Typically if you have a 2,000 mile road trip ahead of you, I would recommend making it further than 150 mile on day one. Unless you have a baby with you and there happens to be a cute town 150 miles away and you were still packing up your house until three o’clock even though you’d planned on being done by 9am at the latest.

However short that first day was, it set a good precedent for the rest of our Denver-San Francisco-Seattle trip. This wasn’t my first road trip with the baby, so I headed off already armed with my own traveling-solo-with-a-baby tips:

Don’t book ahead: Normally, it’s good to plan stops ahead of time. This allows you to book the best hotels online, search for fun restaurants and activities, and ensure that don’t inadvertently leave twenty hours of driving for the last day. But if you are traveling with an infant, you need some flexibility. Go ahead and make tentative plans (five hours of driving a day worked best for us) but definitely don’t book anything ahead of time. Suppose that the baby falls asleep right before you reach your planned destination for the night – you’re not going to want to waste that precious quiet time by waking up the kid to check into a hotel. Keep your foot on the accelerator and make it to the next town before nap time is over. On the flip side, be prepared to cut the driving short if that scream from the backseat isn’t going to end anytime soon.

When traveling from Denver to San Jose, I hit my intended destination about the half the time, stopping in Steamboat Springs as planned, just outside of Heber City (instead of Salt Lake City), Battle Mountain (past the intended Elko, Nevada), Reno, and then San Jose. After a week-long stop in the Bay Area, I managed to make it to Seattle in two days instead of the planned three to four, stopping for the night in Weed, CA.

Motels, not hotels: Even if you have a limitless budget (as most single parents do, you know), it is still a way better idea to stay in motels rather that hotels. If you stay at a hotel, than getting to your parked car involves traipsing down a hallway, past an office, and maybe even (heaven forbid) up or down an elevator. The genius motel design involves parking your car RIGHT OUTSIDE the door to your room. Even if you try to pack everything you and the baby will need in one bag (see tip below), you will fail at this task and be very happy that the car is right outside. I once had to wake up Aubrey so I could go get my contact solution from my car. Terrible.

In Steamboat Springs I stayed at the lovely Rabbit Ears Motel. It was much nicer than may hotels that I’ve frequented – pricier too, this being Steamboat Springs. Rabbit Ears is perfectly located, right on the edge of downtown, across from Old Town Hot Springs (the motel has discounted tickets, if you plan on going) and next to the river.

Rabbit Ears Motel
One hotel bag: It’s impossible to pack everything you’ll need for the night in one bag. Good luck.
Swimming and Fitness clubs: Stopping at every 24hour Fitness club on route was my best road-tripping discovery. I was worried about staying in shape while traveling because my jogging stroller didn’t fit in my car and even if it had I didn’t really want to take Aubrey out of her car-seat only to strap her into a stroller. So I mapped out all the 24hour fitness clubs and stopped at all of them. Since I pay for the all-month childcare (which is good nationwide), I could pull into a club and workout for two hours while Aubrey crawled around and checked out all the new toys. This was not only my key to staying in shape, but it was a perfect car break for the baby. She’d be ready for her second nap after all that playtime. Just be sure to double check the kid’s club/daycare hours. I stopped at the Salt Lake City club only to discover the daycare was closed Sundays.

Small towns are not known for having nationwide fitness clubs, but often they still have a YMCA or rec center with babysitting available. At Steamboat Springs I spent two hours swimming at the Old Town Hot Springs. I kept Aubrey with me (she loves swimming!), but there is a daycare option there during the daytime.

Old Town Hot Springs

Picnics, not restaurants: Again, crawling time is important. When you stop to eat at a restaurant your kid is subjected to being strapped into yet another seat. Pack a lunch and bring a big blanket. Most little towns have parks that are a lot nicer than rest areas.

Picnic at Hot Sulpher Springs

 

Think twice before camping: I had thrown my tent and sleeping bag in the trunk of my car more out of habit with any real plans to use them, but in the Wasatch foothills, I thought I had the perfect time to use them. We were twenty miles outside Heber City and there was no hope of reaching town with my eardrums still intact. Aubrey was DONE. I saw a camping sign with an arrow pointing to Strawberry Reservoir and made a quick left turn.

