My husband and I have never shied away from a road trip. Especially having Titan who is a larger dog that can’t get on a plane, we’ve made the drive to Florida from Chicago numerous times. So the thought of possibly driving to Florida as a family crept in my mind a few times since the pandemic started, but I always thought it was a situation where we would be biting off way more than we could chew. Just like everyone else, we started hitting a bit of a pandemic wall. We don’t have a backyard in Chicago and as the weather continued to drop, it was harder and harder to get outside. We were relying more and more on screen time for Jude and personally, we started feeling a little suffocated by our surroundings. We knew a change of scenery and being around family would do us all good, but we also knew flying was out of the question. I brought up the idea of driving to Florida to stay with my parents partly as a joke and to see how my husband would react, and he was instantly up for the adventure. So at 9PM at night we packed the car, the kids, and our two dogs and made the 1,300+ mile trip from Chicago to South Florida where my parents live. The trip had its rough moments and by the time we made it to the sunshine state we were so over being in the car, but it only took a few moments to realize how worth it the trip was. Jude and Heath have been loving being around my parents every day (the extra hands have been so helpful for us too) and we’ve really been enjoying playing in the backyard (and they have a pool!). We’re still taking the same precautions we were before, but the weather has allowed us to spend every day outside and has done wonders for our mental health.
We also took a small trip with the boys to Tampa! My parents watched the dogs and it was our first vacation as a family of four. We spent most of our time outdoors away from people, but exploring new parks and walking along the riverwalk was beautiful. We also went to the aquarium an hour before they closed when nobody was there. The kids were in awe! We had plans of staying at an Airbnb since we would have zero contact with people, but when we showed up, the place smelled of smoke and was nothing like the photos. We weren’t comfortable staying there and ended up at a Hilton downtown. I was nervous at first but we made sure the boys were in their strollers with the shades down anytime we had to go through the lobby, we always wore masks, and kept away from people. We also opted to not have our room cleaned to limit contact with people. Despite the lack of naps and spontaneity of the trip, the boys were very “go with the flow” which made us so excited for vacations after the pandemic.
Here are some tips for those who may find themselves road-tripping in the future with kids, along with some photos we’ve taken so far in Florida!
Getting a roof rack: Before our trip we purchased this roof rack for the majority of our luggage. Titan rode in our open trunk (we have an SUV) so we didn’t have much room for our stuff inside our car.
Organization via packing cubes: I used these packing cubes to organize everything we kept in the car. The great thing about them is that one side is mesh, so I could easily spot which bag I was looking for. I kept them all together in one large tote bag behind the passenger seat. Here is what I put in each bag:
- Kids bag: Extra pairs of clothes, diapers, wipes, bandaids, and Desitin.
- Activities: We kept all the small kids’ toys, books, and games together in one bag.
- Pumping bag: Extra pump parts, pumping wipes, a sponge, and a small container of dish detergent to wash bottles. We brought enough bottles where we didn’t need to wash any, but I wanted to have it for backup.
- Toiletry bag: Travel size lotion, face wash, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, hand sanitizer, extra masks, and more so we could freshen up along the way. I also packed water in a large bottle so we didn’t need to do this at a rest-stop. I also kept a portable charger in here as well.
- Snacks: Individual-sized bags of snacks, all packed together. We also added individual bars, oatmeal bites, and fruit.
Bringing a good cooler: We also used this Yeti cooler in the car where we kept bottles for heath and water. It kept everything ice cold the entire time! We had packages of wipes in every pocket of the car for quick clean-ups, and a hefty bag for all trash that we continuously emptied out throughout the trip so the car stayed clean.
Keeping the kids busy: Heath was a little easier to keep busy since he was still in the stage where he slept often. Before our trip, I raided the Target dollar section for new toys and activities for Jude. Magic marker coloring books were our best friend (the marker is filled with water and activated only on the pages, so you don’t have to worry about rogue coloring) and so were books. He also loved playing with flashcards, which I put a hole punch through and ring beforehand so we didn’t have to worry about them being scattered through the car. We made sure to not show him any of the new toys beforehand, so everything was fun and exciting for him. We kept a ball in the car so he got out some energy running around when we stopped, and when meltdowns were imminent, we pulled out the tablet. Surprisingly, we went a long time without having to use it, but we went into the trip dropping all screen time limitations… there are no rules when you’re on a 22-hour road trip! We made sure to download some movies beforehand that we know he would like to watch. Pro tip: make sure you download an app that locks the screen so little toddler fingers aren’t accidentally restarting the movie. Having a portable white noise machine was also very helpful when getting the boys to nap but our best friend for sleep was playing a baby white noise station via Spotify through the car speakers.
We also tried minimizing what we kept inside the car since things were very tight. We had a “changing station” in the trunk of the car where we changed diapers so the boys didn’t need to go inside anywhere. When we stopped to use the restrooms, we used rest-stops over gas stations because there were rarely other people and most of it was outdoors (and it was easier to walk the dogs there). We ate big meals before we left and packed food inside the cooler. Any time we ate food on the road, we would get it from a drive-thru.
What we plan on doing differently: Looking back, I think we were a little aggressive in thinking we could drive straight through with a toddler. Jude is a great sleeper at home, but on the go, it’s a little different. He was very excited the entire time watching the trucks on the road and looking at the scenery in each state, so sleeping in his car seat was tough for him. When we got to Florida, he was on about four hours of sleep and had an epic meltdown from being so overtired (I couldn’t blame him, I was too!) He did so wonderfully the entire trip on such little sleep! On the way back to Chicago we plan on stopping somewhere to sleep, that way we can all get proper rest.
This was one of the best decisions we made for our family and we feel very, very lucky we had the opportunity to do this and grateful my parents were so happy to have us for so long.