Category Archives: travel

Post-travel Depression

Hell, if I can suffer from post-partum depression, certainly post-travel depression is a valid diagnosis, right?

It probably does not help that my full-spectrum lightbox is nowhere to be found, or that Max kept me awake all weekend and I of course managed to come down with the bubonic plague or giardia or whatever other shit he brought home from pre-school bundled up with wet mittens, and elbow macaroni glued to construction paper.

I have sat here most of the morning, staring at a document I created with ideas for articles and appropriate places to pitch. Just staring. No writing. Unless you count sending my friend Jenni an e-mail response that consisted solely of JPEG attachments of a bong and several bottles of tequila as writing.

Really fucking useless, this depression thing. Especially when it starts to shape shift. Or when the cat throws up on the sofa next to me and grabbing a few sheets of Bounty seems a monumental task on par with securing a visa to Bhutan.

Send the sun, a goddamn dozen palm trees, a new passport and the wind at my heels.Or just come over and kick my coughing, sneezing, feverish ass. Because if you don’t, it is cat puke, laundry and utterly banal self-flagellation here in Somerville.

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Thank You, Whole Foods

For making the decision to stop offering plastic bags.

Before you roll your eyes and scroll on to the next post in your reader, I understand that convenience frequently trumps ideals. When I learned that the majority of plastic items ever made still exist –including that headless Barbie I used to drag around or those plastic butterfly barrettes that were all the rage in 1977–I was shocked into pushing myself to be more aware of how much plastic I consume.

Also, consider that switching to reusable shopping bags is a relatively painless way to limit your consumption of plastic. I cannot tell you how many miles of highway we passed that were littered with all manner of plastic garbage, but the damn plastic bags by the sides of the road outnumbered tumbleweeds in many parts of the wide-open West. Even in areas you would expect some respect for wildlife, such as Everglades National Park, dirty plastic bags were more prevalent than egrets and herons.

Don’t Stay At Home, Mom

Oh, you’re so brave! I could never do that. My child screams in the car on the way to the grocery store/husband cannot wash his own socks and would never let me leave for that long/What if we got lost? I have no sense of direction/weren’t you afraid?

Several people have asked me how and why I decided to take an extended road trip with a highly active three year-old and my sixty year-old mother. Most assume that my son is an easy child,that my mother and I never get on each other’s nerves, and that I have endless reserves of patience and courage. They are wrong on all counts, especially the last two.

So before all of the details of the trip fade and are forgotten, I am going to explain exactly how I was able to pull this month long road trip off.

The first thing you need is inspiration. I have always loved to travel, yet something about my transition to motherhood dimmed that desire. Fear loomed large in everyday life– Was my child eating enough? What about his poop? Is he so cute that some sicko might kill me and steal him right out of the grocery cart in the middle of Trader Joes and no one would even notice? What if he somehow finds his way to our roof and falls off? And Dr. Meyer, have you ever noticed that his pupils are different sizes. I believe his has congenital anisocoria (And he does) but want to make sure he is not dying from some rare form of fatal cancer of the eyeball. To say I check all of the doors and windows and stoves and lights and the knives to make sure they are pointed sharp side down before I go to bed each night is an understatement.

Quite simply, I am not that brave.(And I sure as hell am not patient!) But the side of me that aches for adventure was clamoring too loudly to be silenced by the neurotic part of my personality that likes to imagine the worst possible scenario and plan accordingly. So, I turned to search engines to help me find examples of women who travel alone with their children. While I did find a few intrepid mamas, most people traveling with very small children–at least those who write about it–are couples.

Since my husband works full-time, and was also planning to open a comic book store during my proposed period of travel, I decided to invite my mom, who was between jobs and in the midst of a nasty divorce. Having driven cross country once before–with James when Max was an infant–there were so many things that I wanted my mother to see and experience.

My mother and I have always had a complicated relationship. She sometimes put relationships with men before her children and made a lot of other painful choices that quite frankly, I resented her for making. When I first lived in Boston in the early 1990s, we did not see one another for almost two years, even though we lived within driving distance of one another. Our personalities can clash violently. In short, I am a typical, brash Aries and my mom a stubborn, quiet Taurus who sometimes has to be prodded to reveal what she *really* wants, needs or would like.

This made for some interesting arguments along the way.

But back to traveling with a small child, since I suspect most of you reading are more curious about how to pull that off.

The answer is relatively simple: you do it at home, everyday. If you are a stay at home mother or if you work any number of hours outside your home, you have to deal with the little people’s shit anyway, right? Changing the scenery does not change that fact, although the lack of housework and/or office politics might just tip you in favor of taking a trip. You do not have to head out for a month or more, if that seems overwhelming or you simply cannot find the time or the money. Although on the last account, you need much less money than you think to have a good time traveling with your children.

