Tips and Tricks For Traveling Thousands of Miles with Three Kids and a Pandemic

Should we go? Should we stay home? There was so much planning leading up to this point. We traditionally travel every summer for about a month; sometimes longer, through the national and state parks across the U.S. We had looked forward to this moment for a year. Traveling west is our jam. We’ve been all over the U.S, and there is nothing quite like the parks out west. It’s magical; the mountains, colored rock, laid back vibe, giant trees; we love all of it. But this year, the feel was different. Traveling in the middle of a pandemic changes your excitement, to say the least. I lost weeks and weeks of sleep thinking about the WHAT IFS, and ultimately decided I’d leave it in God’s hands. And off we went.

WHAT IF we had a good time? What if, well nothing happened? WHAT IF our plans would go exactly as I envisioned? They did.

WHAT IF our family made lifelong memories? This year we were traveling with my parents for the first time. My mom had just retired, and it was the perfect celebration to the start of freedom for her. WHAT IF they checked off a ton of bucket list things and captured moments that they would remember forever. That definitely happened.

WHAT IF my kids were so proud of themselves for the hikes they conquered that they would talk about it for weeks after? That also happened.

WHAT IF my kids learn so much more about our beautiful country, and appreciate all that it has to offer. Yes, yes, and yes. That happened.

You see, we focus so much on our WHAT IFS in a negative light, but what about thinking about it more positively? When I changed my thoughts of those sleepless nights from, WHAT IF we get COVID, to WHAT IF we don’t? WHAT IF we have the trip of a lifetime that I had imagined? WHAT IF we do all that we can to protect ourselves and others, and social distance to the max? After all, camping and being in the great outdoors is social distancing in itself. We would go, and we would have an epic time.

Questions You Might Be Thinking

Most people seemed very excited to travel along with us on our month long journey to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. But I could tell others were a little weary. Not even because of COVID, but just in general, being in an RV for a month, with a 10 and 8 year old, and a 16 month old. YIKES! I even questioned it myself! What are we even THINKING!!!!! So after we returned, I came up with a list of questions (with answers) that you might be asking yourselves, especially if you are hemming and hawing over the thought to travel this summer…during a PANDEMIC! You do what is best for you, and what fits your comfort level, but this is what kept us sane, and happy throughout our month long journey. Our trip was a huge success and I couldn’t be happier that we focused on the positives of what could be, and left the rest to the guy upstairs.

You traveled thousands of miles with a BABY? Why? How? Are you crazy?

We love traveling and exploring the outdoors. We used many different tactics. Yes, we are crazy. A little. In that order. No, but really…here are the more thorough answers.

GIVE THEM A NAP! Alex was 16 months old when we left for our road trip. We learned very quickly that he is technically the BOSS. If he needed a nap, then that is what was to happen, or it would turn out very badly for us later on in the day. So, we gave him his usual morning naps around the same time we did at home. He slept in a pack n play in the RV, and we used a noise machine (same one we used at home) as well as the RV fan noise, to put him down with a bottle. This worked out well, but it also set us back. You have to learn to accept that you might have a scripted itinerary in your mind, but your baby will decide WHEN you get to do those things. Sometimes, it was later in the afternoon when we actually set out on hikes or to explore, and we accepted that and stopped stressing about getting out early. If he had his morning nap, he was very pleasant the rest of the day, and rarely cried. He LOVED the hikes and looking around at all the new scenery. Babies are naturally curious, and he even picked up some vocabulary more quickly being outside all the time. Words like water (wa wa) and trees (tees) quickly starting coming out of his mouth early on in our trip. Some places we went were hot, so when we normally would have done those hikes in the morning, we saved them for later in the day when the weather cooled. So again, your baby WILL dictate your day. Be ok with that.

BABY CARRIERS ARE A MUST! Before we left for the trip, I put Alex in the carrier that we would be using on our trip as trial runs. We would walk around the neighborhood to get used to it, both him and I. At first, I thought it was very heavy (he weighs 24 pounds), but then it became more comfortable the more I used it, and by the end of our trip, I was hiking to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park (a difficult hike) with him on my back with no problem. Having a baby backpack, as we called it, was very useful any time we wanted to venture out on a hike, especially difficult ones. We used the Osprey Backpack, and loved it. This carrier allowed us to store snacks, diapers, wipes, and so much more. You could probably fit 8 disposable water bottles in the bottom compartment…we didn’t do this. The baby was heavy enough, so whoever is NOT carrying the baby is responsible for carrying a backpack with extras.

SUCKERS. I never thought I’d be THAT parent. But it happened on our trip. We bribed our baby to be happy for just a little while longer at the end of our hikes with a sucker. He never finished it and ended up always throwing it (which then we had to retrieve) but it worked and kept him quiet and entertained. There were two kinds that he loved in particular. One was the Simply Dum Dums. The other was an organic pop. Also, a tradition I’ve been using with my girls for a few years are “Power Pellets.” Aka…Tic Tacs. When the hikes got “rough,” I would give them some power pellets to power through to the end. It works every time.

BE ORGANIZED. This kept us sane. Let’s face it, and excuse my language, but babies have A LOT of shit! No pun intended. But seriously, have designated bins or bags with specific baby items. I had a bin for the diapers, wipes, lotions, and butt cream. These things were always in the same bin. Keep it together. I also had a little bag in the car (we pulled our car behind our motorhome) with a few diapers and wipes in case for some reason we forgot the baby backpack). I also had a bin for his shoes, and as soon as they came off, they went back into the bin. It sounds unnecessary, but it worked. Baby shoes get lost, like socks in a dryer. Get a bin for your baby’s shoes. Also, whoever is not carrying the baby should have a backpack stocked with diapers, wipes, suckers, snacks, and all the baby necessities. Keep that backpack stocked.

