That Time My Toddler and I Went on Vacation Together

That Time My Toddler and I Went on Vacation Together
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A couple weeks ago, I loaded up Sam and his gear, and we drove nearly to Mexico. We spent five days driving around California on our own, exploring beaches and national parks, hitting museums and coffee shops, sleeping in hotel beds, hiking in epic places, eating out of a cooler, and scoping out scenic vistas. All told, we logged 1000 miles in five days. And, somehow, a 2 year old boy and a 30 year old pregnant woman were able to tackle this together. (If that’s not an unlikely friendship, I don’t know what is.) There are a few reasons why I went on this absurd adventure with Sam, but I realized that they mostly boil down to one reason: curiosity.

1) I was curious to see cool stuff. We live within driving distance of some of the most amazing and bizarre sights in the country, and our time in California is limited. Sam and I have explored a lot, both with and without Jordan, but we’ve typically saved bigger trips for times when Jordan can take time off work and travel with us. The problem is, he only has so many days available to travel, so my checklist of places to explore is longer than our allotted number of vacation days. And as much as Jordan enjoys traveling, he doesn’t have the wanderlust gene that I have, so I’m usually itching to be on the move while he’s itching for some time off at home. So I just threw the idea out there to him: “Hey, what would you think of me and Sam taking a trip to explore California on our own?” Maybe I just have an especially cool husband (I do), but he loved the idea and encouraged me to go for it.

2) I was curious to find out the answer to one question: is it possible to take a legitimately cool vacation alone with a toddler?  (spoiler alert: the answer is YES.) I wanted to try something really out of the box to see if it was possible. I wanted a challenge. I wanted to see if Sam and I could develop our friendship and sense of camaraderie to the point of road-tripping for six days and enjoying each other's company. And I wanted to see if the narrow job title of “stay-at-home mom” could actually provide the opportunity to experience places like Joshua Tree one-on-one with my kid, breaking out of our usual routine, having a crazy shared experience, following our noses, and going wherever we pleased. I was also curious (though admittedly terrified) to find out if I could manage the logistics of checking into hotels, getting Sam fully fed on full days of driving, and hiking around new places by myself.

Of course, alternate reasons included 1) not wanting to stay home and eat cereal for dinner night after night while Jordan was on a week-long work trip, and 2) wanting to try the craziest adventure I could muster with one kid so that exploring our own city with two kids, come March, doesn’t seem so tough. But, really, I just wanted to take Sam to explore some cool places, and see if we could figure it out on our own.

So Sam and I packed my car with enough food and water to last a pregnant person and a 2000-calorie-a-day toddler a week in the desert (that is a LOT of boiled eggs and gallon jugs, if you were wondering), I drew up a loose itinerary, booked a few cheap hotel deals on Priceline, and we went.

The outcome? We arrived home six days and 1000 miles later, both of us proud, exhausted, and utterly repulsed by the sight of all forms of snack food. I learned that hotel luggage carts are God’s gift to mothers, and also that doing something so far outside the usual routine, which sounds like a negative thing, can actually bring out the very best in you and your toddler--maybe good qualities you've never had a chance to notice before, or resilience you didn't know they had--and give you a new admiration for your kid and camaraderie with him. And also that tackling a challenge on your own can be incredibly empowering and give you the confidence for even more adventures.

The full story is on Instagram if you want the complete details, but here are a few highlights/lowlights:

Best Things We Packed:
- A cooler full of protein (grilled chicken! boiled eggs!) and steamed veggies
- Dr. Seuss audiobooks for Sam (earbuds for me)
- A white noise machine so I could shower/pack/etc. in the hotel room while Sam was snoozing
- Pre-packaged iced coffee
Best Moment: Watching the sun set from Manhattan Beach while eating dinner out of the cooler and snuggling up to stay warm on our beach towel
Second Best Moment: Climbing on rocks with Sam in Joshua Tree
Worst Moment: Sam getting a fever on the last evening and puking all night. Also, cleaning out the war zone known as our car at the end of the trip.
Best Meal: Eating huge burgers at the Ace in Palm Springs after a day in Joshua Tree
Weirdest Sight: Hundred-foot-tall concrete dinosaurs on the side of the road
Scariest Moment: Navigating a creepy parking deck in LA at night (yes, I had a weapon)
Biggest Meltdown: In the middle of a cliffside hike in Malibu
Freakiest Moment: Driving past the totally deserted ghost towns of Salton Sea and arriving all alone at creepy old Salvation Mountain
Most Brilliant Road Trip Activity and Air Freshening Strategy: Passing Sam bunches of fresh mint into the backseat so he could pick off the leaves and eat them to stay busy. It bought us...oh, maybe 50 miles.

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