We didn’t intend to turn our infants into travelers.
Sure, we wanted to travel with our kids, but when our first son was born, traveling had not become the life-giving obsession it is to us now! We started traveling out of necessity first. We live in Wisconsin, eight hours away from the rest of my family in Kentucky, and had been accustomed to making the drive to see them quite often. When Rainor was born, we gave ourselves six weeks to get used to each other, and then we were off.
Jordan and I had this familiar trek down to a science, and could easily make the drive with only one or two quick stops. We knew when to leave to avoid traffic in Chicago, and if traffic was unavoidable, we could gage whether it was best to take I-94 straight through the city or go around it on I-294. If our best laid plans didn’t work out and we had to sit within sight of the Willis Tower for a solid hour and a half—well, there was always good music on the radio and good conversation with each other.
Enter a newborn. A hungry, irritable newborn who hated being in his car seat almost as much as he hated sleeping between the hours of midnight and three a.m.
It took us hours to get as far as the Illinois border, as we stopped no fewer than three times for me to clumsily nurse Rainor in whatever abandoned parking lot we could find. The hours on the road stretching before us seemed endless. But surprisingly, our child who couldn’t make it the ten minute drive to his pediatrician’s office without melting down seemed strangely soothed by the fast, seamless pace we were able to keep on the empty freeways.
We made that first trip to Kentucky, and many after it, with minimal distress.
After Robert came home and we entered life with a trach baby, travel became more than impractical. To leave home, we would have had to essentially bring a mini ICU room with us. Besides the amount of work it would have taken to pack up and transport all that medical equipment, it was also potentially unsafe for Robert to travel too far from home. We would have been away from our familiar hospital and his specialists who knew him so well. There is never a day without the possibility of a life-threatening situation for a baby with a trach. So we all hunkered down at home for a year or so until his airway was repaired, and he was cleared to travel.
Then we were off again! Now with two one-year-olds. Soon afterwards with two two-year-olds and a newborn. A year later, with two three-year-olds and two one-year-olds.
People thought we were either brave or crazy. Maybe a little of both. But the truth was, it would have taken much more courage to just stay home. Our wanderlust was insatiable; our restlessness almost constant. We needed the open road. And our tiny kids, who had been traveling with us since infancy? They began to love it as much as we did.
We began calling these excursions “Big Adventures”, after a friend we were visiting laughingly said, “Wow, I don’t think you’re getting a vacation. More like a family adventure!”. Besides, a vacation is something you do once a year, to take a break from life. For us, traveling IS life. It’s vital. It’s how we stay afloat in the rather chaotic world of parenting four very small children.
With each trip, we figured out more and more of the “how to” of travelling with babies, and then toddlers. We simplified our routines and our packing. We learned when to push through and when to stop and take a break. I started keeping a travel notebook where I kept packing lists and trip details which I could go back and reference when planning the next adventure.
These trips were by no means pretty. There were plenty of tantrums and potty accidents and times where I shamelessly fed my children chocolate just to keep them happy for one more hour in the car. Even the adults in the car usually had our turns with a meltdown or two. We had one memorable trip where there was a child screaming at almost all times the entire drive to our destination AND the entire drive back home. They took turns. Sometimes they all just cried in unison. It was miserable.
But what was important is that WE SURVIVED. And then we did it again.
Looking back, I am so thankful that we just jumped in to traveling with babies before we thought too hard about it. Because even though we had some rough trips, our kids got so accustomed to life on the road that by the time they were toddlers, they handled it like champs. They were enthusiastic and excited to be going somewhere. Sitting in their car seats, watching out the window for excavators became second nature to them. Their ease of traveling made it possible for us to continue.
Of course, the honest truth is that with kids, there are no guarantees. We start out each trip praying for grace and peace over us all, because we have no idea what the coming hours will bring. But we’ve discovered that if we keep our chins up, hearts grateful, eyes open to adventure, and sense of humor firmly intact, we enjoy the journey. Even when it means we get to the end of it, look at each other, and say “WE SURVIVED.”
“Now…where to next?”
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How to Choose an Airbnb for Traveling With Kids
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