12 Days and 450 Miles of Scheduled Spontaneity

With good reason many parents have sworn off taking their toddlers on road trips. I, too, have uttered the words “Never Again” on at least a dozen car trips with my two-year-old. Alas, maybe I am stubborn (or just plain foolish) but over New Year’s my husband and I embarked on our first overland vacation with our toddler – a twelve-day road-trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Although at first blush this trip might sound more like slow and steady torture than a sunny, care-free road trip, stick with me. A little pre-planning can go a long way. Here are a few keys to our successful toddler road trip:

Be realistic about your accommodation needs

When traveling with our son, we spend more time in our hotel rooms than they normally would, so we make sure our accommodations have enough space and amenities to recreate some semblance of our home routine.

For the Los Angeles portion of our road trip we based ourselves in walkable, kid-friendly Santa Monica at The Embassy Hotel Apartments. The one-bedroom apartment we booked had a separate bedroom to facilitate smooth naps and a full kitchen and dining area eliminating the torture of eating dinner out with a cranky toddler. We were also able to put our son to bed early one evening and host an impromptu dinner party for some LA-based friends.

Schedule “spontaneous” play time

Like gas stations, restrooms and convenience stores, it’s helpful to know where you can find the next public park. We found a myriad of parks on our route but the two most notable were Alameda Park in Santa Barbara and Shamel Park in Cambria. Both of these public parks had ample opportunities for play, exploration and picnicking.

Even at museums that were more interesting to Mom and Dad, we left time for our son to move around and be “his own boss”.  I admit that this was a lot easier to do at super kid-friendly museums like The Autry National Center,  the Monterey Bay Aquarium, San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences or Muir Woods than at say The Reagan Library, but the results are always worth the effort.

Smile in the face of tantrums but always have a back-up plan

Tantrums are a fact of life on the road. Even the most patient, expressive and congenial toddler will experience a tantrum or two when removed from their comfort zone. We experienced our fair share of crankiness and at times we felt like we were literally tantruming our way up the Pacific Coast Highway. A particularly embarrassing tantrum at an unnamed cafe on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica (where I was informed by a master of the obvious that my two-year-old was having trouble communicating) still makes me smirk.  In addition to challenging each other to keep positive, my husband and I pulled out every crazy distraction technique in the book to keep the peace.

While family road trip plans for the Grand Trunk Road or the Pan American Highway are still several years away, don’t count us out. In the meantime you can follow our evolving training regime.

Kristy Hall is the Mom behind Two and a Half Travelers — a blog offering observations, trends and helpful advice for couples seeking memorable pre and post baby vacations.

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