We left Manhattan after 11 years of our fast-paced urban life and headed down into the Lincoln Tunnel, with no plans of turning back. It was the beginning of a lifelong dream of taking a road trip across the USA (and also a dream of moving out West), and our 6 month old baby boy served as the main reason for the uproot. We needed a change in a big way. We left seeking something VERY different from NYC. To be closer to family. To do something adventurous with our life. We were moving to Lake Tahoe, NV/CA.
For months we planned not only a major cross-country move, but also planned this crazy 18-day cross-country trip. The first week we spent with family along the East Coast and in Ohio, followed by our dream stops in Nashville and Memphis (The Peabody ducks at The Peabody Hotel were a hit!) and then stops along the old Route 66 through Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Santa Fe, up to Mesa Verde (CO), Moab (UT), and back down to the Grand Canyon before heading up to Tahoe (via Death Valley National Park, Lone Pine and Mammoth).
18 days and 17 states, with a 6-month-old baby in the back seat. People thought we were crazy. We knew it was very possible. And looking back, it’s one of my most favorite vacations ever.
Traveling with a baby for almost 3 weeks straight was indeed different. “Nightlife” becomes a non-existent word. Dinner at 5pm and in by 6pm nearly every night and that was ok. No honky-tonk bar-hopping in Nashville, no late night blues in Memphis, no long hikes in the The Grand Canyon, but a trip I wouldn’t change for anything. We saw America in all its incredible glory, with a baby asleep in the back seat. The scenery just kept getting more incredible each day that we moved west. I actually highly recommend it as long as you plan smartly, leaving yourself time to enjoy each stop and RELAX.
And also leaving yourself time for the unexpected. Like the time we pulled off of a random exit in Arkansas to hopefully get some lunch to discover we were on the Arkansas Wine Trail (who knew?) and pulled up to an amazing Swiss restaurant on an old Swiss family vineyard – in the middle of Arkansas. You just never know what you’ll find off an exit! Sometimes, you have to take a little risk and drive that extra mile to see what might exist around the corner, because it could be amazing.
Some notes on traveling with a baby:
- Never travel more than 4-6 hours a day. We learned VERY quickly that if Google says it’s five hours to add 2-3 hours to that with a baby. Unless you learn the amazing “plug in and pump milk, then give a bottle while going down the highway” trick.
- Always try to book a bigger room (or ask for an upgrade if you can). You need the extra space with a baby and they’ll usually accommodate you.
- Try to stick to a schedule if you possibly can. This means telling people that baby needs a nap. I remember in the middle of Mesa Verde National Park, we needed to put him down for a nap so bad, that I got out, put him in the stroller and strolled down the main park road while my husband drove the car beside us. Gotta do what you gotta do…
- Bring an iPad or tablet. And download a few good episodes of The Backyardigans. Enough said.
- Know that every time you get in the car, the baby will probably fall asleep. Prepare accordingly. Try to be in the car when you want baby to nap or you will have lots of little 10-minute naps.
- Bring lots of plastic grocery bags for those diaper changes you have to do on the side of the road.
- Always stop for a good photo opp. Always. And take lots of photos. How often does one get to travel across the US? Make sure to ask a few strangers to take family photos. We ended our trip with hundreds of photos of the baby and very few of the three of us.
- Get the baby a “US National Parks Passport” and start collecting stamps. It’s kind of fun and a great keepsake for your child over the years. We were lucky to collect some amazing stamps (or “cancellations” as they call them) at Mesa Verde, Arches National Park, Death Valley, Lake Mead, and more.
- Sit in the back seat with your baby when he’s awake and sit in the front seat when you want him to fall asleep. Have lots of little books and toys. And again, an iPad works wonders.
Traveling with a baby on a long road trip can actually be pretty awesome and incredibly memorable (and sometimes exhausting). Stop a lot. Make sure baby eats and sleeps and you’ll be golden. Although, easier said than done…
Amazingly enough, we made it from NYC to Lake Tahoe right on schedule, in one piece and still married!
By Emily Ryan
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