Hike it Baby Founder and Ambassador Shanti Hodges goes on a book tour with family and friends, exploring hikes from the Hike it Baby book.
When I first dreamed up the idea to do a month-long road trip hiking a bunch of trails from my book from Wyoming to Wisconsin that I had never been on, it seemed like a really great idea. That was over 3,000 miles ago now, and did I ever learn a lot about traveling with kids.
For a little context for those who don’t know: I wrote a book that came out in June about toddler- and baby-friendly trails around the U.S. To find these trails, I reached out to the Hike it Baby community and combed through our hike data to find all of the favorite hikes in our community out there. This meant that, while I had hiked a bunch of the trails, there were many that I had only researched and hadn’t actually been on.
Photo courtesy of Subaru
I was excited about seeing all of these trails I had never been to and meeting families who loved these areas. For this trip, I traveled with my husband, Mark, and son, Mason, for the first part. Then Mark had to go back to work so a Hike it Baby friend, Maura Marko, who runs the blog We Found Adventure, joined me with her two kids, Jack (4) and Rowan (2). How people travel with 3+ kids under age 5 regularly, I’ll never understand. While my son’s emotions can be big, if you add in two other little kids’ emotions, a long road trip is like turning on a popcorn machine and forgetting the top as the popcorn begins to explode and fire all around the room.
Because this trip was big and I couldn’t pull it off on my own, Hike it Baby and I partnered with Subaru, who provided the perfect travel rig for me: a fresh off-the-line 2019 Subaru Ascent with 3rd-row seating. This meant we had enough leg room to have the baby in the middle row in a baby seat and take turns sitting with her, while the two boys were in the far back and had their own little zone of toys, books and snacks.
Photo courtesy of Subaru
The itinerary took us through the Rockies, where we saw the Tetons and Devils Tower, then we hopped over to the Midwest on a month-long hiking adventure. What was great about this road trip and having the Subaru is that it allowed us to explore all kinds of terrain and really test the road-worthiness of the car. We were on gravel backroads in Wyoming, negotiated various sizes of cities and definitely hit the open highways. Some of our favorite things about the Subaru Ascent were the high-tech cruise control and how comfortable the rear air conditioning made the car. The 19 cupholders (not kidding) also meant there were always enough drinks at arm’s length for the kiddos.
For the trip, I envisioned all of these Hike it Baby branches gathering in the woods with their babies, beautiful weather and easy trails to hike being a no-problem adventure. Of course, it would be amazing, because the guides were those who contributed hikes to the book. I thought having the Hike it Baby bubble around me with tons of support should Mason melt down or I forget something would make it seamless and, in many ways, it was. But remember, we were also negotiating 5-year-old emotions on the road.
I’m sure I made much of my very well-documented (if you were following on Facebook or Instagram) trip look like an Instagram perfect walk in the park, but it definitely wasn’t without challenges. We had all the pretty lakes, jagged mountains and slot canyons. However, in between, there were miles of highway, heaps of crying, full-blown temper tantrums, a day spent in a hotel while Mason threw up thanks to food poisoning, poopy pants due to potty training regression, rain storms hammering down on camp, giant bugs like prehistoric-looking cicadas, itchy mosquito bites, and way too much road food. But isn’t that what a road trip is all about?
But there were also the magic parts of road tripping. We saw fireflies in Wisconsin that had Mason staring out into the woods for hours looking for those little flashes of light. In Wyoming we had huge thunderstorms, a moose on the the trail and a roadside grizzly bear munching on berries in a field. We watched the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” at Devils Tower in an outdoor theater at a campground. We negotiated down a wood ladder into a slot canyon in Indiana and went to the largest children’s museum in the country in Indianapolis where we got to touch real dinosaur bones. We played in huge sand dunes in Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes and hiked on a trail that gave us a view that looked like Hawaii.
If I have learned one thing about being on the road with a baby, then toddler, then pre-K kiddo over the last few years, it’s that nothing will ever go as you plan. If you go into a road trip with that knowledge firmly rooted in the adventure, all will go smoother. This is already life with a 5-year-old. When you add in the instability of a road trip where you are camping, hoteling and meeting tons of new people every day, it’s important to remember to be in the moment and roll with whatever is happening because it will all pass quickly. The great things about a road trip is there are always shiny bright things to shift the moment if you keep your eyes open.
Photo Laura Castro/Twig and Lens Photography
On the trip, especially on leg two when we had three kids in tow, Maura and I had to become the Yoda-like all-knowing and always calm parents. We were not only negotiating and anticipating our own children’s day-to-day crazies, but also melding our two families and all of the interesting things our kids threw at us (sometimes literally) daily. There were days when it all seemed smooth, but some days we just wanted to crawl under a rock and go back to sleep. In the end, we had a great adventure, logged many miles, made some great memories and learned some valuable tips for summer adventuring on the road with little ones.
Top 10 road trip tips I learned
- Don’t plan long driving days. These become increasingly harder as your kiddo ages. You will find yourself quickly frustrated when you have to stop every 2-3 hours, just so you can keep your kid in the car longer.
- If you are traveling with more than one child, add on an extra 15 minutes to every planned stop. You will never get back into the car as quickly as you thought.
- Road games are key! Figure out what games play well in motion. LEGOs will be challenging in a moving car, so think about what kids can do other than just watch movies on an iPad. They will eventually tire of the same four movies, especially if you are doing a long road trip.
- Keep a little cooler handy that you can pack fresh, easy-to-grab food. Inevitably, you will all get burned out on road food and it’s nice to have something fresh to offset the garbage that you find at the quick potty and gas stops.
- If you are potty training, bring a potty that’s easy to put out anywhere. We have gone poop in the back of the car at Walmart, in parking lots of hikes, on the side of the highway in a wildflower field. Make sure you have nice scented, sealable bags in case the poop needs to travel with you for a bit.
- Speaking of potty training, keep waterproof bags (ideally reusable, washable bags) handy so when the messes happen, whether a potty accident or a spilled milkshake, you have clean clothes ready to swap out and soiled clothes can be sealed away until you get to a washing machine.
- Bring a nice waterproof blanket or mat that’s easy to lay out so that you have something to lay down for a quick picnic or a diaper change in the middle of nowhere. It’s good to get out of the car and lay the little one out vs. going into bathrooms for the germ factor and just to give everyone some outside time while in the car so much.
- Look ahead at your route. Plan park-and-play stops. Ideally, finding somewhere you can grab food and go down the street to eat in a park will win out over trying to drag kids into a restaurant after hours in the car.
- Remember those road games you played as a kid like “I spy with my little eye”? Look online for good road games and songs and add these to your arsenal. We played many games of “I spy” on this trip to alleviate boredom and break up the long drive and it worked almost every time in keeping the kids entertained when they had ants in their pants and were sick of being in the car.
- Above all, bring your sense of humor and patience fully intact. Road trips are fun and they are hard. While you may have planned that July summer trip in January when you had a really easy baby, who by the summer is a wiggly, not-so-easy toddler, you will be able to do it.
This Hike it Baby adventure was brought you in partnership with Subaru. To see more about the journey, go to www.hikeitbaby.com/book-launch-Subaru.
Photo Laura Castro/Twig and Lens Photography