Traveling with kids: Long-distance car rides
We made it! The last installment of my three part ‘traveling with kids’ series. Here is Part 1 and Part 2 of the travel series. When we decided to move to Toronto from Vancouver in 2015, we ambitiously chose to drive our car across Canada and the United States, with our most precious cargo including our toddler (our baby wasn’t born yet). Our son was about 18 months old at the time and an active little guy.
I have heard some parents liken a family vacation to a business trip. If you see it as just taking some clients to another location to do work, it sets the bar just low enough that if your kids actually sleep or behave well AND avoid getting sick on the trip, consider it as a huge win for your business! And let’s be honest, vacationing with kids is a lot like a work trip. You’re lucky to get a few minutes away from your “client” to relax and see the city sights for yourself. My husband travels to New York City to see clients on a regular basis, but he has never actually had a chance to tour the city or see any of its main attractions except that one time he walked through One World Trade Center to get from his hotel to the job site.
Before the actual trip happened, there was a lot to arrange beforehand. For starters, we had to find reliable movers to ship most of our belongings across the country. Each province has different companies, but the one we dealt with was pretty decent. I wasn’t completely satisfied with them because they ended up misplacing one of our chairs, but other than that, they were fine to deal with. I was surprised to find out the price of moving across the country. It’s cheaper than I thought it would be! In relative terms of course. It was comparable in price to moving from one city to another within the same province. You would think that with traveling across a longer distance, it would be far more expensive, but that wasn’t the case at all.
The movers came the day before we were actually going to start our drive so we would have time to clean our condo before we handed back the keys to our landlord. We hired cleaners, and I would highly suggest you do the same when you move. Moving is stressful enough. Add a sick toddler, and it’s impossible to do anything else. Yup, our little man got sick the day before the move, and had a fever and chills all night long. I was up throughout the night to monitor his temp to make sure it never got too high. Thankfully it never did, but it was concerning enough, that no one in the family had a good sleep. A quick tip for long distance travel: get extra travel and health coverage for when you’re on the road. I was comforted knowing we could see a doctor in any province or state if we needed to when we were driving. By morning our son was fever free, so around 6am, we hit the roads and bid farewell to the city we called home for the last 5 years.
Our schedule was relatively loose, so we decided to play it by ear in terms of where we would stop to rest and sleep. The only place we needed to be by a certain day was in Salt Lake City, Utah on about day 6 of our travels, which was where my husband’s head office was. (Sidenote: He had just started a new job and needed to be in Utah for the orientation. The rest of the time, he works from home in Canada). We also planned to spend a couple days with my cousin and her husband in Alberta, thus we were planning to start our drive in Canada, then move South for the remainder of the drive. As we drove through the interior of BC, we reveled in how beautiful the province was, and got out a few times to take a small hike and let Vincent play. We stopped at Revelstoke to have dinner, and after doing a quick search on Expedia, we found a cute boutique hotel with availability for the night, and with that, we crossed off Day 1 of the drive.
We got up bright and early the next day, and continued to drive, and drive, and drive. Before we knew it, we were in Calgary at my cousin’s home. My husband and I decided that if our toddler was doing fine in the car (i.e. not having meltdowns) that we would use that opportunity to drive for as long as we could. Of course we made sure that we made enough stops so we could all stretch our legs and move around, but overall, the goal was to gain some distance each day. Up to that point, we had done about 1000 km (approximately 500 km each day). With that said, by the time we arrived in Calgary, our toddler was ready to not be in a car for at least two days. Thankfully, my cousin and her husband were more than happy to take our son to the nearby parks and let him explore their neighbourhood while my husband and I got some rest. After a couple days of rest, we did do a bit of sightseeing getting to visit Banff and Lake Louise. These 1-2 hour drives were managed with lots of snacks and stickers. Even though the car was quite full of our belongings, there was still an open seat beside our son that I would occupy when the drives got extra trying for him. I would sit beside him and sing and colour and stick stickers all over him, which would keep him happy for a solid 30 minutes to an hour.
We said goodbye to my cousin after a relaxing three days in Alberta, and got on our way to Salt Lake City. We only had two days to cover about 1400 km on the road, which is no small feat with a child, or without! The drive again was beautiful with the Rocky Mountains lining the picture-esque drive. But our toddler did not care. He was not ready (who is?) to be strapped into a car seat for hours on end. We stopped in Montana the first night and made sure to find a hotel with a pool so our toddler could get some of his pent-up energy out. The second night we stayed-in Idaho. We also made time to stop in at Yellowstone Bear World in Idaho, which was probably the highlight of the trip for our toddler. When you’re traveling with a child, the key is to remain flexible and see the road through the eyes of a child. Did you just pass an ice cream shop? Turn the car around. Is there a national theme park coming up? Get off at the next exit. McDonald’s for lunch again? You betcha!
Although we did our best to make the car ride as enjoyable and flexible for our son, he was at his wit’s end by the time we reached Salt Lake City. The adults weren’t in great shape either. With over 3000 km left in the drive from Utah to Toronto, my husband and I made the executive decision to buy a plane ticket for my son and I so we could fly the remainder of the way. Since my husband would be spending the next 4 days in Utah for his work Orientation, he had enough time to rest and recharge for his long, lonely drive back to Canada. We stayed in Salt Lake City with him for another couple days to enjoy some of the sights and do a bit of shopping (TARGET) Then my husband dropped us off at Salt Lake City international airport and I boarded a flight with my 18 month old, a huge suitcase and stroller. I said a prayer as we zig-zagged through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport during our 40 minute layover and said another prayer of thanks as we made it to our seats with luggage and stroller in tow. My son amazingly fell asleep on the one hour and half flight to Toronto which was a nice way to end this chapter of cross-country travel. As anxious as flying alone with a toddler made me, it was nothing compared to the relief that I felt knowing that I didn’t need to strap him or I in the car for another 3000 km. BONUS: Without us in the car, my husband was able to drive the remaining 3000 KM within a two a half day period. Needless to say, he was sick of fast food and in desperate need of a shower when he arrived. As tiring as the move was, it felt good to be reunited, and we were ready to explore our new city!