Monday, December 29, 2014

Holiday Travel: 2014 Edition

As I have well documented here, we like to take road trips, and bringing young children with you makes road trips harder.

We traveled to Jacksonville for Thanksgiving and Toledo for Christmas. These aren't short drives: 7 hours to Jacksonville and 9.5 to Toledo, not counting stops. And, we'd like to keep doing this sort of thing in the future. So, what have we learned?

We bought a portable DVD player for Marla. We used to be against this to the hilt, based on this notion: "We didn't have this sort of thing when we were kids. Our children aren't going to rely on electronics. They'll entertain themselves the old fashioned way, darn it!" But, here's how we justify it now: when we were kids, we also didn't have to sit in highly restrictive car seats that don't really allow you move around or do anything. Really, it's no fun being a kid in a car anymore. Times have changed, and so I am more than happy to use technology as best we can to let us do what we want to do.

(Speaking of which, only recently did I start listening to music in my car streamed via Bluetooth from my phone. This is just the kind of thing I didn't even know I could do. What other technological advances am I missing out on simply because I don't know they exist? Maybe this is one reason why you have kids.)

I'd say about half of the driving time was spent with the DVD player on. Marla spent the other half of the time napping or eating, mostly. Pre-Bruce, one of us (usually Amber) could sit in the back with Marla and help entertain her, but now the back seat is full, so technology does the entertaining for us.

For longer drives, leaving at 4 AM is still the way to go. Usually it goes something like this. For the first two hours, both kids sleep, then we stop, then Marla watches TV for the next two hours, then we stop again, then we start eating, then Marla gets tired and naps again, and then maybe after another two hours of TV, hopefully we've made it to our destination.

But really, it's just a lot easier on us if we start the drive when the children are sleepy. Normal wake up time - 7 AM, give or take - might be the WORST possible time to leave. The last thing Marla wants to do upon waking up full of energy is sit in a car for a while. Better to shift the last two hours of her sleep into the car, and then let her release some energy at the first rest stop. We've also found that it's best to arrive at our destination at least two hours before bed time, because the kids aren't going to want to go right to bed when we get to our destination. Also, leave any earlier than 4 AM and we're sacrificing too much sleep. Leaving at 4 AM is the way to go, maybe even for "shorter" drives (6 to 8 hours).

It's good to know where the playgrounds are. A unique challenge to traveling with an infant is that you have to stop to bottle feed him every three hours, and each feeding normally takes 30 minutes. It's one thing if you only have the baby with you, but what if you also have an older kid with you that you have to entertain during feeding time? Then, it's best to find a playground, so that Marla can go run around and play while we try to feed Bruce. Rest areas are okay, too, because there is plenty of space for Marla to run around. (The more energy Marla burns off at each stop, the better.) Gas stations and restaurants are not good places to feed Bruce, unless it happens to coincide with meal time, in which case Marla can eat at the same time.

So, yes: lots of playground stops, both ways, and we also stopped at a friend's place in Columbus for a "play date". We were fortunate that it was both dry and warm-ish during the Jacksonville and Toledo drives. It was 45°F when we left Toledo early Saturday morning. That's a bit warmer than it was in Toledo in January 2009.

As far as finding the playgrounds, Google Maps and the Garmin aren't the most reliable, because you never know if a place called "Lincoln Park" is going to have a playground or not, or if it's just a ballfield. So, I did a lot of research beforehand and located a playground every 30 miles along both the Toledo and Jacksonville routes, because you never know when you're going to need to stop. Rest areas, too. (This proved most challenging in West Virginia and South Carolina: not much there in the way of playgrounds.)

(By the way, I've kind of gotten away from the playground reviews. Too many playgrounds are too much alike for me to justify writing up individual reviews anymore, but I am still adding all newly visited playgrounds to the master spreadsheet. I even gave out a 0/10 "upkeep" score recently! Turns out, Northwest Florence isn't exactly the best part of town.)

There will be plenty of time for county collecting later. Usually when we go to Toledo, I would pick a route that might be an hour or so longer than the baseline route, just so I can visit a new county or two. There are still six counties in Ohio I haven't been to yet, but since these drives are already taking long enough as it is...we didn't do any county collecting this time. So, no new counties for me this Christmas, or even Marla. (Bruce got several new counties, this being his first time in both Jacksonville and Toledo; he's now up to 84 counties in 7 states.) In fact, I haven't added any new counties in eight months. EIGHT MONTHS! AAAHHH!! Maybe I'll have to do something about that soon.

No matter how well the drive goes, you'll be pretty exhausted afterwards. I thought our drives to both Jacksonville and Toledo went really well, and yet, we were exhausted afterwards. So, I don't know when our next big road trip will be, but I suspect we won't do anything "major" - farther away than, say, Charlotte - until spring or summer, at least.

1 comment:

Nick said...

For our Minnesota trip I basically had to make the trip using google maps and zoomed into anything that looked like a playground. Then I tried to look up the play areas on town/city/state park web sites.