Road Tripping With a Toddler

Getting Away Even During a Pandemic

In the latter part of December I was growing antsy, Christmas stress was getting to me and I was fed up. I wanted to get away, but in the midst of a global pandemic what options are there? Well, I decided I was missing the mountains. I first saw mountains when I was 23 and moved to Colorado for school and am hooked on them. I just wanted a beautiful view in a little cabin nestled in the mountains and to snuggle and just be. I pretty easily talked Coby into this and voila, I was in total planning mode for a trip from Iowa to Montana!

I was still leery about heading out with a toddler during the current health crisis so we several practices in place to try and stay safe.

The Plan

First off, we drove. I know some people despise driving, especially long distances, the drive time of our trip was estimated to be 18.5 hours. We don’t mind driving, my husband is an over-the-road truck driver so he is right at home on the road and he knows all the short-cuts to get somewhere the easiest, plus he knows where to find the pretty scenery!

Scarlett does not appreciate our need to take a picture at the beginning and end of every road trip!

I love a good road trip so I’m in too, of course it takes a little more planning now having a toddler aboard then it did when we were younger but getting there is half the fun!

Making the Most of a Road Trip

We planned numerous stops along the way, one, so we could make fun memories and two, to wear Scarlett out! We stopped at the Badlands on the way out for a morning. We would have loved to stop at some more museums and indoor sites along the way but due to COVID we decided to keep our adventures outside. On the way home we stopped at Little Bighorn Battlefield. Coby and I love history and trying to put the events that happened into place and imagine what it was like for those who experienced it.

We did take Scarlett to a playground along the way to burn some energy. It really seemed to depend on the state which ones were open and which were closed. I am not sure if they were closed due to COVID or due to the fact that there was a bunch of snow piled on them! If the playground was closed we would just go for a walk which Scarlett really enjoys. We strolled downtown Bozeman, Montana and did some window shopping (and maybe a quick stop in a few of the shops!) Just strolling the main streets of adorable cities like that is such a fun thing to do. It gives you an idea of the people in the area and what they enjoy doing, a little glimpse into their culture!

We get really excited for Scarlett when she enters a new state and have made it a tradition where we take a picture of her at that moment. After four states I realized I needed to find a way to denote which state it was so I signed “M” for Montana!

Entertaining a Toddler in a Carseat for Hours

Usually Scarlett takes an afternoon nap but she wasn’t too into it during the trip like I thought/hoped she would which made things a little more interesting. One thing that I think would have helped with this is a car window shade. We’ve never really had need for one until now. She would start to doze but seems to get hot in her carseat when the sun would shine on her and would wake her up. We started hanging a coat in the window but a shade would have been far easier and covered the window more efficiently.

Scarlett also got new toys for the trip! She had gotten a kids paint with water set for Christmas from Grandma and a mess free coloring kit as well which we promptly reserved for the trip! We also bought her some quiet books and she really enjoyed the one with the doll. We reserved these special new toys for the trip only. We showed them to her when we got them and made it a big deal to keep them until our trip so they would be a novelty to her. We also took her baby from home that she could play with in the car too as she really enjoys her baby.

Scarlett enjoying her new toys!

Even with all the planning Scarlett still got some ants in her pants, after all she is only three and we were clocking about 7 hours in the car each day. We were not above playing Baby Shark or the Gummi Bear song and singing along! At one point I even played peek-a-boo from my front seat with her that she enjoyed thoroughly!

Eating on the Road

We had a lot of “car picnics” as we started referring to them. We would grab food when we stopped for gas and pile into the car to eat. Coby would jump in the backseat to help Scarlett. I also bought a bunch of snacks to keep handy in the car. I wanted snacks to be readily available to keep meltdowns at bay (mine and Scarlett’s!) and also have some healthier options too that could stay in the car when the weather dipped below freezing at night. I got some real fruit juice gummy bears and pita chips. They were all delicious but I think I should have gotten some more options as well for varieties sake, we were all getting a little tired of the same thing by the time we got home!

Enjoying our “Car Picnic!”

Motel Stays

We decided to stay in motels along the way so we wouldn’t have to take a three year old that licks and touches everything through doors and hallways in a hotel, plus it’s usually the cheaper route to go! We found some great privately owned motels that had the sweetest owners who were so friendly and helpful in pointing us to the best restaurants in town! We enjoyed one so much we came back to it on the return trip and he remembered our names!

Once we found our lodging for the night we would order food to-go and one of us would go grab it and bring it back to the motel. We had many-a family dinners sitting on the edge of the bed over the small desk in the motel rooms! Another plus about this set up that is not COVID related is Scarlett is three, when she’s done eating, she is ready to get up and play which of course isn’t feasible in a restaurant but it worked perfect in this situation. Coby and I could still chat and eat and she could be off doing her important baby things!

Not a normal pic you take while vacationing, eating breakfast in the hotel room but we also wanted to document the unique situation of traveling during a pandemic and how we had to adapt and overcome!

Our House

This was our first time booking a Vrbo or AirBnb, we had stayed at them with friends but never coordinated one ourselves. Again, I wanted to be secluded in a peaceful spot surrounded by mountains. We found the most adorable cabin around West Yellowstone, Montana. The manager of the property was super helpful when I asked questions about the area to ensure we were close to the sites we wanted to visit. Another plus to getting an entire house, you have your own kitchen and laundry available. I only had to pack half the stuff because we were able to do laundry, and I knew that we could wash away any germs accumulated through the first part of the trip.

The Fun

For our first adventure we learned to mush puppies!!! This has been on my bucket list since I knew this was a thing from watching movies like Balto and White Fang growing up (yep, I’m a total 90’s kid!) The company that I found has you arrive at their base camp where it was just the pros and us and of course, a lot of puppies! They gave us a great overview of how everything works and some guidance and then we were on our own sled following the pro around in his sled! It was a blast!

Our second adventure was the one I was slightly concerned about with COVID. In the winter at Yellowstone National Park you have to be on a guided bus tour or snowmowbiles. Coby definitely wanted to jump on the snowmobiles but we figured a three year old on a snowmobile might prove problematic! The tour bus company we booked through had everyone wear masks and put up pexiglass partitions between the seats and we were able to get out often and check out the sites. Scarlett got a little antsy toward the end of the day but she’s three and doesn’t like to be cooped up for too long, she eventually fell asleep on the bus while Coby was holding her!

Scarlett started out wearing a mask, you can only keep a mask on a three year old for so long.

Final Thoughts

Overall we had a blast! I would have liked to stop at more indoor places along the route to see the sites and to help get Scarlett’s energy out a little better but we did fine! Scarlett was definitely ready to be out of the car for awhile when we got home. Scarlett had to get in her carseat the day after we got home to go to daycare and she was a little upset. I told her that it was a short trip to go see her daycare provider and friends, it wasn’t a long one this time and that appeased her!

We had a great time and really enjoyed our time together. Snuggling in the cabin by the wood stove was my favorite part of the whole trip and I was not ready to leave.

I once read a quote stating that we only have 18 summers with our children (granted this isn’t summer but the sentiment resonated with me either way.) Eighteen vacations before they leave and I felt like we were going to miss out on a vacation due to COVID which had me super bummed out but we were able to have our vacation and make memories with our family and keep everyone safe!

Home Again, it was a great trip!