At first I thought that I had made a good decision. There were tons of families camping nearby. There was a general store selling ice cream and snacks that would work for my dinner. Aubrey loved crawling around in the tent, and nighttime temperatures for the nearby Salt Lake City were in the 60’s. However, temperatures dipped much lower in the mountains. At ten I changed Aubrey into her warmest pajamas, and at eleven I just decided to hold her for the night. Since infants aren’t supposed to sleep with blankets, camping even in slightly cold weather is tough. Also I was kind of cold but I didn’t want to go get an extra blanket in the car for fear of waking up Aubrey. To make matters worse, I felt bad when she woke up in the middle of the night crying because I’m sure all the other campers heard us. That’ll be my last camping experience for the year.

Camping

Have AAA roadside assistance: I would never survive without AAA. They’ve given me new batteries, unlocked my car (AAA guy: “What store are you in front of?” Me: “Um…the liquor store.”), and they have come especially in handy the numerous times I’ve needed a new tire. Miraculously, I haven’t needed a new tire in six months (a record!) and the last time one went out I was with two friends, one of whom (Fix-It-Tom) could actually change a tire! However, I usually travel alone, so until the baby learns how to change a tire I’ll keep my AAA membership.

Not as bad as it sounds! In fact, so many couples these days are taking vacations during the second trimester of pregnancy that this type trip has been dubbed the “baby-moon:” one last chance to go on vacation without having to worry about strollers and swim diapers. I certainly wasn’t on a romantic baby-moon (hard to do when you are single and traveling by yourself), but the twenty hour drive from Denver to Seattle turned out to be just as enjoyable as always, despite being five months preggers. I explained to some friends-with-kids that the trip was easy and the baby kicked less while on the road, which I’m taking as a sign that she likes sleeping in the car and will therefore be totally down for long road trips. They all laughed at me, sadly shaking their heads.

Here are some tips for a comfortable ride:

Snacks:

For me, food is always the most important consideration when road tripping. There was a time in my life when I refused to cross state lines unless there was a bag of peanut butter M&M’s melting on the dashboard. Coolers stocked with cans of Diet Pepsi have also been a must. My traveling companions have insisted on stopping at cheesy diners, classic road stops, and Taco Bell.

However, I did things a little bit differently this time, swapping out the Diet Pepsi cans for water bottles (freeze a couple bottles of drinking water the night before so you’ll have cold-ish water for day two) and forgoing fast food. Before the trip I cut up strawberries and veggies to snack on instead (keep radishes and carrots in Tupperware filled with water and the snacks will stay crunchy all day). For sandwiches at picnic stops, deli meats are a no-go. Something about fetus killing bacteria (apparently), so I went with the classic peanut butter and Doritos on wheat bread. Delicious.

Stopping:

Conventional wisdom/my doctor told me to stop every hour to get up and walk around. Okay, that would have been absolutely ridiculous. Stopping at every single rest stop in the five northwestern most states has never been high on my bucket list. I tried to force myself to stop at least every two hours, but when I’d go three or four, I didn’t seem to have suffered too much. Frequent stopping to walk around is recommended to so circulation in your legs isn’t restricted. Stretching and flexing in your seat can also help things.

Drowsy driving on the other hand should be avoided at all costs. Don’t book hotel rooms before your trip, with lofty plans on making it ten hours in one day. Play it by ear instead, stopping for the night whenever and wherever you are when you get tired.

Overnight Camping:

I have to admit, I wasn’t really sold on the idea of camping, but I threw my sleeping bag and tent in my car anyways, just in case. When I pulled into Hardin, Montana I was exhausted, ready to be done driving, and not willing to spend $80 at a Super Eight. (Seriously. That was the going rate. I’ve paid less for a suite at Mandalay Bay.) I trudged over to the RV campground, paid $15, put up my tent, and had a surprisingly comfortable night. I’d set my tent up on a slight incline, and the uphill sleeping position resulted in my first night in three weeks without heartburn. Yay, camping! The drawback to pregnant camping is the annoying need to go to the bathroom at night.

And that’s it! Eat healthy, stop often, and don’t be afraid to camp. Pregnant road tripping is a piece of cake, even if you’re doing it by yourself.

**Update: At seven months pregnant, I’m just finishing up a two week road trip through the midwest where temperatures have been consistently above 100 degrees. Pregnant road tripping remains fun and doable even in summertime during the third trimester 🙂

Check out more resources on pregnant traveling on scoop.it.