The Logistics of Adventuring Together

I've gotten some messages from friends asking me to post a few more tips for exploring, adventuring, and traveling with a baby or toddler in tow, so today's post is dedicated to the logistical end of things. Jordan--who is a very competent adventurer, a great teammate, and a first-rate dad to Sam--is working a lot of the time, which means that if Sam and I want to have adventures, we often have to do it by ourselves. Mustering up the skills and confidence to bring Sam on adventures by myself is an ongoing learning process (and will continue to be, especially as our family grows--traveling and exploring with more than one kid is a challenge I'm looking forward to!), but the payoff is huge: it makes my job as a stay-at-home mom much more interesting and sane; it has helped me to forge a friendship with Sam as my fellow explorer; and it has enabled us to see and experience a ton of cool stuff. But the question I always get is, "HOW DOES IT WORK???" (In this post, I'm mainly going to focus on day trips in the car, and we'll save planes and overnights for another time.)

Before we talk nuts and bolts, though, I think there are three important starting points that precede all possible tips and tricks, because without these three things in your pocket, adventuring is very, very hard.

1) Adventuring is a choice. It's a choice to put yourself in potentially uncomfortable situations so you can have the payoff of experiencing cool stuff with your kid (more on that here). It's also a mindset, which sounds like this in my head: "It would take less energy to stay home. But then I wouldn't get to see the interesting stuff that's out there. So I'm going to rally, caffeinate, and go. I'll undoubtedly have to change a deadly diaper on the side of the road, but it will be worth it. I'll do what I have to do to make this happen. If Sam screams on the plane, he screams on the plane. If we get stuck in traffic, so be it. If we set out in the car and then have to bail halfway through, we have to bail, but LET'S GIVE IT A WHIRL."

2) Curiosity is what gets you out the door. Please understand: I think it is very, very important to feel content at home. And I do. I love my home more than anywhere else in the world. But I also have a little fire inside, a little bunsen burner, that is always whispering to me, "There is really cool stuff out there. You need to go check it out. I won't let you rest until you go take a look." When we moved to California and we were busy unpacking, I kept looking at the ridge line in the distance, thinking, "The Pacific Ocean is just beyond those mountains. There's all this beauty. I have to get there soon or I will explode." Here's why I mention it: that curiosity is the catalyst that will help you gather up the momentum and energy you need to pack up a whole bunch of gear and lug yourself and your little kid(s) out of the house. (As an aside, after a nice, tiring adventure or outing, Sam and I are both extra happy and content to spend time at home, which is an additional perk to having good adventures.)

3) Communicate clearly and enthusiastically with your adventure buddy. Whether we're venturing out the grocery store or for a long drive down the coast, our adventures always, always go more smoothly when I have an open dialogue with Sam about what we're doing and what he can expect. I ask him questions ("Are you ready for an adventure in San Francisco?"), help him understand what's happening ("Sam, we're stuck in traffic. We're going to have to be patient and wait for a little while"), and point out things along the way ("Hey, there's the Bay Bridge! Do you see it?"). And I try to keep my cool no matter what. If I'm relaxed and engaged, Sam is relaxed and engaged. If I get stressed out and distracted...well, it's not pretty. 

All that said (you've been so patient!), here are some of the nitty-gritty logistical details behind our adventures. 

Gear: Bring your most-reached-for items so you can flex with different situations. When Sam and I head out for a long day (in the city, for instance), I always pack these three baby-transport options: 
     -A good stroller for walking
     -A small umbrella stroller if I foresee that we'll be maneuvering tight spaces (ie. little cafes)
     -My Ergo carrier in case we decide to go into a museum, into a no-stroller-zone, or for a short off-road hike

The Pack: These days, I run around with a simple backpack and leave the fully-stocked diaper bag in the car. The pack is usually stocked for Sam with:
     -Little bag of snacks
     -Fruit/veggie pouch or banana for a quick meal for Sam in a pinch
     -Baby spoon (these days, I just keep a stash of disposable plastic spoons)
     -Fold-up changing pad with one or two diapers, a travel pack of wipes, and a plastic grocery bag
     -Sippy cup full of water
     -A small book or toy
     -Travel-size sunscreen
     -A light sweatshirt for Sam
     -A few odds and ends to distract/occupy Sam when necessary (ie. a hair clip, stickers, etc.)

Naps: I try to plan my drive time around naps. Sam is usually a pretty good sport for the initial drive to where we're going (provided I've fed and changed him first); then, by the time we're done running around, he's tired and will sleep on the whole way home (or nap when we get there). If the timing doesn't work out, I try to build in time for a walk so he can doze in the stroller. Either way, a surprising little perk to adventuring is that he always rests well when we finally get home, and he often naps well the next day, too.

