so this was an awesome trial run!

Good luck in your own adventures with your potty-training little one!  Just remember: lots of planning, lots of patience, and lots of spare clothes!

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Choosing Road Trip Stops for a Toddler

Toddlers have a lot of energy.  When they are strapped into a car seat for a good portion of the day, it is difficult to burn off that energy.  I get it.  Sometimes I just can’t wait to get out of the car to stretch my legs a bit!  Quality stops are necessary – especially on road trips that are going to take more than one day!

Recently, Boo and I spent two days driving to visit a friend in Indiana.    Sure, I probably could have made the trip in a day (10 hours of direct driving), but I was doing all the driving by myself and that would have meant a LOT of sitting for Boo.  So, I decided to make a trip of it!  Lots of fun stops and quality bonding time with my favorite tiny person!

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Photo courtesy of roadtrippers.com

My primary planning tool was Roadtrippers (they also have an app!).  This site is awesome because you can enter your starting point and destination and it will show you lots of stops along the way – hotels, restaurants, shopping, parks, weird gimmicks on the side of the road, etc.!  You can choose the distance you are willing to travel from your course, choose the type of stops you are looking for, and then read reviews and visit websites on any that pique your interest!

My goal was to drive about 5 to 6 hours each day and stop approximately every 2 hours for some sort of break.  First, I chose a midway point and booked a hotel for the night.  Lexington, Kentucky looked interesting for the way out and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania would have been ideal for the way back.  In the end, I settled on Cadiz, Ohio (the middle of nowhere – but it is Clark Gable’s birthplace!) for the return trip because hotel prices were cheaper.

Next, I chose a region that looked like it might meet my time requirements and I zoomed in.  I was looking for places that were safe (read more about this here), inexpensive (or free!), fairly quick, interesting for a toddler, and different from any other stop on our list.

So, here is a break down of our trip!

Day 1 Goal: Reach Lexington, Kentucky

Roanoke, VA to New River Gorge Bridge, WV: 2 hours 30 minutes

This one was surprisingly awesome because of all of those stairs!  We spent a lot of time going up and down!  There was a nice air conditioned museum to explore as well!

New River Gorge Bridge, WV to Carter Caves State Park, KY: 2 hours 40 minutes

We stopped for lunch somewhere in the middle.  Carter Caves is really neat because there are a lot of cave tours to choose from.  There are even wild caves (not rigged for electricity) to explore!  I chose the most basic X Cave tour because it was the shortest and had the least steps.  This was Boo’s first cave experience, so I was assuming I would be carrying her the whole way.  Turns out she did fantastic and didn’t even mind total darkness!  We even found some cool stumps to climb all over!

Carter Caves State Park, KY to Lexington, KY: 1 hour 36 minutes

Day 2 Goal: Reach South Bend, Indiana

Lexington, KY to Big Bone Lick State Park, KY: 1 hour 15 minutes

This is the site where Lewis and Clark met up to start their expedition west.  Lewis was also contracted by President Jefferson to perform a dig for dinosaur fossils here.  There is a short walkway explaining the area’s prehistoric history as well as a very small (but air conditioned) museum.

(Check out that lovely, morbid scene!)

Furthermore, apparently there used to be bison in Kentucky!  This state park is attempting to reestablish a herd.  Right now they have a few bison in a farm-type situation (a short walk from the parking lot) with lots of cute calves!  Thanks to this trip, Boo can now identify a bison by sight!

Big Bone Lick State Park, KY to Cincinnati Zoo, OH: 38 minutes

This was a really short drive time, but there is a lot of cool stuff in this area, so I couldn’t help taking advantage.  Unfortunately, this is where our day started going downhill (more on that later!).  We had intended to stop at the Newport Aquarium in Kentucky, but my GPS couldn’t find it, so after randomly driving around for half an hour, I chose the only other thing in the area I could remember off the top of my head (I still don’t have a smart phone).

This was more money than I planned on spending.  We also should have spent the entire day at the zoo to really do it justice (and to make it worth the cost of admissions/parking/food!).  As is, we spent about 2 hours there and only saw a handful of exhibits.

Cincinnati Zoo, OH to Mass Ave Toys; Indianapolis, IN: 1 hour 50 minutes

I didn’t get any pictures (we were too busy playing!), but this toy store is awesome!  Street parking was approachable (I am not a huge fan of city driving…or parallel parking), the neighborhood is charming, and I could spend hours (and lots of money!) in this store!  We did not have time to check out any other stores or restaurants in the area, but I will definitely keep it in mind for the next time we are in the area!

