As I mentioned in my last post, Justin’s on vacation this week (yaaaaay!), which has not only kicked off a festival of retro mushroom-inclusive recipes, but also provided a chance to recharge and spend some much-needed family time. And some equally-needed alone time: I spent a babyless day in Vancouver, and he’s spent two snowboarding in Whistler. But mostly it’s been nice to have some time together, and the highlight of the week was our first family road trip. Squamish!
Okay, so we didn’t go far. But it was our first time getting away together as a family, just for fun. And we stayed close to home on purpose: the small one has a history of being … um, challenging … on road trips. She even cut our Christmas visit to my parents’ place in Abbotsford short, on account of how she’s a screamy screamy weirdo. With that in mind, Squamish seemed like a safe option. Also Whistler hotels cost a freaking fortune, so Squamish was a nice affordable alternative since we weren’t going skiing/snowboarding.
Anyway, I thought you might be interested in hearing about our trip and also some tips for road trips with a baby based on what we learned. And if you aren’t … um, sorry? But it’s right there in the title so I do have to ask why you clicked through to this if you aren’t interested. Maybe you need to take a look at your priorities.
So with no further ado, here are some tips for road trips with a baby, brought to you by someone who’s done it once so far.
Road trip tip 1: Timing is key
When I first had the small one, I was all “Oh, I’m not going to be one of those mums who’s obsessed with the schedule. Who needs to be married to the schedule anyway?” Then she turned 4 months old, headed straight to the registry office and wed her beloved schedule in a small but tasteful civil ceremony. And they lived happily ever after and her mother never got to do anything that didn’t fit into the nap routine ever again.
Flash forward to this week: she’s 10 months old and we’re going a little stir crazy.
The nice thing about a road trip of this distance is that it’s close enough to home that you won’t be driving all day and that gives you some flexibility on when to leave, but it’s far enough away that if your baby can sleep in the car, they’ll have a good long nap on the way. Your mileage (hah!) may vary, but our sweet spot seems to be about an hour and a half to two hours. The small one usually has her first nap about two hours after waking up, so we left at naptime and she fell asleep pretty quickly once we got moving. Which was great, because she also hates being in the car lately. Sleeping>Screaming.
Road trip tip 2: Plan interesting stops on the way
We made one stop on our way to Squamish and checked out the Britannia Mine Museum. It was really interesting, and they were super accommodating when it came to the small one. They even had a hardhat for her, and a pair of earplugs for Justin to wear while he covered her ears during the loud bits of the tour.
In hindsight, maybe we shouldn’t have taken her on the tour, because when your baby is crying inside a mountain there’s no way to take her out of earshot of the other tourists. Luckily she only cried a couple of times underground, and there were only 3 other people on the tour with us since it was a Tuesday morning and it wasn’t March Break yet. Also I got to PAN FOR GOLD which I haven’t done since I was 12 and we lived up north and used to go to Barkerville whenever we had houseguests. So the brief embarrassment of having my baby cry in a cave was totally worth it.
Scheduling a stop gave us a chance to feed the small one and get her out of the carseat for a bit, and it also helped us kill some time since hotel check-in wasn’t till 4pm. She woke up just before we stopped, so it didn’t interfere with her nap.
Road trip tip 3: Family-friendly restaurants and off-peak times
At lunchtime, we stopped in at the Wigan Pier* for fish and chips.
We tend to stick with casual places like the Wigan Pier on the rare occasions when we take the small one out to eat, because she can be kind of a pain in the butt sometimes. She’s not one of those babies that can just sit there like an angelic bump on a log while you enjoy a leisurely meal — if you have one of those then you can probably take them just about anywhere and also I hate you. That said, we’ve also had some luck taking her to more upscale places provided that they are also loud. I wouldn’t want to take her anywhere quiet and fancy, since she likes to yell and she doesn’t understand English yet so asking her to be quiet would just be silly. At any rate, we opted for casual on this trip and I’m glad we did.
There were only a couple other people in the restaurant, which was good since we weren’t sure how the small one would handle being stuck in a high chair considering that she’d already spent several hours confined to the carseat and the baby carrier. Fortunately, she was a wee champ and our server loved her. As a bonus, we discovered that despite her aversion to most solid foods, she sure does love deep-fried things. Shocking.
