I made it home Sunday evening after a whirlwind week-long journey from New York to North Carolina. This was my first long distance solo drive with Henry and while nerve wracking, it was manageable! Henry handled the long trip very well and I felt some serious mommy pride swelling in my heart as he patiently sat through traffic and long stretches of open highway. When Henry started a sing along in rural Pennsylvania to pass the time, I thought, "What??! Are we already leaving toddlerhood and entering childhood?"
I started my trip on 6 am Monday and arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina around 6 pm. With a 2-year-old in tow, I was happy with this time. Some highlights of the drive were: a sleeping baby until 10 am, sunrise over the Hudson River Valley, minimal traffic minus DC and enjoying a quiet moment plus a latte as I drove through rural NC during the last 1.5 hours of the trip.
The rest of week was spent crashing at relatives and friends homes, play dates, dinner dates and prepping for my editorial shoot on Thursday. The majority of Thursday was spent on set and we wrapped things up by early evening.
On Friday I got my hair cut with my favorite stylist and began the long drive back to New York (just shy of noon). Henry napped until northern Virginia and then we made a stop at a blissfully green rest area where he could run free! We got stuck in traffic in the DC metro area yet again and I have to say Henry handled it well. Just as I was losing hope of traffic ever disappearing, the highway opened up in Maryland, and we drove for at least one hundred miles with farmland and rolling hills as our view and the windows down providing the perfect summer mood. Enduring traffic was worth it for this beautiful slice of America. As the sun set over Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Henry fell asleep and I was able to get us home safely by midnight.
Some trip reflections and advice for parents traveling solo with wee ones:
Weighing Convenience and Cost- I opted to drive to North Carolina to save money on travel costs and make more of a profit from my editorial gig. It was a huge savings. Flights for two ranged from $800 to $1100 dollars and that was with flexibility on travel dates. Gas was less than $100 each way and tolls were less than $50 round trip. While I knew flying would be much faster and less difficult, I also knew it would be helpful to have my own car as I was traveling with Henry's books and toys, plus styling gear, a stroller and obviously a car seat. I also had hopes to visit with loved ones and get my hair cut. In the end, I think I made the best choice for us this visit, though next time I take on a project of this size in a different state, I will definitely fly.
The Friends and Family Factor (FFF)- My hosts on this trip made it truly memorable. I am so grateful to them for opening up their homes, offering to watch Henry, and cooking home cooked meals for us. It was also lovely to have time for a few social activities and to share copious amounts of laughter and wine. If I had flown and stayed in a hotel for a single night, I would have missed all of that love.
Traveling with a Toddler- As any parent knows, preparation does wonders when taking a trip with a little one (or several)! I'm rarely the most organized parent on the block, but I made sure to keep the car stocked with water, dry snacks, fruit and yogurt pouches, as well as with entertainment such as blocks, books, a few stuffed toys and a robot. All of these things were key at keeping my little man occupied during his waking moments, so I could focus on the road. I will be honest; the car was really messy and crumb-filled by the end of the week, but it was worth it for a peaceful drive. It also felt amazing to deep clean it yesterday.
Rest Stops and Parks- I tried to find rest stops with some green space where Henry could run around and stretch his legs every few hours, but I found that even stopping briefly was helpful at keeping him happy. He's only 2, but he seemed to grasp that we were traveling for a long time and that breaks were his chance to walk, eat or snuggle with his mama.
Plan and Reflect- During quiet moments in the car (usually when Henry slept) I used the time to think about what was going well on our trip, what we needed, and also to plan out future stops. I often tried to stretch breaks as long as I could without pushing Henry to the point where he was too irritable. I used his cues to guide me when he was awake.
Enjoy- Driving can be a little boring, frustrating and tiring on long highway trips (especially on I-95!). I took a more rural route home just to mix it up! But just know that you can survive the journey (even alone); the key is working within you and your child's comfort zone and ultimately, stopping as much as you find necessary for sanity and safety.