Due to an unfortunate series of events (again, more on that later!), we decided to call it a day and got an unplanned hotel outside of Indianapolis.

Day 3 Goal: Make another attempt at reaching South Bend, Indiana

Indianapolis, IN to South Bend, IN: 2 hours 30 minutes

Our third day of drive was fairly quick, so we just made a midway McDonald’s stop before hitting the road again.  I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but McDonald’s is one of my favorite road stops for Boo.  She loves the milk that comes in those tiny little jugs for her happy meal!

The return journey!

Day 1 Goal: Reach Cadiz, Ohio

South Bend, IN to Toledo Botanical Garden, OH: 2 hours 30 minutes

This look like a really neat place (and it was free!), but we did not stay particularly long because of the heat.  We did find this bridge over a small stream and Boo burned off some energy walking across it (over and over and over again).

Toledo Botanical Gardens, OH to Target; Avon, OH: 1 hour 38 minutes

Target is another one of my favorite road trip stops.  This time, my excuse was a new pair of sneakers for Boo.  We were unsuccessful in this endeavor, but Boo always enjoys shoe shopping!  In any case, this type of stop is always an adventure for a toddler.

Avon, OH to Cadiz, OH: 2 hours 20 minutes

There really is a whole lot of nothing in this area of Ohio.  There seem to be plenty of hikes and outdoor sort of activities, but I am a little spooked right now about hiking solo with the kid.  I keep hearing stories about solo hiking trips going poorly – thanks to shady people or even the elements.  In any case, we will wait to check out this area until we have a larger adventure crew!

Day 2 Goal: Reach Bel Air, Maryland (visiting family in my hometown!)

Cadiz, OH to National Aviary; Pittsburgh, PA: 1 hour 10 minutes

I was so excited about this stop!  I have never been to an aviary before!   This one did not disappoint!  The prices were reasonable, the birds were beautiful, and Boo had a great time exploring their habitats!

Pittsburgh, PA to Bel Air, MD: 4 hours 20 minutes

I am sad to say that I was unable to find any interesting stops in the southwestern region of Pennsylvania, so we stuck to the typical food and gas type stops.  I’m sure there is more to the region that I was unable to find, but maybe I was just burned out by this point.

There you go!  Five days of driving and every one of our stops was exciting and engaging for a toddler!  I hope this inspires you to go beyond the usual rest stops and restaurants for your next road trip!

Updating Boo’s Travel Map

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(Screen print from Roadtrippers)

Wow!  It has been awhile since I posted!  To be honest, with the end of the school year and various illnesses affecting any or all of us, we really haven’t done much adventuring.  After a fairly rough year, I really needed to escape.  Less than a week after school ended, Boo and I hit the road!  Not just one of those drive to your destination, do the vacation thing, and head home sort of trips, but an actual road trip!  Just the two of us!

How did this trip come about?  I have this best friend.  We have been friends since we were born (no joke – our pregnant moms were good friends).  She recently moved several states away from our hometown and I couldn’t wait to visit!  Google says the trip is 10 hours.  Totally possible to drive in one day, but I’m a teacher on summer break, so what’s the rush?

I decided to go all out.  And knock off a few states for Boo’s travel map while we were at it!  Everyone has different criteria for checking a state off the list.  For me, a state (or country) doesn’t count unless you actually do something in that state – eat, sleep, an activity, something!  For instance, Delaware is the way we get to New Jersey, but Boo hasn’t done anything in DE yet except pay tolls (seriously…what is with all the tolls?!).

Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan all made the map this time!

Here are some clips from our road trip!

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New River Gorge Bridge; Fayetteville, West Virginia (not actually a new state)
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Carter Caves State Park; Olive Hill, Kentucky
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Cincinnati Zoo; Cincinnati, Ohio
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Splash Pad; South Bend, Indiana
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Strawberry Picking; Niles, Michigan
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National Aviary; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (also not a new state)

We have another epic road trip planned for later this summer!  We are so excited!

My Favorite Feeding-On-The-Go Products

As a traveling family, feeding on the go is a given.  What we look for in these products is function, ease of use, and size.  All of these products have been thoroughly road-tested by us and proven to be effective and dependable!  Read on to learn more about our top picks!