Road trip tip 4: Be flexible
This tip seems like it might run counter to the one about timing, and in a way I guess it does, but the point is that although it was important for us to try to keep some semblance of a schedule, it was equally important to be able to adjust when things didn’t go exactly as we’d hoped. Case in point: we got to our hotel early and our room wasn’t ready yet, so we went for a long walk to kill time.
The Garibaldi Highlands area of Squamish is gorgeous and there’s a really nice trail around the golf course. Bonus: tons of people walk their dogs on the trail. The small one’s adoration for dogs is surpassed only by her love of the nap schedule. And most people appreciate cute babies who squeal with delight at their dogs, so it was a win-win.
She started getting fussy halfway through the walk, so I figured out how to loosen the carrier and nurse her while we walked. This is where the literal definition of flexibility came into play, since it took a few contortions to make it work. Anyway, no big deal, just traipsing through the forest with my boobs out. The little darling refuses to sleep in the carrier anymore, so we just did our best to keep her happy until we could get a nap in.
Road trip tip 5: Get a suite
Okay, so this tip may not be feasible depending on your budget, but if you have a routine-bound baby like ours, it’s nice to get a suite rather than just a room — plus, we found a great deal so it only set us back an extra $20 or so. Totally worth it.
The hotel where we stayed provided a play pen for the small one to sleep in at no extra charge. I brought a crib sheet from our place to make it more homey for her, as well as a few toys and books to keep her entertained in the room.
After we checked in, we immediately put the baby down for a nap. It didn’t last long since she was a little freaked out by the unfamiliar environment, but it was enough to hold her over until a more reasonable bedtime. Because she was still tired and a wee bit cranky even post-nap, we decided to order pizza for dinner rather than taking her to a restaurant and ruining a bunch of strangers’ evenings. Having a suite with a fully-equipped kitchen meant we could still sit at a table and eat off of real plates, which was a lot nicer than eating out of pizza boxes on a bed. Suites for the win.
Once the small one went to bed we relaxed and enjoyed some adult beverages while watching TV – it wasn’t exactly what we would have done with our evenings on a pre-baby road trip, but we were okay with that. I think baby road trips might be more about the daytime activities anyway.
Road trip tip 6: If your hotel fire alarm goes off at 6:30am, scaring the crap out of your baby and making her cry, and also prompting an evacuation in the early morning hours in the motherfucking winter, try not to fly into a murderous rage
This one’s probably the hardest.
Luckily when we got to the lobby, the baby saw a dog and was instantly happy again. That didn’t do it for me, but this did:
That plus coffee and I felt magically better.
Road trip tip 7: Maximize your hotel room use
Because the small one was awake at 6:30, she was ready for a nap at 8:30, and given that check-out time was 11 we decided to stay in the room so she could have her morning nap. We had leftover pizza for breakfast, because we’re classy like that.
Road trip tip 8: I don’t really have an 8th tip, but I want to tell you about the rest of the trip and I’m kind of tied to this format now so here it is
On our way home, we stopped at the Sea to Sky Gondola and rode up to the mountaintop, where we were treated to spectacular views and the small one’s first (literal) taste of snow.
You guys, I’m not afraid of heights … unless those heights are moving. Dangling above the trees in a gondola for 10 minutes on our way up (and back down again) wasn’t the most enjoyable thing for me. We also crossed the Sky Pilot suspension bridge once we got to the top, and that was scary too, but when your husband is walking across a swingy bridge over a gaping chasm with your baby strapped to him, you feel oddly compelled to follow. Anyway, the rest of the visit was lots of fun – we hiked a couple of trails and had a delicious lunch at the cafe. The baby had a wonderful time, too, especially when Justin gave her snow to eat. She’s so delightful.
Then we came home! Stopping at the Sea to Sky Gondola allowed us to time the drive to coincide with the small one’s second nap, and she slept pretty much the whole way. That was amazing.
This seems weird to say since we have friends who’ve taken their babies way more interesting, exotic, and far-flung places, but this little road trip was a huge confidence-booster for us. Every baby is different (humans, right?), and we were starting to think the small one’s particular disposition would prevent us from travelling ever again, so we were so glad it went well. It was also a nice test run for possible interesting, exotic, and far-flung trips in the future when we aren’t so broke.
Road trip accomplished!
*Now you’re wondering if this whole blog is just a very elaborate and none-too-subtle advertisement for the Wigan Pier because I can’t seem to shut up about them. I promise I don’t work for them, but if they wanted to send me some free fish and chips for talking about them so much I’d be okay with that (call me, WP!).