The Bottling Process: Traveling with a Toddler (part 1)

Over the past several months, several of you have asked me for more details about the logistics of our travels.  This is the second post in an ongoing series about how we travel.  If there’s something you want to know more about, feel free to leave me a comment and perhaps it will be a topic for a future Bottling Process post.

When I read about other folks traveling around the country like us, most of them don’t have children.  Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of families on the road (just check out www.familiesontheroad.com for a taste), but it seems the vast majority are traveling either before having children or after their children are grown and have flown the coop.  And sometimes I get jealous when I read about all of the exciting things these childless travelers are getting to experience.  Traveling with a child, a toddler no less, changes things.  But for all of the things that we’re missing out on, we gain so much by experiencing this journey with a two-year old child full of wonder and silliness (even with his unending poo and periodic tantrums).  Here are a few things that have made living on the road with a toddler a little easier and a lot more fun:

  • Giving him a job at the campsite.  We inadvertently stumbled into the best tactic for giving us the time to set up the campsite while Van is not underfoot and also not getting into trouble. At one of our earliest camping spots on this trip, we asked Van to collect sticks and put them in the fire ring. Little did we know that he’d be such a committed gatherer that he’d amass a serious amount of wood for our fire. And he keeps doing it – every single night we camp – without being asked. He’s busy, we can set up the tent and make dinner, and we can have a nice fire after dinner. It’s a win, win, win!
  • Membership to a science or children’s museum.  When my mother was asking for birthday gift suggestions for Van, knowing that we’d be traveling and not wanting to get him something large or unnecessary for our travels, I suggested that she get him (and us) a membership to a children’s or science museum.  Many science and children’s museums provide reciprocity at other museums around the country, allowing members to get in for half price or even for free.  Since we are not going to be in one place this year, there was not an obvious museum at which we should become members.  I did some research and found a museum (The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in Dayton, Ohio) that not only provided reciprocity for one of these types of museums, it provided reciprocity at over 300 science and technology museums, almost 200 children’s museums, and almost 200 zoos and aquariums.  Amazing!  We’ve had the opportunity to visit the Explorium in Lexington, Kentucky, the Adventure Science Center in Nashville, Tennessee, the Children’s Museum of Denver, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  And we have a long list of museums we’re excited to check out in the months to come.  In addition to giving us the opportunity to visit a number of museums of interest to us at a reduced cost or for free, visiting these types of museums is great for rainy days, hot and humid days, or days when Van desperately needs some kid time after too many activities that are more exciting to his mommy and daddy.
Water Fun at the Explorium in Lexington, Kentucky

Water Fun at the Explorium in Lexington, Kentucky

  • Libraries.  I am a huge fan of libraries – I worked at a library all through high school, we’ve planned this journey largely from library books, and we regularly frequented our local library before we began traveling.  But, as great as libraries are for local residents, they are just as great (if not better) for traveling families.  Van LOVES books, but we can’t bring too many with us given our lack of space.  Solution? Regular trips to the library!  But, not only do many libraries have a great selection of children’s books, more and more libraries also have a play area stocked with different toys – puppets, blocks, magnets, coloring pages and crayons, kitchens, play theaters, you name it!  And while Van’s busy playing and reading, we can check our email and our update the blog thanks to free wi-fi in many (but not all) libraries.  And you can’t take the clean bathrooms and running water for granted, either.
  • Making our own meals.  I imagine most folks traveling the country on a long-term basis make most of their own meals for cost and comfort reasons, but there are additional benefits when it comes to traveling with kids.  Kids can only sit still for so long and so often.  By making most of our meals on the road, in addition to minimizing cost, we minimize the time Van is stuck in a high chair at a restaurant and save those times for local places we’re itching to try (like hot chicken in Nashville or bbq in Memphis).  We’ve yet to eat out for breakfast and we rarely eat out for dinner.  That tends to happen when it’s been a long day, it’s getting late, and we’re famished, usually with no groceries to our name.  While we also make the vast majority of lunches (picnics across America should be our trip’s tagline), lunch is our meal of choice to go out.  When we’re not eating out for lunch (which is most of the time) we also get to see a different side of a place, since we typically eat our picnic lunch in a town square or other downtown green space when we’re not out on a trail.  Since he spends a bit more time in the car, this additional outdoor time is always welcome and lunch almost always concludes with time to explore. Plus, if you haven’t noticed, kids’ menus pretty much stink.  Seriously stink.  It’s a rare day when we order off of it.  He’s still got a small enough tummy that he can usually just share with us, or we’ll order him a small plate of something similar to what we’re eating.  I refuse to order him chicken strips and fries every single time we take him to a restaurant.  Once in a while, fine.  But why is every single kids’ menu the exact same, no matter where you go?  But I digress…  Even though we’re on a long-term trip, I’ve found that making most of our own meals is a great money and time saver on shorter trips, as well.  However, ignore this advice if you travel to Charleston, South Carolina, in which case you should eat out at least four times a day, every day, and mail me your leftovers.
Our trusty camp stove, the source of most of our yummy dinners