DSC00584Innobaby Packin’ SMART Stackables.  I was given a 5-tier stackable at my baby shower and I love it!  The tower is customizable, so I can use as many or as few tiers as I want.  I actually have yet to use all 5 tiers at the same time.  Each tier has a removeable pour spout, so they are easy to fill and easy to clean.  The tower is fairly skinny too, so it fits really well in a diaper bag.  It seems to keep things pretty fresh, so we always have snacks on hand when we need them!  We haven’t used this in awhile (because she eats a lot more than this!), but it was fantastic from 6 months to a year!

DSC00227Neat Solutions Sili-Stick Table Topper.  This placemat is great!  My goal was to find something that packed small for the diaper bag and provided a nice clean surface for Boo to eat on.  This particular place mat isn’t sticky really…more like grippy.  That means it doesn’t slide on most table surfaces and is a little more difficult for the baby to flip over than your standard place mat.  They are also easy to clean and inexpensive!  Sounds like a win all around!

A spill proof snack cup.  I really hesitated buying one of these because it is just one more thing to add to that never ending list of baby stuff.  I bought this one at the Dollar Tree (and it has surprisingly lasted 9 months so far!) as a spur of the moment thing before our last trip as more of an entertainment thing than a snack thing.  Boo loves it!  She thinks it is so much fun to jam her hand in and take out snacks (or pom poms or whatever).  About that spill proof thing…it might be spill proof, but when chubby little baby hands try to grab a handful of snacks, nothing can stop the mess!  At 20 months, she can now fill it herself and put the lid back on!

Inglesina Fast Table Chair with optional tray.  When looking for a high chair for camping, we wanted one that packed nicely, worked with any unknown picnic table, was reliably safe, and cleaned up nicely.  This high chair meets most of these requirements.  My one slight complaint is the cleaning thing.  This is a fabric high chair, so it doesn’t just wipe down.  It can, however, be thrown in a washing machine, which is nice!  Basically we can only spot clean while camping, but it gets a nice deep clean when we get home.  That fabric part is necessary to make it packable, so we were willing to bend on the cleaning thing.  I really like that it is easy to install on every picnic table we’ve tried!  Furthermore, if we are eating in the same place for several meals, we will leave the arms attached to the table and stash the chair part in the car in between meals.

The Original Squeeze with Eeeze.  This is our current favorite product.  We use it at least once daily…sometimes 3 or 4 times!  I found this older style on clearance at Target several months ago and have since bought the newer style as well.  This refillable squeeze pouch is awesome because it stands on its own for filling, has a wide mouth for pouring, cleans easily, and is super easy for toddlers to figure out!  The 4 ounce size is perfect for yogurt!  The company is awesome to work with, too!  My one complaint would be the screw top.  Sometimes it is difficult to get the threads to line up nicely for a good fit.  This is better on the newer version, but we still have issues sometimes.  The Original Squeeze comes with two different spout types: 6+ months and 2+ years.  The 2+ years version (“With Eeeze”) was the one I found on clearance and our 16 month old had no trouble figuring it out!  Love, love, love this thing!

I’m sure this list will keep growing and evolving as Boo gets older (and more awesome products hit the market), but we have been quite pleased with our experiences thus far!

Longwood Gardens

DSC01827Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA is one of my reset places.  I can always rely on a trip to the gardens to simultaneously free my mind from everyday stresses and inspire me with a million and one ideas for my dream garden back home (even when I didn’t have a garden or home of my own).  Like Shenandoah National Park, Longwood Gardens is one of my most favorite places in the world.

kristen3I don’t get to make this trip as often as I would like (now that I live in southwestern Virginia), but I do visit every time an opportunity presents itself.  Boo was 6 weeks old for her first trip.  She slept almost the whole time and I got my first taste of public breastfeeding.  I could be wrong, but I don’t imagine she will remember much of this trip.

We recently made the trip now that Boo is a toddler (19 months at the time).  She might not remember this one either, but I know I will!  It is one of those special moments when your child realizes that magic and fairies really do exist in the real world – because how else can this place be so amazing?!  Hopefully her memories of Longwood Gardens will be like mine – so many little memories gathered from so many different trips coming together to make one big happy memory!  Like that time there were hidden Wizard of Oz topiaries all over the place.  Or the time my little sister fell into the fountain.  Or the time we released our wild box turtle onto the grounds because we couldn’t think of a happier home for the little guy.  Just a whole bunch of happy.