One of the best ways to save time and sanity is to do a little advance planning. No, I am not suggesting you draft detailed itineraries, jam-packed with twelve hours worth of non-stop fun, fun, fun–because let’s face it, if that is how you roll, you will not enjoy packing up the little ones and heading off into the sunset. What I am suggesting is that you spend some time looking for state parks or playgrounds in the areas you will be visiting. Kaboom, a clearinghouse of places to play around the country, was one website I visited nightly. Also keep in mind that most elementary schools have playgrounds, and if you stop after school has let out or on a weekend, the chances of anyone busting your ass for playing are slim to none. State park signs in many parts of the country feature a helpful playground logo, so keep an eye out for these as you’re barreling down a four lane highway listening to I’ve Been Working On The Railroad for the 17th time, while your small child yells Stop the cah! Get me outta heah!Now!

Just keep in mind that some states are so proud of our national treasures that they will post a sign 300 miles away from the actual park.

The next step in remaining relatively sane on a road trip with the under 5 set is to limit the number of consecutive hours spent strapped into the car to 2 or 3 at a time. Remember that trip you took with your best friend years ago, where you both took turns driving, driving, and driving stopping only for more gas and a pack of Twizzlers to share? Now, forget about it if that is what you think of when someone says Road trip!

I found that for us getting a very early start worked best. Max tends to be an early riser and this proved no exception on our trip. If you are staying in a hotel, being awake early will also make your time at the breakfast buffet a bit more bearable, since the likelihood is high that none of the other guests will be awake to hear your child loudly insist that a chocolate frosted, sprinkle coated transfatty donut is an appropriate breakfast. And, guess what? Sometimes such a donut is a fabulous breakfast for a cranky preschooler. Even if you lean towards food snobbery and obsessive label reading at home. (As I do.) While we are on the subject of food, every morning when you get into your car, do not drive away unless you have a couple of snacks and small toys located in the front where you can quickly pass them back to your child. It is a rule of the road that even a child who ate a full breakfast just 15 minutes earlier will decide to have a growth spurt and beg for food in a voice and tone straight out of the most pathetic Dicken’s novel as soon as you try to merge into oncoming traffic. Be prepared.

Another advantage to rolling out of your hotel as early as possible, is that you will probably avoid the stress of navigating the morning commute in an unfamiliar city or town. When we stayed in hotels, I tried to find those a bit outside of major urban areas–both to save money, and if timed appropriately, to limit the likelihood of getting stuck in a traffic jam. Google maps was very useful for locating slightly smaller towns outside of major cities, and for figuring out where we could plan to break for a playground stop or local attraction.

I was just interrupted by both boys in my life, so forgive me, as my train of thought is now completely shot. Two more quick, unrelated practical bits of advice.

Number one: while most hotels have on site laundry for guests to use, they usually only have one washer and one dryer. If you have accumulated more than one load you will most likely be better off finding a local laundromat and washing all of your clothes at once. (The good news is that you will probably only generate a load or two of laundry each week.) At a Best Western in Galveston, Texas I nonchalantly threw in a load of laundry one morning before breakfast, switched it into the dryer and started another load only to come back down later to find that not only had workers decided to cordon off the laundry room and paint everything associated with it, but the dryer was a total pussy, and I was left standing there watching over my sopping laundry for the next hour and a half while trading angry stares with some dudes who wanted to paint the floor.

Number two: There will be many, many things that you would have otherwise loved to do, see or experience that will need to be saved for another trip. Example: I love to snorkel. Max can barely hold his breath under water and is given to grabbing my bathing suit in a panic and shouting Boobies!. Guess who was not able to explore the reefs at
John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park.

There is always next time!

ETA: If you have any questions, fire away and I’ll answer in the comments. I know this was a bit disorganized, but there are several living things clamoring for my attention at the moment.

Got tents?

Discuss.

I’m trying to decide if I should invest in a top of the line 3 season tent or look for a small pop-up or Class B for our next trip, which will hopefully be the northern jaunt into Newfoundland, Labrador and then who-knows-where that I had initially planned for our recently ended travels. I am leaning towards a tent, because well, we’re sort of broke at the moment, I think I might be able to earn enough on my own to fund a camping trip, and hotels for all of their conveniences can be pretty boring.

A Brief Overview: The Good, The Bad And The Downright Pathological

Approximate trip mileage: 10,100 Chance that this includes at least 1500 miles spent driving through small, strange towns searching for a playground: 4 in 5.

States visited: 25 Chance that one of those 25 was Idaho: 0 Probability that Max insisted were were in fact, in Idaho: 100% Sonic limeades purchased and consumed: Too high to count.

Amount by which estimated fuel consumption exceeded budget: $600 Areas with the most expensive gasoline: The horrible route between Las Vegas and San Diego, and the Overseas Highway to Key West, Florida. Areas with inexpensive fuel: 0.

Serious accidents barely avoided: 12 Odds that my Honda Pilot will need new brake pads when I bring it in for service tomorrow: High.
Average number of driving hours per day, not including overnight stays of more than one night: 5-6. Longest driving day: Galveston, Texas to Pensacola, Florida. Approximately 9 hours.

Prettiest state: New Mexico Best surprise: Little Rock, Arkansas Biggest Disappointment: The Strip Malls of Ye Olde Key West, Florida and Sedona Shopping Malls of Arizona. Unless you like your red rock photographs to include a larger than life Dress Barn sign, and want to buy key lime pie at a McDonald’s drive thru.

