If you have ever wished to travel but do not think it’s possible because of very young children, this article is meant for you. My family and I trekked approximately 13,000 km in America right when it’s cold and snowy. How far is that? Well, a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Iceland would be about 12,200 km. We did a bit more than that.
I didn’t realise not everyone think it’s a good idea to travel for days on end with tiny tots until Ahmad Fakhri and I mentioned to family and friends that we spent a good part of our six-week trip to America on the road with our children and grandchildren. It helped that Ahmad and I have travelled to other locations before with our children e.g. New Zealand in 2007.
People threw us looks of “You did what . . .?!” when they heard we crossed many states in America with two babies in tow: an 11-month-old toddler and a girl who is barely four. After all, babies keep you awake at night. Babies cry a lot. And babies get bothered when strapped in a baby seat all day long. All these and more are to be considered when you’re planning for a long distance trip with little children.
Here are the 17 states we covered, some of them briefly, to get to the next city where we stayed overnight:
- New Mexico
Cities we stayed overnight:
- Nashville TN
- Kansas City KS
- Denver CO
- Salt Lake City UT
- Carson City NV
- Fresno CA
- Flagstaff AZ
- Oklahoma City OK
- Columbus OH
There are 50 states in America.
Planning Is Key
This is one of the first things some people might tell you the moment you mention you’re traveling with little children. Be flexible, though. You might need to change traveling plans, skipping a town or two, because the kids might be too tired or unwell and need a longer rest somewhere. You don’t want to over-plan and get all stressed up, worrying about the what-if’s: What if I overlooked this? What if I forgot that?
To be honest, at some point, inevitably you’ll realise someone left something that was meant to be brought along till they got distracted with one of the children crying right before you left. The irony is, it was placed next to the door so it won’t be forgotten in the first place. And that’s alright. If need be, make a stop at 24-hour Walmart general store. Unless it’s a matter of life or death, so long as everyone is safe and sound, there’s no reason to let the upset get the better of you. The journey is for you and your family to connect with one another, appreciate one another and engage with God’s creations, especially nature.
All set. Ready to go.
Be Patient: Easy Does It
Traveling long distance with very young children means you most likely need to go for toilet visits more than the usual. Factor in breaks at regular intervals. If you’re contemplating of limiting their fluid intake to a minimum, think again. You don’t want them to get dehydrated, which could easily happen as the urge to rehydrate ourselves is reduced in cold weather or when you’re in an air-conditioned vehicle. Dehydration could spark a different set of problems. So, go with the flow.
Have Halal Will Travel
Food means energy. What more in wintry weather, when you need double the usual supply to get by every day. How do you bring along perishables? My son, Saif and his wife, Nazirah found a rechargeable cooler box that works just like a refrigerator. Relatively lightweight, you just plug in the charger into the socket in the van and voila! There goes your mobile fridge in action. Some suggestions for foodstuff/things to stock up.
– Baby food
– Uncooked rice
– Washable cutlery – two nonstick pots, ladle, spoons/forks, plates, cups
– Salt & pepper shaker, cooking oil spray, eggs
– Healthy snacks
– Blankets & pillows
– Sun-shades (it can get extremely bright no matter what season)
– Books for children and for you to read
– Some toys
– Footwear – slippers & shoes/boots
– Extra clothing plus winter socks
– Tissue paper
– Small towels
– First Aid kit
– A container covered with plastic just in case someone gets car-sick
– audio books/lectures
– baby bottle cleaner/brush
– snow sweeper (to clear windscreen of snow)
You get it. Traveling with little kids is like moving to a new house.
Safety: Have More Than One Driver If Possible
All adults on board drove, with the exception of yours truly. That made three drivers who switched places every few hours. I had made up my mind earlier that the enchanting snow would be too much of a distraction. After all, I reasoned, how could I feast my eyes on the vistas if I had to remain alert and keep my eyes on the road? In the end, I was grateful for not driving especially when we almost got caught in a blizzard in Denver, Colorado, that started barely minutes after we checked into the hotel. We survived gusty snowing wind at 100 km/hr in Wyoming. In Columbus we were stuck twice in deep snow, but the nice thing was, nobody got upset. And this is the best part about taking things in your stride.
On choosing a vehicle, key word is comfort. It doesn’t mean that you need something luxurious, but sitting tightly squeezed in a spot for hours on end with nary a space to wiggle may turn you into a monster. What’s more, you need to be in the right frame of mind to attend to the babies’ needs. Go for a spacious vehicle with ample leg room. An infant or child seat takes more room than you might imagine; take this into consideration before you come to a decision on which vehicle you’ll ride in. Check to ensure the air-conditioner and heater are working fine.