I guess the magic (for Boo) first began in the bathrooms of the conservatory.  This sounds really bizarre, but my mom had been raving about the bathrooms since lunch at the cafe.  “Wait to change her diaper until we get to the conservatory!  They won best bathroom!”  I totally fact-checked her when we got home.  True story.  Who knew this even existed?  So we made it to the bathrooms and they were impressive-looking, but I did not see a formal changing table in the family bathroom.  Instead, there was a strange flat surface with a dent in it.DSC01822

Am I really suppose to change her in this?  It seems inconvenient to have to reach around in there to try to clean her tushie.  Ok, I’ll give it a shot.DSC01821

Boo seems satisfied!  I must say, I have never changed her on a public changing table without lots of screaming.  Longwood Gardens for the win!

Now the conservatory itself – always my favorite part of the trip!  It’s like a jungle…or a rainforest…or just something else completely wonderful.  Boo took off exploring the instant her feet touched the ground.

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The conservatory has a special section reserved as the “Children’s Garden.”  This existed when I was a kid and I loved it.  It had a maze and some fun fountains you could stick your hands in.  It has now been completely revamped!  At first, I was distraught (why mess with a good thing and all that), but the new version is completely magical…for everyone!

Here are some other pictures of our day.  I can’t wait to go back!

Travel Toys from Birth to 10 Months

As Boo grows up, her interest in toys grows right along with her.  We have moved through a huge assortment of car toys over the past 19 months.  Unfortunately, this means retiring some favorites as they no longer keep her interested.  Below are some of our favorites up until she was 10 months old.

I feel the need to include this disclaimer.  Please keep in mind that current car safety recommendations in the US suggest the use of soft toys that would not cause injury in the event of an accident.  No after market products (to include toys) should be attached to the car seat.  That being said, I am not a car seat expert and I do not always use soft toys for my daughter.

Alright now…onto the toys!  I recommend paying close attention to your child’s individual interests when choosing toys for a road trip.  If the child would be interested in the item at home, they will likely be interested on the road.  That being said, I am going to break this age group down a bit further.

Age: 0-3 months

Interests: Nursing, snuggling, sleeping (in no particular order)

Activities:  Pacifiers and lots of them!  At this age Boo did a lot of sleeping and wasn’t really interested in toys.  When she woke up from her lengthy sleeps, we found a place to stop and nurse/cuddle or popped a pacifier in her mouth.  Remember:  Babies at this age usually can’t put pacifiers in their own mouths, so plan to dig around awkwardly in your rear facing car seat until you find one or bring lots of extras (I have plenty of experience with both).

Age: 4-7 months

Interests: The five senses – especially touch!  She also loved practicing things at this age…over and over.

Activities:  Her pacifier provided a fair bit of entertainment at this time as she was working on putting it in her own mouth.  Here are some other favorites:

1.  Teethers.  She started teething pretty hard core around this time.  Elephant; Moose (this one even doubles as a rattle); Green teether (Sadly, I think this one has been discontinued…it is a favorite)

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2.  More Teethers.  Keys; Fun Links (We use these on everything – stroller, baby carrier, play gym, etc.); Figure 8 (We did not buy this one until she was 11 months old, but she would have enjoyed it at this age, too.  It has a bit of a rattle and the figure 8 can be manipulated.)

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3.  Texture Book.  I absolutely loved the Soft Book of Colors I found on Homegrown Happy blog, so I made my own!  It was fairly easy using the instructions (although mine is not as cute).  Boo loves flipping the pages, touching the different fabrics, and sucking on it!

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4.  Taggie Blanket.  I made this as part of my don’t-spend-money-on-the-4-month-old-for-Christmas mission.  I used soft minky fabric and a variety of ribbons for texture exploration.  It is about 12 x 12 inches, so it is the perfect size for snuggling.  Project Nursery has a nice post if you want to DIY or Etsy (I love Etsy!) has some beautiful handmade taggies for sale!

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5.  Chicken Stuffed Toy.  My mom made this for Boo and it is the perfect size for her little hands.  It is also the perfect size to fit in her cupholder, which is always entertaining for Boo.  You can make your own using these instruction on Red Ted Art.

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Age: 8-10 months

Interests: Eating, Still into textures, but starting to get into more intricate toys

Activities:  Boo was still interested in all of her earlier toys at this point.  We also started putting snacks (cheerios, goldfish, etc.) in her cup holder.

1.  Elephant.  We actually bought this one on a road trip while we were exploring a Target (click here for more road trip tips).  It has a lot for the baby to explore and probably would have been interesting from an earlier age.

