How to Visit Your Family Without Losing Your Sanity (and Money)

I’m a well-versed world traveler. Before I could legally drink alcohol, I had been to the Caribbean, Australia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, England, Belgium, and all over the US. My wife and I took our honeymoon in Italy, with only the first night and last two nights planned. Everything else was spur-of-the-moment. This fall, however, I’m going to face my greatest travel challenge yet, something that will test my traveling abilities: traveling with an infant.

The last time I saw my grandmother, at my grandfather’s funeral, I made a promise to travel to her house in San Diego. That was before my wife found out she was pregnant, and all of our money started going towards our unborn daughter. There are a few other complications, but here’s how I’m going to make a road trip from Boise, ID to San Diego, CA on a shoestring budget, with an exhausted wife and screaming infant.

Grandma

This journey starts at a funeral, with my grandmother. Last year, she was diagnosed with moderate Alzheimer’s. She has trouble remembering major events, though usually remembers that my grandfather died, something that is uncommon amongst Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. It was worrying that she showed little emotion just after his death. To make matters worse, she couldn’t remember that I now live in Idaho, where I’ve lived for nearly two years, nor that I’ve been married to my wife for nearly three years. To her credit, she did remember my wife who I’ve been with for nearly a decade). One thing she consistently remembers is that I promised I would visit, sometimes forgetting when, but always that I’m coming at some point in the future.

Post-pregnancy wife

My wife Alex is pregnant, and is due in just about two months, the beginning of July. That means my daughter is only going to be a couple months old for this trip, which we have planned for early November. While Alex typically drives on road trips, this one will probably fall to me, so she can be with our daughter in the back of the car.

A matter of money

Here’s some fun facts: Housing is 20 percent cheaper in Boise compared to the rest of the country, and the cost of living is 6 percent below the national average. Still, as millennials on a writer’s and a high school teacher’s salaries, we’re still feeling the effects of moving and buying a house two years later. Money’s tight, regardless of a lower cost of living.  

With about 950 miles separating Boise from San Diego, we’ll have to fill up on gas a few times. The price will only go up the closer we get to our destination. Driving is cheaper than flying, but also offers another bonus: easier access to supplies and toys. We can cram as much as we can fit in the trunk, from toys for our daughter, to a boppy pillow, bottles, and a breast pump.

Once there, my grandma has an extra bedroom, meaning I won’t have to pay for lodging. She wears hearing aids now, and doesn’t wear them to sleep, so the baby shouldn’t wake her.

If I didn’t have an extra bed at my grandma’s house, I’d get a regular hotel over a motel, even with the price difference. The creature comforts with a baby would be worth the extra cash.

With access to my grandma’s kitchen, I can simply get groceries and make dinner for all of us. Or more accurately, my wife, the better chef by far, will make dinner while I entertain our daughter and my grandma.

I don’t want to tire out my 92-year-old grandma all the time, which means I’ll be planning activities outside the house for just my wife and daughter. There’s a few free options for entertainment in San Diego.

My wife, a high school teacher, has been trying to figure out a good way to balance exploration of the world against purposeless wandering, something that Concordia University-Portland’s Charlene Kaplan says is vital for young learners. The beach is free, and offers a chance for our daughter to play in the sand. That means some very new sensory experiences, from the tangy salt water to the coarse sand, to building sand castles -- all uncommon in Idaho.

Staying sane while traveling with an infant

With money saved by staying with family and doing free activities around the city, all that’s left is figuring out how to not drive myself insane. I’m dragging my wife on an extended weekend she could use to grade homework to my grandma’s house some 950 miles away, driving instead of flying, all with a screaming, crying infant. I probably am insane already, but I’d love for my grandma to meet my daughter while she still have a chance to remember her, let alone while she’s still alive.

The first thing I’ll do is keep my morning ritual, to give some sense of normalcy and that I’m definitely in control of my life, and not beholden to the whims of a screaming infant. Shower. Dress. Shave. Brush teeth. In that specific order, without fail. I’m a creature of habit, I’ll freely admit. The problem is contending with said screaming child, so to cut down on time needed each morning, I’m going for the “rugged beard” look, which is apparently great for traveling and only requires a bare minimum of upkeep. Perfect for the situation, in other words.

With my aunt and uncle living about 15 minutes away from my grandma, so they can keep an eye on her, I’ll use their house as a getaway place. Luckily, our daughter should still be in the “sleep 18 hours a day” phase, but you never know when either of us could need to catch a nap or just get away for an hour. This will help in the sanity department, just being able to go there and relax.

My wife and I are quiet people, preferring to read in silence than have constant noise. Aptly named quiet books are ideal for our daughter for traveling, since she won’t be hitting the toy with an annoying saying 50 times in a 10-minute span. The books are, for the most part, handmade from felt, meant specifically for newborns and toddlers to play with. Some, meant for a slightly older child, can incorporate games like checkers, or even teach skills like how to zip up a zipper or how to work a button on clothes.

In the same vein as my morning rituals, we’ll want to keep our daughter on her normal schedule. Feeding and playtime at the same time (accounting for the difference in time zones), even keeping scheduled naptimes the same will help her become accustomed to our venue for a long weekend.

Trying to visit my grandmother, likely for the first and last time for my daughter, so soon after my wife gives birth presents challenges to both my sanity and wallet. But, utilizing family connections (or friends, if you have them) can save on money, as can driving instead of flying, depending on gas prices and how much stuff you intend to take with you. Keeping daily rituals, not straying far from the norm, and making sure your child isn’t too rowdy with toys can all save your sanity. It’ll be my biggest travel challenge yet, but I’m ready.

7/24/2017 9:00:00 PM
Cole Mayer
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A former professional journalist covering crime, court and fire stories, Cole spends his free time freelance writing, playing video games, and slowly writing a crime novel.
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