Most Enchanting Panoramas
We passed by Wyoming University that looked as charming as a postcard picture. The road that meanders along the Nevada-California border leading to Lake Tahoe dotted with quaint log cabins took my breath away. Both frozen and rolling streams are sights to behold. I have a penchant for nature and country areas, away from the dizzying pace of urban life.
Inside the maze-like Book Loft at The German Village.
Fresh snowflakes have that magical ability to transform huge landscapes into massive undulating fields of pure white, particularly in midmorning. Gently falling snow makes you feel like you’re in a dream, right when the roads are extra slippery. Traveling in winter do pose real risks; heavy snow means reduced visibility. It can take longer than anticipated to reach your intended destination. I saw several vehicles that skidded barely a few hours on the road when it was snowing heavily.
All the libraries we went to had spaces and toys for children to play. I was told that in America, reading interest continues to grow and books are very much in demand, thanks in no small part to the strong reading culture where parents take time to introduce the joy of reading to their infants. Organisations sponsor free children’s books to young parents, sending these direct to private residences. The Book Loft of German Village, an independent bookstore in Columbus, Ohio, houses 32 rooms of books and had a number of visitors when we popped in. Best bookstore I ever experienced, though, is in Oklahoma.
Log cabins in Nashville TN set up to remind locals of their heritage.
Best Places To Stay
Kudos to Nazirah and Saif for all the accommodation arrangements. All we needed were a clean room, a clean bathroom and a firm bed to stretch for a good night’s sleep. And space for the babies to move around after being confined for hours in a van. Some motels provide rooms with kitchenette complete with an electric stove, a microwave and a refrigerator.
Most likely you’d get delayed to check-in because of unexpected stops. Best to call the hotel, confirm you’re still coming. Once, we arrived after midnight. It’s better to choose a room at ground level where you could easily transfer the babies and their stuff and your stuff. Easy for you to carry the things back into the vehicle the next day.
For a one-night stay, you could just pack an all-nighter so you don’t have to transfer everything just for the evening. Going for a hotel or motel that provides breakfast helps. One hotel graciously left oranges, apples, coffee and tea at the breakfast area for guests to grab at any time of the day.
Too often, it was way too cold for us to perform our prayers out in the open. Below freezing temperatures and icy wind have a numbing effect on the human body. We either prayed in the van or searched for the nearest Islamic Centre, where possible. The growing number of Islamic Centres is testimony to the increasing number of Muslims in America. The children met people of various nationalities in the mosques we visited.
Ahmad Fakhri and I were invited to present a parenting talk at an Islamic Centre in Maryland.
It turned out that it was part of a Toastmasters meeting.
Getting The Visa
How rumours influence our expectations! I wasn’t too hopeful to get a visa as I heard that applications were rejected for no apparent reason at all. But a friend told me that a number of these applications were rejected simply because the applicants did not fill them up properly. However, no explanation was given with the rejection, giving rise to speculation why they’re rejected in the first place. Ahmad and I filled up the forms and sent them in anyway. It took a few weeks before we’re called for an interview, a brief one, with the interviewer saying at the end, “Congratulations! You got your visas.” Ahmad and I shot glances at each other. It was easier than anticipated.
How Are Muslims/Minorities Treated in America?
To be honest, I wasn’t too keen to book a flight to America, hearing all kinds of not-so-nice reports especially as I’m covered, and as Asian looking as can be. I watched with concern a YouTube video that showed an American woman charged with assaulting a Muslim lady by hitting her face with a beer mug. In the video, the Muslim woman said that she chose to forgive her attacker, and explained to her attacker that like her, she’s also American, working to support her family, and that she wanted the case to be closed. What a remarkable way of reaching emotional closure.
At some point I thought, what if someone attacked me on the street, while I was out doing the laundry or at a supermarket grabbing some groceries? Too late to train for martial arts. The first inkling that what’s reported online might not represent what’s on the ground was a remark made by a lady I met on an earlier flight to Australia. She was American, she explained, not Australian as I had thought. “Most people are nice,” she said. “It’s not like what you read and see on the Internet. Those stories are not the majority.” Exactly what my son said, trying to convince me to come over.
Red Rock, Colorado. Very cold but stunning view and memorable ambience.
Choosing The Best Time To Travel
Should you go in spring, summer, winter or fall? It’s a matter of personal preference. If you love sunny weather, the cold doesn’t bring out the best in you, perhaps summer or spring or fall might be a better option. If heat brings out the worst in you, perhaps winter or spring or fall is a better choice. I find I have more energy in cold weather. Plus I love snow. There’s something utterly captivating and magical about pure white snow gently falling on rooftops, treetops, roads and vehicles, whole towns, parks even. I don’t mind having to cover myself in layers of warm clothing to soak in the air of transcendence, calmness and tranquility. At times, I wished it would go on forever.