Car rides: When Sam was tiny, he hated the car. HATED IT. He'd scream and fuss the whole mile to the grocery store (which was basically the only place we went for a while). One day, that one-mile stretch of road between our house and Kroger got completely jammed, and we ended up sitting on it for one hour, and there was no place for me to pull over. Sam cried and screamed so hard that he ran out of tears, and I put the car in park and actually climbed into the backseat to see if he was alive (he was). Slowly, though, things improved. We slowly worked up to longer rides, and eventually he got used to it. He still doesn't love very long rides, but he's learned to deal with it. The point is--persevere! It really helped us to start small and work up to longer trips, to patiently explain things to him along the way, and to build in rest/stretch/food breaks along the way. 

Secret Weapons: 

     -Car music. See if you can find the magic thing that will make your kid happy in the car. For us, it's Wee Sing America (which, by now, I have 100% memorized, all 52 tracks). We started listening to this when Sam was really little, and now he's addicted. It's like baby narcotics for the car. We also have a couple of Veggie Tales CDs that work well for when Sam needs some additional entertainment. 
     -Inside jokes. Sam and I have a few favorite interactive songs and poems that we sing/say together. Sometimes, if he starts to get grumpy in the car or bored waiting in line, I can lean over and say, "Hey! Do you want to sing ___?" Or I'll "read" him one of his books that I basically have memorized (like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which you can stretch on for days: "On Saturday, he ate through one watermelon, one sushi roll, one flambéed eggplant..."). And it distracts him from his grumps and helps us re-connect. 
     -Snacks. On normal days, I try to limit snacking and bored-eating (for Sam and for myself!), but on big adventure days, I don't hesitate to use snacks to keep Sam happy. Rice cakes, peanut butter crackers, the occasional biscotti...if you're going to get out of your comfort zone, give yourself a break and use snacks to your advantage.
     -Lift-the-flap books. If I know Sam's going to be stuck in the stroller, car, or plane for a long time, I always carry a complicated flap book like this (for tiny kids) or this (for older ones). Currently, we're getting a ton of mileage out of the Spot books. I try to cycle them out with new ones from the library.
     -Cheerio necklaces. String Cheerios on a piece of dental floss and tie a knot on one end. Magic.
     -Free stuff from the coffee-fixing bar. You know how all coffee shops have a little coffee-staging area? They're actually free toy stores (and I have them to thank for many a cup of coffee enjoyed in peace). Plastic lids, plastic cups, cardboard sleeves, and plastic spoons all make great novelties in a pinch.

Food: Back when Sam was still drinking formula/milk, I'd pack a small, soft cooler with enough bottles for the day (or pre-measured containers of formula), and baby food pouches. These days, Sam eats regular grown-up food, but I always pack plenty of non-perishable food for him in case we don't have time to stop, get stuck in traffic, or aren't near food sources. My current favorite non-perishable travel foods are:
     -Bananas
     -Avocados (cut in half and remove pit, then store in plastic bag and serve with a spoon)
     -Oatmeal (cook it in the morning, then pack it in a small plastic container and add cinnamon or fruit)
     -Fruit/veggie squeeze pouches
     -Applesauce singles
     -Pasta noodles
     -Baked sweet potato in a plastic bag
     -Snack foods (rice cakes, assorted crackers, cereal)

Fast and Easy Dinners:
     
-Go easy on yourself on adventure days: keep the freezer stocked with simple make-ahead soups or easy fixings, or grab take-out on the way home. (If you're looking for easy adventure-night meal ideas, check out this and this.)

Flexibility: What's missing from the photo above? Hint: Sam's SHOES. I left his shoes home that day. Seriously, I always forget something. The good news is, no one has ever died. Flexibility means keeping your cool, making do, rolling with the punches (or traffic, or tantrums, or parking fiascos), and laughing at yourself. Flexibility means feeding or changing your kid on the side of the road, in a gas station parking lot (better), or on a scenic pull-off (best). Occasionally, it means dealing with an extra-squeaky adventure buddy or screaming fit from the backseat because of a missed nap and a traffic jam, and being a little uncomfortable. It always means being willing to bail on the adventure if the conditions aren't right. 

No, it's not easy. But, oh, it's so worthwhile. 

It's opener there in the wide open air // Out there things can happen and frequently do // to people as brainy and footsy as you. // And then things start to happen // don't worry. Don't stew. // Just go right along. // You'll start happening too.
-Dr. Seuss

P.S. For more adventure tips (including my favorite, the Three-Minute Check), ideas for helping you get out of the house, and a few more checklists, check out this post!