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2.  Rattle Ball.  Again, we bought this on a roadtrip, and it probably would have been a hit for Boo starting at 4 months.  This one is nice because it is lightweight, squishable, and easy for chubby little hands to maneuver.

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3.  Keychain.  Boo, like every other baby, is obsessed with keys.  This was my solution.  I punched holes in some old cards from my wallet and added a keychain light and combination lock (it has some heft and spins!) from the Dollar Tree.

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Keep an eye out for more favorite car toys in future posts!

Fjord-du-Saguenay National Park

DSC00369Pardon my French – or more specifically my Frenglish (Get it?).  I don’t actually speak French.  Thanks to various mini-immersion experiences throughout my life, I am comfortable hearing and seeing the language.  Basically, I can find my way around and maybe even order food in a butchered attempt at the language (at least I try!), but I cannot really speak the language.  My husband is currently in school to be a French teacher – following in his Mama’s footsteps!  Until this past summer, he had never actually been to a french-speaking country or heard native speakers outside of a classroom.

Last summer was a big deal for my husband.  He was separating from the military for the third (and hopefully final!) time AND he finally finished his Associate’s Degree almost 20 years after starting it!  He actually had the opportunity to request vacation time without having to use it for National Guard duty and I was determined to make it a good one.  We blocked off a chunk of time back in February, got the extended family on board (all of mine with the exception of the busy Veterinarians), and started dreaming!

You know those people who book their vacations a year in advance and have everything planned down to the minute, including restaurant reservations?  This is not us.  Growing up, last-minute vacations were not uncommon.  I remember calling my grandmother from Florida to let her know we weren’t home.  Or spending a month touring the West when we really only intended to go backpacking in the Tetons.

Same deal with Summer Vacation 2015.  Over the next several months, we planned out many different vacations – Camping in the Adirondacks, Roadtripping through the Midwest, Houseboating in Minnesota, Exploring Bruce Peninsula…

About a week before we left, we finally chose a destination – National Parc du Fjord-du-Saguenay in (French-speaking!) Quebec.  Good thing we got our passports in order months earlier – you know, just in case!  By the way, trying to get an 8 month old baby to take an acceptable passport photo is definitely a challenge!

Here was the itinerary:

Day 1: Drive from Roanoke, VA to Littleton, NH (12 hour direct drive – took us 17 with the baby)

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Day 2: Hike Mt. Washington – up the Ammonoosuc, down the Jewell Trail.  We almost made it to the treeline before turning back due to dangerous hiking conditions with babies (slippery rocks from the thunderstorm the night before and an impending storm).  For the record, hiking down the Ammonoosuc with a top-heavy baby backpack is terrifying.  I actually have no pictures from this day.  I was too busy trying not to die.  Trust me though, it was beautiful!

Day 3: Cross the border and drive to Quebec City.  We made a last minute decision to spend most of the day at Lost River Gorge – loved it!  Also no pictures of the Gorge, but it was really fun!  (4 hour direct drive – felt like it took forever)

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Day 4: Explore Quebec City.  We happened upon a Plein Air Art Festival and a fantastic street band – Les Bleu Pelouse!

Day 5: Explore the surrounding area.  We picked raspberries on Ile d’Orleans and toured Canyon Sainte-Anne.

Day 6: Drive to National Parc du Fjord-du-Saguenay.  Celebrated Boo’s first birthday in our own style – on a grand adventure with $50 pick-your-own raspberries on a store-bought flan…no fancy themes, smash cakes, and expensive photo shoots here!  (Google says 3 hours.  I would say 10…easily.)

Day 7: Drive to Tadoussac for the whale watching (didn’t see any).  Hike through Baie-Sainte-Marguerite to see the belugas (didn’t see any).  Apparently this is the wrong season for whales here. (2 hour drive time – each way)

Day 8: Hike La Statue Trail at Baie-Eternitie (This is where we camped).  What a surprisingly challenging hike!  You make it all the way to the top and then there are about a thousand steps to actually reach the statue.  Well worth it because of the view.  Too bad it was pouring down rain by the time we got there!

Day 9: Start the trek home and make it as far as Watertown, New York. (8 hour direct drive – took us longer because we got lost in Quebec City.)

Day 10: Made it home.  Decided I should start a blog about roadtripping with babies – I am pretty familiar with the topic by now. (9 hour direct drive)

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This place was amazing!  Everything I wanted from this vacation.  Something new (for everyone!), French language immersion (I had forgotten exactly how much French was spoken in Quebec), and we actually got to leave the country for the first time in 9 years (has it really been that long?!).  I would absolutely go back – but hopefully with more time to explore!

