Travel with a baby: Sometimes the road finds you

I’ve been thinking a great deal about just how family travel happens, especially travel with a baby – how do we overcome that nesting impulse that seems to arrive at the same time as an infant? I posed this question to a number of other parents and will periodically share stories that explore just how this whole family travel thing started for them. I discovered that for some parents, the travel finds them rather than the other way around, as the story I share today from Jennifer Close of Two Kids and a Map demonstrates. Thanks for sharing your story Jennifer.

Jennifer Close of Two Kids and a MapIt was always my intention to be a “traveling mom.” My husband and I traveled extensively before having children. We had no plans to let having children keep us homebound but what I didn’t realize was how soon after starting our family we would start our adventures.

In late August of 2004 I gave birth to a 10-pound bouncing baby boy. He immediately became the light of our lives and, like most new parents, we were content to stay at home and adjust to being parents for the first few months.

Mother Nature had another idea.

Less than four weeks after he was born, we held our breath as we watched Hurricane Ivan swirl around the Gulf of Mexico. It had already blown through the Caribbean and everyone from Texas to Florida was preparing for a possible hit.

The funny thing about hurricanes is that although you have advance warning and you can prepare for them, you still don’t know exactly where they will choose to land. For a while, we thought that we might be in the clear. But we knew we were in trouble when we watched the Weather Channel and saw the ultimate weather indicator – Jim Cantore – standing on the beautiful white sands of our increasingly windy Pensacola beach.

We spent the days before Ivan was supposed to make land fall preparing by boarding up windows, making ice, and bringing in all of our outside furniture. The government recommends that you have enough supplies to last 72 hours and we weren’t taking any chances. We took turns running to the store to stock up on bottled water, propane and canned goods. We bought enough diapers and formula to get us through an apocalypse. This hurricane prep was much different than the hurricane prep we did during college!

Once the fated evening arrived, we made sure everyone was safe and sound. We live far enough from the water that our house is not in an evacuation zone. Most of our neighbors, many of whom had been through Hurricanes Opal and Erin in the mid-90s, were staying as well so we weren’t too worried. My son slept in his bouncer in our hall closet with me by his feet. When the power went out we listened to our battery operated weather radio, by candlelight, as the broadcaster informed us that Ivan was on his way and Pensacola would be taking the brunt of the storm.

Baby sleeping in a closet during Hurricane IvanAfter a sleepless night filled with sounds of flying debris, wind and rain, we walked outside to find destruction everywhere. Over the next few days, we began the clean up process. One-hundred-yea- old oaks were cut up so that the pieces could be moved out of the street. Fences were haphazardly thrown up by neighbors so dogs could run loose in the backyard again. People nailed blue tarps to the roof. We ate well, attending some of the best block parties that week because all of that defrosting food had to be cooked up (on grills and camp stoves) before it spoiled.

Cleaning up after hurricane Ivan

We boiled baby bottles on a propane stove to clean them in between feedings. After a week without power (or air conditioning – I did mention we live in Florida, didn’t I?) and potable water, but with a lot of bugs, we decided to make a break for it. Surely, traveling six hours in a car with a four-week-old baby couldn’t be as bad as camping in our front yard? We loaded everything we thought we might need for a two week stay and we hit the road.

I won’t go so far as saying that the car ride was worse, but it was close!

We had to take an alternative route to get out of town because the main interstate bridge was in pieces and most of it was sitting at the bottom of the Escambia Bay. About fifteen minutes from our house, we came to a dead stop. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones with the idea of getting out of town for a respite. For five hours, we took turns holding my son and walking along the side of the road as the car inched forward every half hour. Once we finally got out of town, we still had a six hour drive ahead of us.

Was our first trip together as a family the stuff travel dreams are made of?  Not a chance!  I am pretty sure my son screamed the entire five hours we were parked on the highway just miles from our house.

Instead of sitting in Pensacola and waiting for the power, we spent ten days exploring Jacksonville, Florida. We strolled around downtown and through museums with my son in his carrier, continuing to learn when he was hungry, sad, and happy. To us, traveling is about learning new things. On this trip, we let our son teach us as we explored together as a family of three. I was reminded of how important family time away from our house is, even after the addition to our family.

Rather than slowly building confidence as not only a new mom, but also a traveling mom, I was forced into it and I am happy to say that it was all worth it. I earned my credentials as a traveling mom on that trip and I have never looked back. Instead we look forward to our next adventure, whether it is across town or across an ocean.

Jennifer Close is a southern mama to two children and wife to a husband who, thankfully, is supportive of her get-up-and-go traveling habit. She likes her tea sweet and even though Pensacola, Florida is the town she calls home, she travels every chance she gets. She blogs about traveling with her family at Two Kids and a Map and is also the creator and author of Pensacola with Kids.

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