We’re back, Roads Scholars, with another installment in our “American Road Trip” series. When last we wrote, we were young, naive, and optimistic. Since then, we’ve seen things.
As a result, we can now write with more authority on road-tripping with small children. As a Washingtonian residing in Utah for the last decade or so, I’ve taken the lengthy drive between the states countless times. However, this month, my husband and I loaded up our five-month-old and almost three-year-old into our Toyota RAV4 and embarked on this drive as a family for the first time. We survived and we’re here to tell the tale. Here’s what we did, here’s what we regret, here’s what we’d do differently if we did it again.
What We Did
The drive from Salt Lake City to my parents’ home in Washington State is approximately twelve hours and takes you through Boise, eastern Oregon, eastern Washington, and finally western Washington and the small town where my parents live. It’s a long drive for an adult, but it’s especially rough for a toddler.
To keep our toddler busy, we made sure we made a variety of games, activities, and shows. We had been considering a Toniebox for a while and decided to pull the trigger for the trip. It was a huge hit and even though we listened to the same song for maybe half of the drive, it kept our little girl entertained and happy. We also took coloring pages, books, the iPad with plenty of annoying toddler content, and small toys and games. We put these in a caddy next to her seat for the drive there, which didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, so we changed it on the way back.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much we could do for our five-month-old other than take a few toys she likes and some infant contrast cards. She tolerated these, though she was quick to let us know when she got bored.
As mentioned, I’ve driven this route countless times so I know the route well. What I didn’t know is where/how often to stop with our girls. Rest areas can sometimes be sketchy and I wanted to feel comfortable taking my little one to go to the bathroom, as well as giving her a place to stretch and play.
My husband and I broke the drive into two legs: the first was from Salt Lake City to Boise, a drive of about five hours; and then Boise to Snohomish, Washington, which is almost exactly eight hours. From there, we plotted our stops about every two hours.
On the drive to Boise, we decided to stop in Twin Falls at Shoshone Falls, a beautiful waterfall that we’d surprisingly never been to. Near the falls is Dierkes Park, where we let our toddler play for a while. At each stop, I took our baby out, changed her diaper, nursed her, and laid her on a blanket in the shade so she could kick and roll. On arrival in Boise, we stayed in a hotel with a pool so our daughter could swim and get her car wiggles out. She quickly dubbed this place “our new home” and was disappointed when we had to leave the next day.
The next day, our drive was much longer so we made three stops. In Oregon, we stopped at two very cute parks, one with an adjacent public library which we had to check out. Our third stop was in Yakima, Washington, where we visited possibly the most average public library I’ve ever seen. Our stops on the return journey were the same, except we skipped Yakima because it’s so bland. Apologies to anyone from Yakima.
Necessities for all our stops:
- Picnic blanket, or something like this, was a must for our baby. It was her play place at stops, our picnic spot, and a diaper-changing mat all in one.
- These are a necessity for anyone who ever uses a rest area. Buy them. Keep them in your car at all times.
When you add two car seats and two adults, our car seems fairly small. We bought a trunk organizer, a car trash can, and a tiny vacuum to keep our car as organized as we possibly could. It still looked like we’d been living out of it for years after only 15 minutes of driving, but we did our best.
I discussed this in a previous post so I’m not going to go into it much, but we loaded up on snacks and drinks for the drive which kept everyone satisfied, if not happy.
What We Regret (And What We’d Do Differently)
We only wish we’d bought a bigger car before the drive. I’m kidding. Mostly. But at a few points, either my husband or I was jammed in the back seat between the two car seats with barely enough room to breathe. This made us particularly grumpy which didn’t help when one of the children was already grumpy.
On the drive to Washington, we had all our daughter’s entertainment items in a small caddy by her seat. This didn’t work as well as we’d hoped so we purchased some seat organizers for the return. Although she’s almost three, we still had her car seat rear-facing for safety, but for the return drive we turned her car seat forward facing so we could more easily help her.
Overall, the journey was surprisingly smooth. Our girls were as good as they could be, the snacks were flowing, and the stops were fun. When we weren’t helping a chatty toddler, my husband and I even had time to talk to each other. I’m not in a hurry to make the drive (or any drive for that matter) again, knowing what we know now, I think I’d do it again someday. Maybe.
This post was brought to you by Flat Creek Inn.
Breanne Kunz was raised in the Pacific Northwest but grew up spending summers in Idaho and frequently visiting Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. She is a wife and mom who likes to write. She still doesn’t enjoy road trips, but taking one did not kill her.