Thinking about a cross-country road trip with little kids? From December 30 to January 18, Alex and I drove from Orange Beach, Alabama to Scottsdale, Arizona and back. Here are a few highlights and tips from our experience!
Getting Ready To Avoid Crying
Alex had the excellent forethought to put our 4 year old in the third row and herself sit in the second row of our SUV next to our 18 month old daughter. She packed dozens of toys, maybe hundreds of snacks, and used oven pans so each kid could play with Legos and other toys on a tray in front of them without making a bigger mess than necessary (messes still ensued).
Avoiding the ‘Rona
Traveling across the country in a pandemic environment does not need to be dangerous, but it definitely needs to be planned out. First, avoid going in gas stations and other heavily-trafficked indoor areas whenever possible. Every time you touch a gas pump, sanitize your hands. We started the trip with hand sanitizer in each door so we could use before we got back in. Once we got out west, we quickly supplemented the sanitizer with lotion. Sanitizing your hands 10x a day will make them so dry and cracked they may start to bleed.
At each stop we made sure we stayed in hotels with a separate outdoor entrance and HVAC. Places like the Sheraton Desert Oasis in Scottsdale, Hilton at Bell Rock in Sedona, and Hyatt Zelaya outside of Albuquerque. Of course we considered staying in Airbnb rentals due to the same pandemic safety considerations, but ultimately decided on villa-style hotel rooms with separate entrances because they accomplished the same objective at a fraction of the cost. Airbnbs were often around $300+ per night, while booking villa-style suites on Priceline (I love the Express Deal feature) kept us under $150 per night.
Focus on the Outdoors
In January of 2020, our family traveled to Scottsdale and spent many hours in science museums, aquariums, zoos, and the other heavily-trafficked attractions in the Phoenix area. All of those were not options for us this time, as we ensured we avoided pandemic risks but staying outside. So we brought bicycles on a hitch-mounted bike rack for the entire family, golf clubs for me and Whit, and focused on biking, hiking, and golf throughout the trip to keep busy.
We went on hikes as a family at Lost Dutchman State Park, Papago State Park, McDowell Mountain State Park, and at various trails around Sedona including those at Courthouse and Bell Rock. Ari is crazy athletic but at 18 months, she is still pretty constrained to 1-2 miles before she lets us have it. So we sort of split up so that Alex and Ari would go out a mile and then Whit and I would continue up the mountain or hike for a 5-6 mile total hike. We kept it simple with just water bottles, Clif bars, and a doll for Ari to bring along. Don’t overcomplicate getting outside!
On several of these hikes, at Bell Rock in Sedona in particular, I burst with pride as Whit eagerly scrambled up rocks and kept trying to lead us up to the top. As we surmounted a level of rock, Whit would say “come on dad, let’s do another one.” What more could you ask for?
Scottsdale has some of the best public parks in the country. I love where we live in Orange Beach, but these amenities are definitely something we are missing. Nearly every day in Scottsdale, we visited my dad and 91 year old grandparents, who live in central Scottsdale just off the “green belt” a contiguous 20 mile stretch of parks and golf courses that serve as a wash when the valley occasionally gets significant rainfall. From my grandparents house, we biked up and down the green belt to visit various playgrounds. Each park contains a series of bike paths, which Whit aptly called “sidewalk roads” as he continued to get better at riding his bike without training wheels. We highly recommend visiting Scottsdale between the Autumn and Spring and take advantage of the wonderful biking paths and parks, especially for little ones.
Family Time is Worth It
Traveling cross-country with two little kids is not easy. But I have two 91 year old grandparents and you never know when the last time you see your elders will be the last. Not only did we treasure our time spent as a family together with our kids, but with my dad and grandparents as well. One of my biggest takeaways from the pandemic era has been this: whatever we have lost in culture, going out to eat, spending time with friends, and traveling, we’ve been able to make up with quality time spent with family. I hope you enjoy the same!