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Summer Road Tripping with a Toddler- The Good, the Bad, and the Life-Changing

I’ve now had almost 2800 miles to collect my thoughts, and I think I can now correctly sum up our recent road trip. You know all the regular toddler stuff like poopy diapers, tantrums, selective eating, need for routine, and short attention spans? Imagine taking all of that and cramming it into a five-seat Subaru for 10 days. That’s road tripping with a toddler.

Now add a dash of 95-degree weather and some sunburn, sprinkle in crowds of people and a frustrated husband, viola, National Parks in the summer with a toddler.

My husband and I recently decided the best idea for a vacation would be to load up our toddler and our gear and drive 1,400 miles out to Utah for some quality family time. Had we gone crazy? Maybe. But we survived!

Let’s get the bad out of the way first.

First, let’s face it, there is nowhere to change a poopy diaper when you are hiking or camping, at least you are out in nature and you can wipe your hands off in the grass if needed.

Next, If you’re a co-sleeping family, KUDOS to you. We are not, so sharing a mattress for 10 days straight with my toddler almost broke me. Pair that with my husband’s snoring, I’ve never slept so little. I would lie awake most nights past midnight, exhausted from miles of hiking, but terrified to fall asleep because I was afraid we were going to crush the kid! When I did fall asleep I would wake up several times a night to check on him, is he still breathing, how did his arm end up under me like that?! After I had finally settled in for sleep, around 3 am most mornings, I could usually count on being smacked in the face a mere 2 or 3 hours later.

One morning my toddler decided 4:45am was the time we should all be smacked awake, it was already getting light out after all. It was our luck that he learned the words “more” and “no” that week and proceeded to cycle between screaming each of them depending on the situation. All morning. Let’s just say we became well known around the campsites.

Speaking of screaming. This is something you have to be prepared for when camping with kids. There’s no privacy, there’s nowhere to go, no door to shut when they are losing their s$#%. We happened upon a state park in Utah with completely renovated bathrooms, waterfall showerhead and all. Neat right? Wrong. For some reason, this scared our typically water-loving child, and he was afraid of showers the entire rest of the trip. You know how you play the nose goes game to stick someone with doing something you don’t want to do? We began to play this each night to determine who had to shower with him. I could hear him screaming in the showers all the way from our campsite most nights.

If all of THAT doesn’t scare you from taking a trip of your own, also keep in mind the age of your children if you decide to go. The, I just learned the word “no,” and I’m developing autonomy age that our child is, is my personal favorite age to take. Keep in mind that children at this age want to do everything on their own. They don’t need you, MOM. Don’t you DARE try to hold their hand while they attempt to hike up a ginormous boulder with a 100-foot drop off the on the other side. And if you do try to help them, you can guarantee they will drop their dead weight right in the middle of a narrow trail with a line of people behind you. Count on it.

I’m exaggerating. This is all just typical toddler stuff.

Of course, we dealt with a cranky kid thrown out of his routine, sleepless nights, and long car trips. We also experienced so much GOOD. We spoke with families from all over the world, roasted marshmallows, stared at the stars, listened to the absolute silence of being in the middle of nowhere, Utah. We swam and enjoyed the sun and hiked our hearts out. We laughed and cried and took pictures and made memories that will last my whole life. The toddler will, most likely, not remember any of it, but I will remember it all. We learned about ourselves as a family, argued and problem solved as a family, spent time with each other with no cell phone service and visited family and friends. We camped in perfect camping weather, stayed in incredible Airbnbs, saw view after view, sunrises and sunsets. We ignored work stresses and lived with hardly any routine, drank local coffee and beer, and saw miles and miles of country.

Sometimes we can get off track. I’ll admit, I’ve struggled lately. I juggled a crazy work schedule recently that left me sacrificing family time, and it killed me. Nothing brings you back to what matters like standing in the stillness of a canyon and having your reason for living shout into the silence to hear his own voice echo back. Nothing beats seeing a baby teeth grin over and over or hearing a tiny whispering voice say, “WOW” as you round a trail corner onto a view. Our trip showed me just how small we are in this big country and world. How small our problems are even though they seem large back at home.

My mental and emotional and physical health needed time away with my family, sun and sweat, dirt, and challenge. And I recognize the privilege that we have to have been able to take a trip like that.

People keep asking me how the trip was. It wasn’t very relaxing that’s for sure, but it was life-changing. If you ever have the chance to pack your family up and see this country, DO IT!

Where have you road tripped with your family?

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