How Did You Stay Safe During COVID?

Traveling in our RV was key. We didn’t stay in hotels. We had our own living space at all times. We didn’t use shower/bathroom facilities at any campground. We kept hand sanitizer in all the backpacks and used it often. We didn’t visit large towns as previously planned. For example, we were going to Sedona for three days. I SO wanted to explore the adorable downtown area, but didn’t feel it was safe enough. Arizona cases were on the rise, and it was an unnecessary risk for us. So we skipped it and kept to the trails, and we had a great time! We wore masks any time we were around more people (which was rare because we kept to more isolated areas where there weren’t many people…especially trails). The trails were the BEST! We had trails and open space mostly all to ourselves! The national parks were pretty much ghost towns. It was a rare occurrence, for example, to not see mobs and mobs of people at Mather Point at the Grand Canyon. We were in heaven! It was an experience like no other!

What Did You Eat? Any Restaurants You Visited?

Dinner Tricks. Restaurants…we only ate at a restaurant twice in the 5 weeks that we were gone, and both times were outside. We cooked every other dinner in the RV. I have a HUGE tip that proved super beneficial to us. Cook and freeze your meals at home BEFORE you leave. In the two weeks leading to the time we would leave, every time I cooked dinner, I would double it. Then, I would freeze the leftovers for our trip. This was amazing! I didn’t feel like I was spending extra time or using a “meal prep” day because it was food I was already making for dinner. We had enough food to last us for weeks. I made things like chili and chicken soup (freeze it flat), homemade pizza, enchiladas, tacos (cook and freeze the meat beforehand), lasagna, pasta (cook and freeze), homemade cookies for desert, shish kabobs ( grill frozen), and hamburgers. You can even Pinterest camping meals to freeze. There are so many options.

Breakfast Tricks. For breakfast, we cooked eggs a lot. We also made pancakes and waffles (waffle makers are the best), donuts, oatmeal, muffins, and cereal. My mom taught me a quick way to make an egg sandwich while camping…crack an egg or two in a buttered/sprayed small Pyrex container and microwave it for about a minute. It’s a perfect circle to put on an English muffin. It takes longer to toast the muffin! You can add salsa to the egg, and add some cheese and avocado. Delicious!

Lunch Tricks. Lunch was easy, as we made sandwiches for on-the-go, and granola bars (Luna and Cliff bars). I had a snack bin where I put all the kids favorites. Each day before we would venture out, the kids would pack their own lunch. They would make a sandwich, or have a Luna Bar, and then choose some snacks, and a desert (oreos, fruit snacks, ect…). This system worked out great and saved me A LOT of time. They would put their food in their own backpacks that they carried during our exploring, along with 2 water bottles.

Kid’s Backpacks

Traveling with a baby is a lot of extra work, so if you have older kids who can help out, let them! Both of my girls had their own backpacks that they were responsible for. As mentioned above, all of their food was in it, along with water, sunscreen, and their hat. Some years, we all carried water bladder bags in the backpacks, but over time I found this to be more work to clean and store. They would apply their sunscreen daily in the car (face stick) as we traveled, and I would spray them when we got out. This was a HUGE time saver for me. They also put the sunscreen stick on Alex for me while were were driving to our destination.

How Did You Do Laundry?

We didn’t map out exactly when we would do laundry, but I made sure to book campsites here and there that had laundry facilities. We stayed in mostly KOA campgrounds on this trip because of the baby, and I wanted full hookups. In the five weeks, we did laundry 3 times. The kids sorted and folded their own laundry. On a camping trip like this, ALL family members have to contribute! Yes, we are on vacation, but we all have jobs to do still! Before the trip, I bought 2 laundry bags from Target that were really big and had straps to put on like a backpack. Also, I had a small bin for the dryer balls and oils to put on them, and then pods for the wash. I used an old pencil box to store our quarters in, but all of these things were in ONE bin for easy pick up and go. Did I mention I LOVE bins?

How Structured Were You?

BE FLEXIBLE. I had an itinerary and a “wish list” if you will, each day of places that I wanted to see and do. Of course, we didn’t always get to everything. But it’s just a reason to return! For every road trip we take, I do a lot of research. A LOT. Travel blogs. National Park websites. Pinterest. One of my favorite things to read is Google Maps. I LOVE MAPS. I have the distance to each place, the amount of time we are staying, the campground name and location; even the altitude levels…it is all in a binder. Some of my friends laugh at how organized this binder is, but with kids I feel it is a must. There are places I want to see, and hikes I want to do that are “bucket list” items that we REALLY try hard to get to, but your baby may decide otherwise! Sometimes, it was just as nice to have some downtime for the kids to play at the campground! I had a bin for toys for Alex, along with books, and those proved to be a lifesaver many times over! The girls also had a bin of books, coloring and craft activities, and their favorite toys.

If you are thinking of taking a trip with kids, my advice is to do it…but it depends on your level of comfort. We had the luxury to be in an RV, and not all have that option. Renting an RV or buying a tent for a weekend getaway can be fun, too! You may not think you are the most outdoorsy person, but give it a try! You may surprise yourself!

Weigh out the positives and negatives of taking the trip. Most importantly, keep yourself and others safe by following local and state guidelines. Try to social distance yourself as much as you can, and plan activities that cater to that such as hiking, biking, kayaking, or camping. Most of all, enjoy and appreciate the outdoors and the time you have with your family! Happy Travels!

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