I’m from Houston, Texas, born and raised. My parents still live there and from time to time they like to see (and spoil) their grandson. Also from time to time, my husband likes to have a weekend to remember what life was like before kids and from time to time I let him off the hook (hey, it is good for me, too). Enter: the solo road trip.
For like-minded unicorn mamas, I have prepared a list of eight tips on traveling solo with your toddler.
Tip No. 1: Bring snacks.
There’s no telling when hunger will strike. Five minutes into your trip? Yep. 20 minutes after dinner? Count on it. Make sure you pack these snacks in serving sizes, otherwise you risk your child entering a Goldfish-induced salty MUST HAVE WATER demanding rage. In fact, bring water to wash all of those snacks down in whatever cup he or she won’t demand removing the lid from.
Tip No. 2: Bring wine
Because, duh. Don’t drink and drive obvs; instead safely arrive at your destination, hand the toddler to a responsible adult and/or put him to bed and pour yourself a glass of “mommy’s juice.” Trust me, you deserve it.
Tip No. 3: Be prepared to stop. Anytime. Anywhere. For any reason.
On our most recent trip, Z started screaming 40 minutes in for no apparent reason. I looked in the mirror and noticed he had a pacifier in his mouth, but he had dropped his back-up paci next to the car seat where I couldn’t reach while driving. I handed him the back-up back-up paci from the front seat, which was immediately rejected because it was the wrong kind. I then handed him the back-up back-up back-up paci (pleading) which was thrown across the seat because he is occasionally unpleasant. I waited for five minutes for the crying to subside. It did not. I tried singing. He screamed harder. I kept driving until I saw a random gas station in a podunk town I cannot remember the name of, pulled to the side of a gravel road, stopped the car and handed him the first back-up paci. He was thrilled and soon enough we were on our way. 20 minutes later, “MAMA, EAT EAT.” Gawdalmighty.
Tip No. 4: Pack the essentials (and then some).
Two nights, two pairs of PJs and clothing choices. WRONG. Two nights, three pairs of PJs, four pairs of socks, two pairs of shorts, but a pair of jeans in case it gets cold, long-sleeves, short-sleeves, a pullover, and a lovie. Better make it two lovies because we are traveling and therefore monkey won’t do. Pack donkey. Donkey needs to go for a car ride anyway. Pack yourself an extra pair of underwear in case you see a spider the size of your fist* and you have to call on your mom to come kill it for you even though you’re 30 years old. Note: spiders are large in Houston.
Tip No. 5: Don’t forget you.
I have traveled with Z more than once and completely forgotten my own necessities, including my toothbrush, soap, and deodorant. I forgot underwear once. Fortunately, there’s this magical place called Target that has everything you could ever want or need. Also, don’t go through the drive-thru and wonder why your total was so low and then realize that you forgot to order yourself dinner because you were too busy agonizing over whether or not to get apples or tater tots for your kid. By the way, get the tots. Every kid likes fried potatoes. Apples are a choking hazard.
Tip No. 6: Accept help.
This tip was originally titled “Ask for help,” but if you are like me and have a terrible time asking for help, this may more appropriate. Let your friends and family help him down the slide at the park or play with all of the interactive exhibits at the Children’s Museum. Take five seconds for yourself and watch him play. Let your mom watch him so you can have a glass of wine with old friends – or nurse your (unexpected) hangover the next day. I let my dad play “Peek-A-Boo” with him at Macy’s so I could pick out a new dress and corresponding shoes for my birthday. Best. Birthday. Present. Ever.
Tip No. 7: Let it go.
Just because you are on a trip doesn’t mean you will be immune from diaper blowouts, potty accidents, temper tantrums, bad diet, or otherwise. These things happen no matter what. Give yourself some grace.
Tip No. 8: Take your car to the car wash.
This tip needs no explanation. Your car will be filthy. It may smell bad. There will be spilled milk, juice, water, coffee, and other fluids that need immediate remediation. If your child is like mine and likes to empty his snack pack directly onto the seat for easier access and then immediately crush said snack into the seat, you may require some serious snack recon. Save your quarters for Aldi and the better parking spot and take your mama mobile to the car wash for someone else do the dirty work while you look at overpriced greeting cards and drink a (well-deserved) Diet Coke. Tip well. Tip very, very well.
Good luck, mama. You got this.