Here are some things I learned about this trip:

  1. Cell phones do not work in Canada without an international plan…unless you happen to be driving along 401, which parallels the border.
  2. GPS (Garmin) doesn’t work either.  My brother-in law hacked ours so we would have something, but it looked like we were off-roading the entire time!
  3. Canada is really big and driving distances are much longer than they seem.
  4. Rest stops are amazing!  Clean, educated and bilingual personnel, kitchen access, private rooms for nursing moms…I could go on.
  5. The weather really wasn’t what I was expecting.  Quebec City was ridiculously hot and it rained regularly in Saguenay (like 4:00 every day…and then some).

So why I am posting this now?  We just chose our dates for Summer Vacation 2016 and we have absolutely no idea where we are going!  I can’t wait to see where we end up!

Who Goes to the Beach in the Winter?!

post4I am not a beach person.  I am super pale and burn easily (and I have a family history of skin cancer).  I find sitting on a crowded beach to be kind of dull.  I can’t hear for a week if I spend 10 minutes in the ocean.  It just really isn’t my thing.  However, I definitely got my beach time growing up.  We had access to a family house on Long Beach Island, New Jersey (passed down through generations) and we occasionally vacationed to less populated beaches in Florida (like Cayo Costa State Park!).  My husband is absolutely a beach person (I guess opposites attract?).  His family spent their summer vacations at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  He was also a Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina (where he spent all of his free time surfing).

I believe my daughter needs to be exposed to as many different people/places/things as possible.  That includes the beach…I think the ocean is a sight that needs to be seen!  In her first year, Boo went camping and hiking.  She saw mountains and waterfalls.  She visited Disney World and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.  She watched street performers on cobblestone streets and saw manatees frolicking in hot springs.  She rode in a canoe and on a ferry.  The beach was definitely missing from her list of experiences, but somehow it just never worked out.

And then came Christmas Vacation.  As a teacher I had a full 2 weeks off, but my retail worker husband was right in the midst of his busy season (he works for Walmart).  By some miracle, Husband realized (at about 2 in the afternoon) that he had the next couple days off.  I leapt on this rare opportunity and by 4:00, I had booked us into a dog friendly, beachfront hotel in Virginia Beach.  We packed at lightning speed and by 2:00am, we were standing on our oceanside balcony listening to the waves.  Amazing!DSC01417

Ok, now for the perks of vacationing at the beach in the winter:

  1. No crowds!  On the beach, in the restaurants, on the boardwalk, on the roads…glorious!
  2. Awesome hotel deals! We paid $67 a night (plus dog fees) for this room, which rents for $350 a night in high season.  (Wyndham Virginia Beach Oceanfront)
  3. Dogs are allowed on the beach!  So, normally the dog would have spent a few days in boarding for this trip, but remember how last minute it was?  Plus, it was so much fun to have the whole family on the trip!
  4. Did I mention, no crowds??

Now, the weather gods were in our favor for this one – Virginia does not typically see 70 degree weather in December – but, like I said before, I’m not really a beach-sitting kind of person!  So, 40 degree weather at the beach would suit me just fine!  Whatever it takes to have a crowd-free vacation!

Many smaller beach communities really shut down in the winter (restaurants, attractions, etc.).  This can be quite nice, too.  However, Virginia Beach is a working community that just happens to be on the beach, so there was plenty to do!  We recommend Perked Up! Coffee Cafe and the Virginia Aquarium!  Although I am still not a beach person, I would absolutely go back (out of season)!

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Are you a winter beach bum?  What are your favorite winter beaches?

5 Tips for Traveling Solo (with Kids)

I am a teacher.  My husband works retail and just recently completed his commitment with the Army National Guard.  Needless to say, we do not have a whole lot of time off together to go traveling.  It is horribly unfair for my husband, but if we waited for him to be available to travel, the Boo would never experience the outside world.  By my parenting philosophy (you can read more about that here), we would be doing her a serious injustice.  That being said, I go solo…a lot.  Probably more often then not.

I’m not the sort to vacation by myself with a Post2baby (at least not yet!), so our solo road trips are usually to visit family out of state or meet family for a vacation.  It makes me feel a lot better knowing that I have support on either end of the trip!  Things have not always been smooth sailing on these trips, but we have learned a lot along the way.  Keep in mind that I am a woman, so this is definitely reflected in my tips.