Percentage of spectators that will get wet in the splash zone at Sea World? 100% Shell out the $6 for the stupid plastic poncho.

Chance that someone is lying if they tell you that the beach-side vacation condo they have rented will charge a steep fine for noisy children: Total crap-shoot. Odds that you will learn that such a fine is a complete selfish lie: Very high, especially if said resort is overrun with screaming children, and you happen to take an elevator ride with a friendly couple who is traveling with seven boys under the age of 10. I’m just saying……

Hours it will take you to leave after finding out about said lie: 6, and only because you require a few hours of sleep before hitting the road.

Odds that you will spend at least one night in a chain hotel, in spite of promising to seek out inexpensive accommodations with character: 100%, if traveling with very small children. Mid-range chain hotel with the most consistent quality and service: Hampton Inn. Likelihood that I have racked up enough Hilton Honors points that Paris herself will bring that next bottle of water, USA Today and vendor-sized bag of Chex Mix to my room the next time I make a reservation: 77%

Chain hotel to avoid: The Best Western in Cottonwood, Arizona if a crusty old guy named Marc is working, because he will bust your ass and share horror stories of previous guests who destroyed the self serve waffle makers if you dare to grab a cup of juice for your child 3 minutes before the breakfast area Officially Opens. Even though he has most of the lights on, and the morning news is blaring from a giant screen television overhead. Odds that you will suggest he go fuck himself: Pretty damn high.

Odds that the employees of a Taco Bell will actually give you a bean burrito without cheese or meat: 50/50. Probability that they will insist all the burritos have meat and cheese if you politely explain that you do not eat meat or cheese: 100%, if you visit a certain Taco Bell in South Carolina.

Odds that D’Lish in Sedona, Arizona serves a juicy tempeh burger so good that one bite makes you cry and causes you to question whether god might really exist? 3 out of 3. At least for our party of 3.

Best vegan roadtrip snack: Primal Spirit mesquite-lime vegan jerky.

Best farmers market: Daytona Flea and Farmer’s Market.

Likelihood that you will want to stay and buy a cute little adobe with a kiva fireplace at the foot of the mountains if you visit Taos, New Mexico: Very high.

Chances that you will be stung by a jelly fish: Very low. Unless you are me.

Paging Doctor Google

It is difficult to see the sting in this photo, but earlier this afternoon after building sand castle # 312, complete with bridge and access road, Max and I ran into the waves. Only one of us ran out;screaming and carrying the smaller one.

What the hell were hornets doing in the surf, tattooing a white, hot itchy band around my ankle?

Trying not panic, since I am allergic to bees, I showed Grunty and leapt into the hotel pool, assumed a discreet yoga pose and peed all over my leg, nodding as an elderly couple I chatted with last night slowly made their way to a pair of pool chairs to sit and admire my toilet.

According to Dr. Google,I will survive. There are several hospitals nearby, but unless I suddenly cannot breathe or my left leg develops pre-eclampsia, I am just going to suck it up. And drink gallons of unsweetened iced tea from Publix.

There is one other thing to be grateful for: At least I did not sit down in the surf and pull Max into my lap as I had considered moments before the nasty invertebrate reached out and swatted me.

ETA: Now Dr. Google has informed me that Portuguese Man o’ War jelly fish are common in the area of Florida in January. Fuck. Guess I may head to an ER after all, as my sting site most closely resembles those of Man O’ War, and apparently you can seem fine, only to wake up the ext day covered in some kind of mysterious stains.

Near Misses

We drove past this section of Interstate 4 yesterday afternoon, and passed by the brush fire in it’s infancy. At that time it was small, and we thought it was a controlled burn as a small plane circled overhead and numerous road crews were scattered along the highway. This morning it has become a 40 car pileup, with several tankers and trucks on fire.

Earlier in the trip, we avoided an 80 car pileup on I-40 in Amarillo Texas, by a couple of hours as well.

In New Mexico, we watched several cars try and force one another off the wide open highway, only to find them a few miles later scattered along the median, and watch in horror as the occupants of an SUV that had been spun around and dragged by a tractor trailer truck, miraculously climbed out unscathed.

On the drive from Las Vegas to San Diego on Boxing Day, we saw six separate crashes. ON ONE FUCKING STRETCH OF HIGHWAY!

Scary.

I’m not going to mention how many hundreds of crosses and round Drive Safely markers we have passed in Florida alone, or how many idiots I have seen weaving in and out of lanes without signaling, and then blowing past everyone else 100 mph in the slow/exit lane. Or how many kids we have watched test the upper speed limits of their crotch rockets,including one in Tennessee who traveled at high speeds in the wake of a tractor trailer truck,hanging inches from the truck’s back end for reasons completely unfathomable to me. Pair this with the drivers who are terrified to merge, older than dirt, stoned or just so plain unskilled that they drive 40 in the passing lane of a 70 mph zone, and it is little wonder that we have seen and narrowly avoided as many wrecks as we have.

If these are your driving habits, know that your time will come, and sadly you’ll probably take several innocent, responsible drivers and passengers along with you. Assholes.