Diary of a Solo Road Trip with Two Under Two

People told me I was crazy.  You’re going HOW far away?  With BOTH kids?  By yourSELF??? Let’s just say I am always up for a challenge…  So I documented my road trip, the first of many I hope, with our boys.

Unfortunately our schedules just didn’t allow for my husband to join me, but we were traveling to Western Pennsylvania to celebrate my Aunt and Uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary, and that’s a pretty big deal so I wasn’t going to miss it simply because I wouldn’t have help on the way out and back.  I knew once I got there, we would be staying with family, and my parents would be there shortly after we arrived.  So I packed up the car and before I left for the day, I started recording notes on my smart phone.
(*NOTE* Do NOT text while driving!  Use your voice record or talk to text feature if you have it on your phone.)

The morning of the trip I had set our alarm for 6:30, but my mommy clock got me up at 6.  So I went downstairs and reveled in a HOT cup of coffee… alone… this NEVER happens.

Luckily I was able to wake up before both kids, and pack the car without having to chase my toddler around and nurse the baby in between trips.  So after I packed the car, I woke up Hunter (my 22 month old), fed him breakfast, changed his clothes, nursed the baby and made sure both had clean diapers and packed up the car for our adventure.

7:30am  Time to hit the road!!  We’re off!

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8:00am  After stopping for another cup of coffee and gas, we were ready to rock and roll.  Friday rush hour can be tricky in our area… you never know what you are going to get.  Many Friday mornings the traffic is light because a lot of people take off to head to the shore for the weekend.  So we headed out of Southern NJ and into Philadelphia without incident.

8:45am We FINALLY made it to the PA Turnpike.  For those of you local to the Philadelphia area, you will appreciate the dramatic differences in time it can take to cross the bridge from NJ to PA and get to the Turnpike via 76, or the Schuylkill “Expressway.”  For those of you NOT familiar with the area, that crazy word is actually pronounced “skooo-kill” and “kill” is not in the name by any accident.  Imagine one of those video games where you are a race car driver, taking the twisting turns at speeds upwards of 60mph, just to keep up with the “flow” of traffic, only to turn a tight curve and have to slam on your breaks and pray that the person behind you isn’t texting while driving or distracted by other means such as lack of coffee.

The roughly 17.76 (fitting if you consider the history of Philadelphia…) miles from the exit into Center City to the entrance of the PA Turnpike, is like a game of Russian Roulette.  The perils on this stretch of highway are countless and I panic each time I have to take this road, no matter what time of day, especially with two young children.  I think each trip down this stretch of road takes years off of my life.  BUT, we made it to the Turnpike!

9:00am  I am now remembering how long it takes to get to the first rest stop from our last stop and second guessing that large coffee that I had on the road… And to make matters worse, we are at the “whiny” stage with my oldest, whereby process of elimination and 20 questions MAY be able to determine what is wrong or what he needs, and apparently he likes the Schuylkill less than me, because he whined for the last 6 miles of that stretch until I finally threw a banana into the backseat and hoped he caught it.  That did the trick (for now…)!

9:12am  FINALLY the first rest stop.  (And I had better not miss this one because the next is not for another 47 miles…)  Of course Hunter has calmed the whininess and is content but I am not chancing it this early on in our adventure.  For those of you wondering how long it takes for one person to change two diapers, have your own potty break and nurse a baby, the clock starts now!

9:29am  Not bad for our first go ’round.  But thank goodness for the family rest room at the facility.  61.4 miles down… too many to count to go.

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As I look in the rearview mirror somewhere along this stretch, I catch a glimpse of Hunter talking on his “phone” so I turn down the music and eavesdrop on his conversation.  Don’t you wonder who almost-two-year-olds talk to and what they are saying?

Shortly after that stop and Hunter’s telephone call, he falls asleep.  So I make an executive decision to skip the next rest stop.  (Fingers crossed we make it 58 miles to the next!)  I still haven’t heard a peep from little Nolan who is happily snoozing in his seat (knocking on wood as not to jinx myself).

10:30  Ahhhhh… the smell of cow manure… we are now well outside of the city limits of Philadelphia, and as I am driving along the long stretch of road, I realize that I should be multi-tasking… Shouldn’t I?

So with both kids fast asleep and my Pandora entertaining me through the car speakers, I decide that I should begin “mile marker exercises.”  I have to give credit to my first ever pilates instructor, Angela, at Pilates Soul Studio in Collingswood, NJ, for giving me “stoplight exercises” when I first began training with her.  Knowing that I often would be in the car for hours for work, she gave me small exercises that I could do while driving, and stoplights were supposed to remind me to do them.  Since I have about 30 pounds of baby weight to shed, and what I like to call “post-baby-jiggle-in-the-middle” what better time to engage the core??

10:53  Decision time.  Do I stop at this rest stop and wake two sleeping children or chance it for another 31 miles to the next?  I decide to roll the dice and keep driving!

11:05  Where IS that rest stop?  Both kids are still fast asleep in the backseat, but mama needs a break.  (Maybe I shouldn’t have drank the ENTIRE liter of water just yet.)