1.  Choose your route wisely.  You are traveling by yourself (with a child), so safety is a priority.  While there is a certain appeal to traveling the scenic route, highways and interstates might be the safer option.  Speaking as someone who has been stuck on the side of the road with car trouble more times than I care to remember (I have the worst luck!), it is better to be stuck on the highway.  Police patrol these roads with greater frequency and road services (like AAA) will have an easier time finding you.

2.  Pick safe stops.  Again, you need to consider safety here – especially if you are traveling after dark.  Look for well lit and populated areas.  Sheetz is my favorite road side stop.  I have always found them to be easily accessible, clean, well lit, and staffed with friendly people.  I have also felt comfortable stopping in populated mall and strip mall parking lots.  Just remember to make safety a priority.  If you do not feel comfortable about any aspect of the stop, move on.  I would rather drive around with a screaming baby for an hour than stop somewhere shady.

3.  Babywearing.  Do it.  I cannot imagine traveling solo without my soft-structured carrier.  Consider bathroom breaks.  There is nowhere to put an infant in a public restroom.  “Umm, here kid.  Just sit on the floor until I’m done.” – Gross!  Even though Boo can stand now, I still don’t want her touching anything in the bathroom!  My solution?  I strap the kid in a front carry and take care of business!

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My 17 month old’s travel toy stash!

4.  Keep everything you need on the shot gun seat.  A bag of toys, snacks, water, extra pacifiers…  The goal is to have everything easy to reach without having to take your eyes off the road.  So when your traveling companion gets a little demanding, you can (attempt to) keep them happy until you find a safe place to stop.  I have become pretty skilled at reaching over the rear-facing seat and popping a pacifier in Boo’s mouth without taking my focus off the road!

5. Coffee through the drive-thru is a lifeline!  Driving all that distance by myself?  Definitely need some coffee.  Make that a LOT of coffee.  It always seems that when the coffee need strikes, Boo is taking a nap.  Something about the sleepy vibes in the air, I think.  So I could wake her up, drag her grumpy, half-asleep self out of the car, and then stuff her now-awake (but still grumpy) self back into her car seat when my coffee need is met.  OR I could find a drive-thru and hope that all of the talking doesn’t wake her up.  You make your own choice here, but I’m sticking with Option #2.  Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts frequently have drive-thrus, but McDonald’s (now that they have McCafe!) is usually my go-to.  They are everywhere!

How do you survive a solo road trip with the kids?

11 Tips for Road Tripping with the Littles

“Road trip” always brings to mind things like post1“freedom” or “adventure” or “fun.”  Having kids might lead you to believe that road trips will never mean these things again.  Think again!  Road trips might require a little extra planning and a lot more stuff now, but they can still be lots of fun and perhaps even better than before!  Just think, you get to share some of the coolest experiences with your favorite little people!

Alright now.  Truth time.  I am not big on planning.  It kind of makes my skin crawl.  Spontaneity is more my thing.  Now that I am a mom, I find that a *little* extra planning helps things go more smoothly.  I am still not about to set a schedule for my entire trip (…at 11:52 we will stop at blah blah rest stop for exactly 46 minutes…gross.), but some planning is definitely necessary.

These are my tips for making sure your road trip goes smoothly and everyone has fun!

1.  Plan your route.  Smart phones and GPS navigators could be helpful, but at least have a basic idea of where you are going and how long it is going to take to get there!

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Google…my first stop when dreaming up road trips!

Google is my BFF here!  I type in where I am starting and where I am going (For example: Roanoke, VA to Niagara Falls, NY – ahh…someday…) and Google will give me an estimated driving time, a map with the route drawn out, and even driving directions if I want them!  I love Google!  Knowing your route can even give you a general idea of stopping points, so you can research places to stop before you go!

2.  Be Flexible.  (With your timeline, your route, your activities, etc.)  Construction, accidents, weather, not to mention the fact that you are traveling with a kid.  Things are going to happen that even the best planning could not predict.  You’re a parent though – flexibility should be second nature by now!  Again smart phones and GPS navigators could help you detour and maybe predict traffic patterns.  Really you just never know what you might run into!

3.  Bring a road atlas.  Like the old-school paper version.  You know how I keep saying smart phones and GPS navigators could be helpful?  Let’s face it, technology can be unreliable…at the most inconvenient times.  You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a screaming child and unreliable technology.  An atlas can also help you see the big picture.  Have you ever tried to see your whole route in detail on a tiny screen?  Scanning, zooming in, zooming out, getting lost on the map…ugh…what a pain.

