When I started thinking about our first vacation with Baby J, I had grand plans.  We would go to Thailand, where she would ride a baby elephant.  We would stay in a yurt on Hawaii’s Big Island, and cook in a communal kitchen.  However, the fear of flying with a baby that had just started walking upended all my vacation dreams. The Internet is full of stories of nightmare trips with small children. I was pretty much asking for it by trying to do anything on someone else’s schedule.

So, it came down to the road trip. Our initial plans were to visit Natural Bridges Monument in Utah; Sedona, Arizona; and the Grand Canyon. After determining that we wouldn’t even be able to see much of the Natural Bridges with a baby, we decided to narrow down our focus to one place, Sedona.  We would even stay in one hotel for four nights, skipping our usual one-night-stands in cheap motels or hostels.  Here’s how we made it work:

Road Trip Tip #1: Succumb to the all-mighty nap schedule.

In order to get the most out of our drive, we got up early in the morning (about 2 hours before Baby J normally gets up).  We would get ready as quickly as possible and let her make up for her 2-hour sleep deficit in the car. Since she is still taking 2 naps a day, we would drive for about 30 minutes or so before and after her naps, as to cut up the awake driving time.  When she was awake and restless, we would stop and get out, even if it meant making an 8-hour road trip into a 12-hour ordeal.  Under no conditions would we stop while she was asleep.
On a previous shorter trip, we had tried to leave just before her bedtime.  This resulted in a screaming baby in a strange hotel room late at night, as she vacillated between excitement and terror of the new surroundings. It is just too rough to be exhausted when your baby is awake and refreshed as ever!

Road Trip Tip #2: Anything is a toy.

In my preparation for travel, I had read that it was a good idea to bring a lot of small items as toys. Of course, I did not do this.  Instead, I had to make anything into a toy. At this age, they are willing to study or suck on quite a few foreign items.  Some of her favorites were (and don’t tell me about their hazards): an old CD, plastic utensils, any form of plastic cup or water bottle, mama’s credit cards, etc. When desperate, any number of things from a fast food restaurant will do. However, best to plan in advance and find or make lots of little toys.

Road Trip Tip #3: Snack it up!

Speaking of fast food, it is well known among travelers that bribes of food are the most effective.  We discovered on this trip that Baby J loves Chili Cheese Fritos, and will chew on a bagel for over an hour.  On our freezing walk to the Grand Canyon museum, I fed her Gerber cheese puffs at regular (short) intervals. We like to stay in hotels with complimentary breakfasts, like Days Inn, so we can stock up on snack foods to ply her with during our drives. I try not to worry about the future implications of this method, as I figure these trips will certainly expand her mind before expanding her little body.

So when you think about where to go with baby, choose to follow your own schedule on a road trip. We really did have a beautiful drive, from farmland to mountains into Palm Desert and then on to Sedona via the tall cacti fields just above Phoenix. Even an active toddler stuck in a car seat did not ruin our family road trip to the mysterious red rocks of Sedona.