Our trusty camp stove, the source of most of our yummy dinners

No, this is not what I mean by picnic, cheerios do not make a meal (said no child, ever)

No, this is not what I mean by picnic, cheerios do not make a meal (said no child, ever)

At Altitude

Over the past month we’ve taken a number of glorious excursions into the mountains.  On my (and Van’s) first trip to the top of a fourteener, we opted to use the assistance of four wheels.  While we would love to climb one with our own legs, that will have to wait until our toddler gets a bit older.  Instead, we opted to drive up the highest paved road in North America.  When we reached the forest service entrance, the ranger on duty informed us that the road to the summit was closed, but that we could get as far as Summit Lake, about five miles before the summit.  We began the drive with crossed fingers, hoping that the snow would clear up and we’d be able to make it to the top.  We drove as far as we could and got out for a romp through the snow.  Van did amazingly well hiking over snow, slush, and ice at a very high altitude, but we knew better than to keep him out for too long.

Most of the way up Mt. Evans, hoping the road to the summit will open for us

Most of the way up Mt. Evans, hoping the road to the summit will open for us

Once he started to show signs of exhaustion, we headed back to our car and watched as another car began ascending the road to the summit.  The road had opened!!!

Mt. Evans Road - the highest paved road in North America

Mt. Evans Road – the highest paved road in North America

View from the summit

View from the summit

The temperature was reading in the twenties without the wind, and the wind was practically blowing us over.   Needless to say, we didn’t subject Van to the cold wind (we don’t want him to hate us too much), but we both took turns exploring the summit.  While most of our drive was into the clouds, some of the clouds began to clear as we were at the summit.  Instead of viewing the Rockies from afar, here we were, in the mountains!

On our way back down from the summit, we stopped at Echo Lake for a picnic lunch amidst the pines and a short walk around the lake.  While this isn’t as exciting as hiking to an alpine lake, it was a perfect spot to stop and enjoy the fresh (albeit thin) air and the local wildlife.  Apparently, we brought some wildlife of our own along for the day.

Echo Lake

Echo Lake

Our lunch companion at Echo Lake

Our lunch companion at Echo Lake

Yes, he's a lion...

Yes, he’s a lion…

and a cutie pie...

and a cutie pie…

with an extra helping of sass.

with an extra helping of sass.

A few days after our trip to Mt. Evans, we set out to explore the town of Evergreen.  We spent much of the day hiking at several of the many county parks in the area.  This would be an amazing place to live if you’re into hiking or mountain biking.  We were incredibly impressed by the number and quality of parks in the area.  You’d never be bored!

One of the charms of not having GPS or regular data access on our phone is that we have to use maps and intuition to find our way.  When the maps are incorrect or woefully inadequate, we wind up in some new and exciting places.  The photo below is taken along one of the roads we incorrectly but oh-so-happily drove down in our quest to find yet another park in Evergreen.  Now if only that could be our view from our (currently non-existent) front porch.

Views in Evergreen

Views in Evergreen