Why drive 6,089 miles from Toronto to Texas? Knowing my kids were heading to full day school this September, it occurred to me around May that this might be my last chance to travel long term with them without worrying about things like school attendance and summer camp. On a dreary day in Toronto, I saw a photo from the Hyatt Lost Pines outside of Austin, Texas that inspired me to hit the road. First I headed to a local book store and bought a map. Then, I announced to everyone I knew that I was taking a solo road trip across America with 2 kids under 6. (If you go to Hyatt and book this hotel, Traveling Mom will receive a referral fee.)
To say reactions varied would be an understatement. Most people just looked stunned while others flat out told me what a bad idea they thought it was. Truth be told, I was nervous and extremely unsure if I had finally overstepped the limits of solo parent traveling. Still, I had 47 days with no plans and two young kids to entertain for an entire summer.
Planning an Extended Road Trip
The first steps of planning the trip were simple. I needed to get from point A (Toronto, Canada) to point B (Austin, Texas) without losing my mind, losing a child or crashing into anything. Things became a little more complicated when I imagined the possibilities of getting lost in a country I wasn’t used to or my even greater fear of getting attacked by a rattlesnake in Texas. What’s a mom to do?
I went the old school route and headed to the local bookstore where I picked up a paper map. I fondly remembered the days of my parents highlighting a TripTik Travel map and wanted to do the same.
Each night, I called fellow traveling moms across the U.S. and asked their opinions on where to go and what to see. In the end, I went with my gut and tried to draw a line on the map from place to place depending on where I felt we needed to go.
Having spent a lot of time in Florida, I knew we could easily skip it. I wanted instead to spend time in places like Kiawah Island, South Carolina and New Orleans, Louisiana which I had dreamed of seeing but had yet to visit.
Before we departed, I made a fancy little binder with printed directions to get me from Point A to Point B but truth be told by an hour into the journey, it was back to using the GPS on my trusty iPhone which ended up getting us through the whole trip.
I did bring the map and attempted to use it when I didn’t have cell service. More than once this ended badly and in Bandera, Texas, a very kind cowboy found me a good 30 minutes off the main road and led me back to my hotel by driving in front of me. Before we departed, he gave me a stern warning about snakes and dehydration. Lets just say, I was quite relieved when I found the Mayan Dude Ranch resort.
Road Trip Lessons
Traveling long term alone with two young kids, I did learn a few very important lessons:
1. Bring more than one credit card. I watched in complete disbelief and hardly reacted when someone took the check holder off our table in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and walked out the door with it. In fact, it took until the next day in a new city for me to realize that without a credit card we couldn’t check into hotels. Luckily, my debit card has a Visa attached to it which meant we were able to check in but each night the hotels would take the full value of the stay as a deposit out of my bank account. Ouch.
2. Prepare for the worst. Like unexpected medical visits. My youngest, Charlie, doesn’t drink milk and has always had a strong aversion to it. As a baby, she had an allergy to milk proteins which she seemed to have outgrown. That was until she drank about a half a cup of milk this summer. The reaction was not immediate but within days we were in Riley’s Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana for a series of tests. The milk had caused some gastrointestinal issues but with some medication and hydration she was better by that night.
It was pretty clear to me early on in this road trip that I would need to throw our entire scheduling system out the window. The kids were able to nap in the car each day and we had limited time in each city which meant that an 8 pm bedtime was not going to work.
I decided to just go with the flow and feel the kids out. The mornings when they were tired, we simply had a late start and spent some time in the hotels. When they seemed overwhelmed, we skipped museums and touristy areas in places like Washington, D.C. and found parks to play in instead. Bath time became a thing of the past and was replaced by nightly swims in oceans and pools.
By not trying to keep them on their normal schedule, we all enjoyed a break from the routine and learned it was easier to live a little than adhere to a clock.
Would I Do It Again?
In a heartbeat.
I don’t remember a single time the kids asked to go home or complained about the trip. Instead, I watched them experience new cities and lands completely foreign to them. They saw wild dolphins in the ocean and watched wild alligators go after raccoons. They ate gumbo, held snakes and caught frogs. We returned home exhausted, dirty and smiling.
In the end, this road trip only helped to prove that we could do this solo. The only question left is “where to next?”.