11:20  Time to make the second stop of our journey.  As I dread waking the sleeping babes, and pull into the parking spot at the rest stop, Hunter wakes on his own and I sigh with relief.  It’s a gorgeous day, so after diaper changes, and a potty break, I take the kids and our packed lunch over the the grassy area alongside of the Sideling Hill Service Plaza to relax and enjoy the sunshine.  While we are eating and overlooking the mountains, I am thankful for the little moments.  I need to remind myself more often to slow down and enjoy them, because I am guilty of so often rushing from Point A to Point B without taking a breath.

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12:08  After a nice long break from the road and picnic style lunch, we are again ready to rock and roll.  HUGE thank you to my girlfriend Maureen for letting me borrow the portable DVD player for the car ride, and to Pappy for the Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two DVDs.  Hunter looooooves his penguins and was entertained for the next couple of hours with the movie in the backseat.  Now I will have to invest in one of these for future road trips!

12:32  We say goodbye to the PA Turnpike and venture north into the mountains and Amish country of Pennsylvania.

1:00  Well hello Captain Cranky Pants!  I really shouldn’t complain, 5.5 hours is a long time for ME in the car, let alone a 22 month old who just wants to run around and play outside.  (In all fairness, the whining didn’t even last too long.)

1:59  We exit towards Punxsutawney… that town where that groundhog lives who is responsible for this AWFUL winter we just had…

2:10  Now we are happy and singing along to Wiggles Radio on Pandora.  I hope this lasts for the rest of the journey 😉

2:27  We hit a little “traffic” on the back roads.  I’m not quite sure what the etiquette is regarding passing out here so I just patiently wait for the buggy to turn into their homestead.

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2:32  We’ve arrived!  317 miles and a little over 7 hours (including stops) and we are here!

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Our cousins are waiting for us when we pull up the long drive, and we unload, stretch our legs, and run around the beautiful farm.

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It’s a wonderful fun-filled whirlwind of a weekend, with family that we don’t see often enough, and the kids all have a blast together.  Liberty even showed Hunter how to feed her cows!

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AND read him a bedtime story!

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I love the outdoors.  I am glad that Hunter loves them already too.  There are two things I could do without though… mosquitoes and ticks.  THOSE can go scratch!  The time flew by and was filled with family fun, and I made a mental note that the next time we travel out to Smicksburg, PA, I want to take a tour of the farm and get to see the deep woods.  Unfortunately this time around, there just weren’t enough daylight hours.  We did enjoy sitting on the porch and looking out into the night sky to watch the firefly show, and listen to the fox and coyotes in the shadows.  I wish my camera could have captured the show of fireflies in that night sky… The closest thing I can compare it to was a Coldplay concert we went to in 2012, right before Hunter was born, where everyone in the audience was given a bracelet that lit up at different points in the show to the beat of the music.  It was one of nature’s masterpieces in that night sky.

9:17 on Sunday, and it’s time to say goodbye.  I am not even able to plug my destination into Google Maps, because we are in “no cell phone reception” central, and I think to myself, “What did we do before all of this technology we rely on to survive?”  Somehow I manage to remember a few turns, and get back out to the “main” road out of the country, and we make our way back to the PA Turnpike.

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(Note the look on their faces… are we really doing this again?!)

Our ride home is almost equally as smooth as the ride out, and I am thankful for a cooperative 2 under 2 as my copilots for this trip.

1:48  We pass a billboard for the next service plaza picturing a toddler with an ice cream cone that says “Tantrum Averted” and I chuckle out loud to myself.  Yes, that’s EXACTLY what I want to give my almost 2 year old for a long car ride… sugar!  Unfortunately, this rest stop was less than impressive as compared to the others we saw on our way out.  Instead of the family restroom, they had a “Mommy and Me” stall, but the changing tables were outside of that stall, which didn’t exactly make sense to me.

3:26  Crossing the bridge back into NJ.  The kids are a bit restless, but so am I after nearly 14 hours in the car in the past three days.  It always seems like the ride home is longer, even though we have made better time.  The dilemma towards the end is always, do you keep stopping when the kids are cranky and you are in the homestretch, or do you push through to just get your feet on solid ground in the comfort of your own home?

3:58 We arrive home, making better time on the trip home due to the slightly less congested Schuylkill.  (Did I mention how much I hate that stretch of road??)

These two are happy to be home!

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All in all, it was a successful first for us.  And to those who fear it, it CAN be done.  I went in expecting the worst, but hoping for the best, and I took a lot of deep breaths and let the kids guide me along the way.  When I thought they needed a break, we took a break.  And I tried to keep the schedule as close to normal as possible, with nap time and meals/snacks.  I didn’t break out the DVD player until the last leg of each trip, for fear of 1) spoiling my almost two year old, 2) running out of options for entertainment, and 3) the unpredictable tantrums that can ensue at any moment lately.  Both boys were perfect gentlemen, and even though there were a couple of overly tired meltdowns, those were basically saved for me and short lived.  We also discovered that there are still many considerate people out there, especially in moments where a third hand would have come in handy, like getting in and out of the rest stop buildings, or getting our food to our table when we stopped for lunch on the way home.

We are already planning our next adventure!  This time, with Daddy too!

About the author
I'm Tara, a married, full-time working mother of two boys under two, and three furry "kids" that make our family whole. Life as a full time working mom trying to balance married life, parenting, three dogs, and some "me" time along the way is chaotic, but worth every moment. I hope you will enjoy some of our adventures along the way!

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