The Other Side of the Road

A guide to road tripping as a mother, an Other, and part-time explorer.

So, here’s the thing. I never saw myself as the kind of woman who would have kids biologically, let alone two kids before I turned thirty. No, my plan was to travel the world, write many books of poetry, and live life on my own terms. 

Life rarely ever works out the way we want it to, though. 

My name’s Michelle and I’m a Cuban-American 30 something learning how to parent two lovely brown babies with my partner in life, a native born Memphian named Louie. Our family is unconventional, multiracial, multiethnic, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Louie and I met about six years ago while I was a Teach For America corps member in Memphis. We quickly fell in love, and in about 6 months, I found myself pregnant. After many tears, laughs, and days of soul searching, we decided to start our little family and we haven’t looked back since. This isn’t to say things have been easy since that decision; raising two kids with minimal family support in a city where neither of you are from is no walk in the park. But, with a little planning, a strong budget, and a willingness to forgo some of the finer things in life, we’ve made some amazing memories and traveled to some fun places, both here in the US and abroad. 

So, to the thesis of it all. For most women, the idea of having kids and a life seem diametrically opposed. I’m here to tell you, that doesn’t have to be the case. A few summers ago, my little family did the impossible: a 10 day road trip across the South. We visited the following places: 

  1. Charleston, South Carolina
  2. Fisherville, Virginia
  3. Washington, D.C.
  4. Bardstown, Kentucky
  5. Southeast Missouri
  6. Memphis, Tennessee
  7. Birmingham, Alabama

Now I know you might be thinking, Two kids? 7 stops? 10 days? She’s out of her mind! But I’m here to tell you that it can be done, and I can’t wait to show you. As far as planning a trip like this, here are some steps I took to make sure we could a) afford it, b) find housing, and c) not lose our minds along the way. 

STEP 1: Figure out where you want to go. 

For us, this whole process started when we were invited to read at a friend’s wedding in Virginia. We figured, since we’re driving, might as well visit Louie’s family in Memphis. And since we’re going to Memphis, might as well visit my uncle in DC since it’s not too out of the way. Suddenly, many of the pieces started coming together once we were able to nail down specific locations/people we wanted to see. 

STEP 2: Think about the kids. 

Because our kids were really young (a three year old boy named Lito and a 6 month old named Violet), we knew that we would need to make frequent stops so they wouldn’t get too cranky. Hence the 7 cities. Louie and I are proud Road Warriors and once made the drive from Memphis to Miami while only making 3 20 minute stops. Fortunately, kids have a way of making you slow down and enjoy the moment. While making one of the final legs of our trip from Kentucky to Memphis, we noticed signs for Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, a national park hidden away in the mid-south. We decided to make a slight detour and had a blast! My son got to do a little hiking while I nerded out over the historical artifacts. Thinking about the kids means opening yourself up to new possibilities that aren’t on the schedule. 

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Lito taking in the views at the Great Falls National Park in Virginia

STEP 3: How will you get there? 

Because Louie and I have made paying down debt and traveling our two biggest priorities, we drive wonderfully functional pre-hoopty vehicles made in 2008. Both of our cars already have over 100,000 miles on them. We decided to rent a car for our trip rather than possibly burn out our own. We shopped around for deals and used some credit card miles we had to help make this happen. We also booked our car about 5 months in advance of our trip to make sure we were getting a good price. 

STEP 4: Housing

Think about the type of trip you’re taking. Are you a Grizwalds kinda family (from the Vacation movies) on your way to a theme park? Are you trying to take in the sights around you with no specific plan, stopping as needed? Are you a combination of both, like my family? Knowing where you want to go ahead of time will help you find great deals on hotels or get Airbnbs booked with plenty of time to spare if that’s more your thing. We decided to stay with family and friends for a majority of this trip (there’s no way my Cuban uncle would let me stay in DC without him), so we were then able to splurge on some cute Airbnbs in Virginia and Kentucky. The nice thing about Airbnbs is that they are much homier and often times provided random essentials that kids need, like toys, bassinets, kitchens, etc. Hotels can also be great though, especially if you know you’re not going to spend any time in them. A few months before your trip, take a minute to think about how you want to spend your nights. 

STEP 5: Food

Charleston Chicken and Waffles
Chicken and Waffles in Charleston

This one can be really tricky, especially with a 3 year old that has the metabolism of a hummingbird but the palate of a college student (seriously, who eats ramen for breakfast?). If you’re a foodie family, I would suggest saving for food a few months in advance of your trip. Think about your price point. Are you going to indulge in street food, sit down restaurants, chains, or fast food? All have their pros and cons, so it just depends on what you want. We did a combination of all of the above. By keeping breakfast and dinner simple,  we were able to take advantage of fancy restaurants at lunch time prices. We also didn’t have to worry about formula on this trip because I breastfed, but having used formula in the past, it saved me loads of headaches when I prepackaged the servings before a long trip. We estimated about $100 a day on food, and used cash to help keep us on that path.

Baby's first food
Poolside Watermelon in DC (this was her first taste of real food!)

STEP 6: But what will we do??

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Tour of the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Kentucky

I’ve taken my son on all kinds of trips: professional development opportunities for work, family trips to Disney, even overseas to St. Martin for a family vacation. At the end of the day, kids will be entertained no matter what you do as long as you pay attention to them (well, let’s be real, he’s not gonna enjoy any arthouse movies any time soon). Now that we’ve added a daughter to the mix, we do have to think about things like stroller friendliness, hands on activities, and noise (she’s a light sleeper and hates loud noises). The more moving you do, the more freedom the kids have, the better off you and they will be. National Parks are a great option if theme parks aren’t your thing. Beaches are also great, even with a baby. Children’s museums are ridiculously fun, even for adults. And if you and your partner need some adult beverage time, many breweries and restaurants will allow children. The more you bring your kids to these sorts of locations, the more acclimated they will be when they get older. There are so many more options than people realize. 

STEP 7: Help! [Insert child’s name here] is crying and I can’t do this right now. 

Expect the melt down. Kids are little people that are still figuring out how the world works. Sometimes they need some space, sometimes they need to walk around, sometimes they just need a hug and a kiss from their favorite person. Meltdowns are messy, and frustrating, but if you expect them to happen, you can catch them before they become too big, and even prevent them from occurring. 

VA Caves
Caverns were a great option for our family; Lito was able to run around and explore while Violet took a nap in daddy’s arms.

So in a nutshell, that’s how I went about planning out my family’s summer road trip across the south. It took a few months and some creative budgeting, but overall it was an amazing trip. I can’t wait to plan another road trip. I think the Dakotas are calling.

 

 

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