We’re fresh back from our weekend in Vermont, a truly whirlwind tour if there ever was one. Four days total, over a thousand car miles, nearly as many adult beverages and even more pregnant lady* belly laughs later and we can say it was an absolutely wonderful excursion.
*Not Natalie. Our hosts Rosie and Jason are expecting their second in June.
We enjoyed a serious Camp Davis vibe the whole time, cooking things from scratch (like gluten-free biscuits at 6AM?), enjoying good booze and staying in our friend’s almost 130 year old farm house that has a “Whiskey Room” equipped with wing-back chairs and an old-timey record player (totally stealing this idea, by the way).
The Vermont scenery is breathtaking and that organic, homesteading, DIY chicken raising attitude permeates everything and seemingly everyone. We visited a local farm to pick up our meals for the weekend, ate Fiddlehead Ferns straight from the woods, Ben & Jerry’s in downtown Burlington and even did a little gardening ourselves once the weather cleared. For only really visiting just over 48 hours, we fell for the place hard. If not for hearing about the threat of snow the day we left (in mid-May, mind you), I could see myself living there in a heartbeat. Alas, I’m far too much of a cold-weather-wimp.
Loren, it seems, is every bit the city kid as we worried. His funny toddler accent had him marveling at our hosts’ “Jean” Deere tractor (a French import?) and in awe of the “haircut” it gave the grass. He’s a worldly one I suppose.
We do the weekend jaunts to Camp Davis pretty regularly. It’s a mere two hours from home which isn’t too painful. We’ve also done the road trip marathon to Minnesota where we drove for several days but were able to vacation for almost three weeks before coming back home. With our trip to Vermont we melded the two concepts: a weekend trip with marathon driving.
And somehow it just worked. The nine hour drive felt, in fact, perfectly reasonable. We left from DC for Vermont early Friday morning – 6AM on the dot. With long breaks and a few wrong turns we arrived at our destination just outside Burlington a little after 5PM, well in time for happy hour, which is convenient, because there’s nothing quite like a Heady Topper to help you forget you just drove 500 miles. (And yes, the hype is well earned. There is a reason those beers are so hard to find outside of Vermont – they can’t make it past the locals for distribution.)
Our silly hope that the kids would transition seamlessly from bed to car seat wasn’t entirely off base. They woke up, of course (Loren even pressed the buttons on the elevator as predicted), and they stayed up. However, by 7:30 both were fast asleep again. And they remained that way until 10AM. That long snooze made the first four-hour leg of the trip seem like a piece of cake. More important, since the kids basically slept the whole time they weren’t too upset to get back in the car after the first break. To them it might have felt like they were just getting started.
Despite our assumptions that the drive home would be worse just because the drive up was so smooth, everything went well once again. Like parents of children who sleep through the night from day one, this has led us to the conclusion that we have some sort of expertise in the area that extends beyond blind luck.
We’ll never know what specific combination of events made the trip work so well, but we noticed a few things that we think did more good than harm and we thought we’d share them:
1) Leave really early, or not, or even really late. The timing of the first leg should have more to do with the regular sleep habits of the kids than anything else. We left at 6AM both times. This is somewhere between 1.5 to 2.5 hours ahead of when the kids normally wake up. Because they kept themselves awake for a while after the initial transition, they fell asleep hard and made up the difference by sleeping a little longer into the morning than usual.
If we couldn’t leave early the next best alternative would be to leave right before their normal nap time of 1:30/2:00PM. If that wouldn’t work, hit the road just before bed time. They won’t sleep the whole way, but their sleep schedule is likely screwed anyway if you are traveling long distances. But sleepy kids will give you a chance to drive in peace for a while, and that might be the next most important thing.
2) Withhold your bag of tricks as long as possible. The kids have a little basket of cars and books between them for entertainment in the car. We don’t have a DVD player, but this time around we borrowed a pair of books on CD from the library as a special treat. We hyped them up to Loren before the trip, but didn’t play them for him until several hours into the second leg of the trip. They improved his mood and by the time they were done we were ready for our next (and hopefully last) stop before arriving at our destination.
3) When in doubt, stop. We realized along the way that holding out until that arbitrary stop time we set when we left the house was a losing battle. At some point in a long trip like this the kids will start going insane. If you can’t curb the meltdowns, just find a place to stop. Ruthie is a great car kid, but everyone has a breaking point. Eventually she was covered in graham cracker crumbs, refusing a bottle and throwing all her toys to the floor. She was done. So we just stopped.
You won’t regret it. It might make the overall trip take a little longer, but when traveling long distances with kids the important thing is arriving at your destination with your sanity in tact (which is possible), not beating your personal best trip time (which isn’t). It really is amazing what a pit stop will do to everyone’s attitude. Give everyone a chance to stretch their legs, fill some bellies and change some diapers and a return to the car seat isn’t that bad after all.
4) Finally, stop at hardware stores, garden centers or hotels when you can. Obviously you’ll have to find a gas station when you first pull off the highway, but after you fill up the tank jump back in the car and get to one of those other places. Lowes and Home Depot are normally situated near interstate on-ramps and their bathrooms tend to be immaculate. I don’t know why, but they just are. No matter the weather, their large warehouses are nice place to get out and stretch the legs. Loren loves running around and looking through all the tools and we were even able to shop for projects we knew we’d like to tackle when we went back home (paint swatches and Rosemary seeds for Camp Davis, check).
Hotels often have outdoor space for a nice picnic lunch, some even have casual restaurants if you need to buy a little something in a hurry (and again, the clean bathrooms). And hey, if you need to bail on round two of the trip because the first was so terrible – just get a room for the night.
Our directions had us drive a little off the beaten path in eastern PA (we wanted to avoid the I-95 corridor almost entirely, which turned out to be a great decision). As we traveled along a two lane state highway we passed several nurseries and garden centers. On the way back to DC we planned to stop at one. The maze-like greenhouses are perfect for a toddler to explore, and there is something rejuvenating about getting out of the stuffy car and finding yourself in the midst of thousands of plants.
None of these tips are fool-proof and like every other bit of child advice, the effectiveness is highly kid-dependent, but they certainly seem to help us.
The trip was so successful, in fact, that we’re thinking this is going to be more than once a year trip. I hear Vermont is amazing in the fall, and if we take the train to Burlington we might even brave a winter visit.