4.  Plan to stop at least every 2 hours.  Each stop should probably be at least 1 hour.  This is for your child’s (and your own) sanity.  This guideline will help keep everyone happy!  The only time I break this rule is when Boo has been sleeping since the last stop.  “Don’t wake a sleeping baby” and all that goodness.  I will even wake her up if she falls asleep when we are looking for a place to stop.  If you choose to let your precious little one keep sleeping, be prepared to stop as soon as he wakes up.

5.  Make sure your rest-stops are age-appropriate, quality stops.  Think about what your little one likes to do when you are home and do that during your stop!  Here is how we deal with stops (keep in mind Boo is only 17 months old right now):

  • Up until about 4 months old, Boo was happy nursing and snuggling.  Any safe parking lot was sufficient.
  • From 4 to 6 months, she needed to get out of the car and see things, so we would walk around the highway rest stop or walk the aisles in a convenience store.
  • From 6 to 8 months, she wanted to see more things and eat, so Target became my favorite roadside stop.  We could walk (a lot!) AND buy snacks like fresh berries or cheese sticks to munch on!

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    Burning some energy at Sheetz
  • From 9 to 12 months, Boo became super mobile (crawling everywhere and trying to walk), so rest stops were a big hit again!  Another great place to stop at this age is a mall.  Many malls now have a kiddie play area with lots of stuff to crawl all over.  Unless you have a smart phone (which I don’t), finding a mall with a play area is probably hit or miss, but just walking the mall can help to burn off a little extra energy.  Playgrounds also start to be appealing for babies around this age.
  • From 13 months to 17 months (present), Boo can walk, run, climb, etc.  She needs lots of exercise to appease her during a road trip.  She also spends a lot of time working on her fine motor skills and practicing independence.  Pushing shopping carts is a huge hit, but she also likes to ride in the them and practice buckling the straps.  Fast food stops also seem to keep her happy.

6.  Bring lots of age-appropriate entertainment.  Again, think about where your child is developmentally right now and pack lots of activities that will keep your child busy.  DSC00404Boo probably has a 15 minute maximum for any one activity (and that is a stretch for some activities…with the exception of eating), so that is about 8 different activities for every leg of the journey.  You can rotate these toys a bit, but for a lengthy road trip, you are going to want a LOT of different toys.  Keyword here is different.  The idea is to keep them busy as long as possible.  A busy child is a happy child and a happy child on a road trip makes a happy parent.

7.  Make sure you pack the essentials.  I know this sounds obvious, but who hasn’t had to do some shopping on vacation for some accidentally forgotten item?  Packing for kids means a lot more stuff to remember.  Make a list if it helps!  And don’t forget transportation options for the little one (stroller, carrier, etc.)!

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A shoe hanger cut to size works wonders!

8.  Pack plenty of snacks.  Kids eat a lot, so make sure you are prepared.  Sure you can buy food on the road, but packing snacks from home will probably give you better options.

9.  Keep your car organized.  Things can get really messy really quickly with a child around.  More children means more mess.  Imagine having to dig through toys and clothes and who-knows-what to find a diaper and some wipes.  Not how I want to spend my vacation!  Do yourself (and your sanity) a favor and re-organize the car at every stop.

10.  If you are only traveling with one child, leave the seat next to them empty.  This seat is for you (assuming you are not traveling solo).  I know packing space is precious, but sometimes it just gets lonely in the backseat – especially if your child is rear-facing.  It doesn’t matter how many activities you have, sometimes they just need a friend.  Truth be told, I do not leave this seat completely empty.  The diaper bag sits on the seat and we keep snacks in the floor area.  This is all easy to move when we are stopped on the side of the road because the baby won’t stop crying.

11.  Learn how to do a standing diaper change.  While not necessary, this one is helpful for babies and toddlers who are able to hold themselves upright in a standing position.  If you don’t have a big enough flat space in your car, or it is raining outside, or your rest stop doesn’t have a changing station, the standing diaper change can save the day!  I found this website to be super helpful when I was first learning.  It takes a little practice, but I find it easier if you flip the diaper inside out so the crotch pocket is kind of inverted (I can’t remember where I first read that tip).  Once the diaper is tentatively in place, I quickly adhere one side of the diaper just so it stays in place.  Then I adhere the other side correctly before going back to fix the first side.

So, there you go.  You can road trip with the little ones and live to tell the tale (and there will be plenty of tales to tell)!  Stay tuned for more awesome adventure tips!

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