I watched as some of my own sage travel advice for road trips, such as “Making good time doesn’t always make for a good time,” flew out the window in the face of this family emergency. And after the first few rounds of, “OUT DIS CAH SEAT!!!” from our traveling toddler, we turned to what we thought would be our saving grace for this time-crunched trip–the shows we’d already loaded on the laptop for previous travels. It was then that we discovered half of our laptop power cord was M.I.A., and the battery was of course dead. As we proceeded north, we began to think of a few other things we’d forgotten, most especially that there are places where it could still be only 35 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of the day.
Still, we could manage just fine with what we’d packed. What was more difficult was masking our grief over the loss of a parent during the long drive, and figuring out how or exactly when we’d explain to our eldest daughter that we wouldn’t be able to see their beloved Grandpa when we finally reached his home. Other than the occasional spider in the house, or ill-fated house plant, her understanding of death so far has been blessedly limited. And so, finally, at a fast food restaurant in southern Oregon, Tim took her aside to have the talk, leaning heavily on the concept that death is a natural thing that happens to people who have lived long lives and eventually get old. She nodded her head to say she understood, and remarkably didn’t shed a tear. But a moment later she asked, “What’s ‘died’ mean?”
He had to think of another explanation, one more obvious to a preschooler. “It’s when an old person’s body stops working,” he offered. This seemed to suffice. But after we reached Grandma’s house, she started exhibiting some peculiar behavior, particularly in the bathrooms. Tim reopened the topic of Poppa’s death, only to discover there had been a gross misunderstanding. What Angelina thought he’d said was: “It’s when an old person’s potty stops working.” I think we could both hear Poppa’s laughter echoing in our hearts.
When faced with a family emergency, it can be hard enough to get out the door in a timely manner and deal with the business at hand, but once you have a baby or small children to consider, it is extremely helpful to be as prepared as possible should an unexpected trip arise. Some “good travel habits” and gear definitely helped us to get on the road quickly and travel more comfortably, such as our children’s travel kit, car seat travel trays, and a ready supply of shelf-stable boxed milk on hand, but there are ways we could have been better prepared (Note to self: keep back-up garden training wire in the diaper bag!). So to other families spread across the miles, I offer these tips to consider now in case an “unexpected trip” should arise down the road.
Help your family be prepared for “unexpected travel”:
1. Keep your child’s travel kit intact at home, particularly the carry-on version if an emergency may mean air travel (Travels with Baby page 204). It’s organized and handy any time you need to access these items at home, and you won’t have to go digging or second guess what you might need as you try to get out the door.
2. Stock up on the “Every parent should have in the car…” items ( Travels with Baby, pages 165 – 166) and make sure they are in your car at all times.
3. Store essential travel documents where they would be accessible in unexpected hours, especially if you would need to fly to reach extended family in case of emergency. Passports and birth certificates stored in the safe deposit box may prove a major inconvenience and cause delays in some cases.
4. Tuck an “ICE” (In Case of Emergency) contact sheet in your wallet, with cell phone and home phone numbers of friends and family close to your home in case you leave suddenly, as well as extended family and friends you may not call frequently but would likely need to reach in the places where a family emergency may find you.
5. Discuss in advance how you might respond to a family emergency that calls you away from home. Would you drive? Would you need to fly? Where might you stay? Would you travel all together, send one parent alone, or send one parent ahead and meet up at a later time? As well, consider how you might finance the unanticipated expense.
6. Remember that a baby gear rental agency may be available to provide helpful items you’ve left behind–the stroller, a crib, Excersaucer, babyproofing items, toys, etc.–and you can check the online directory at TravelswithBaby.com for an agency near your destination.
With the luxury of time, there is much we can do to prepare for pleasant journeys with our children, but in the face of unexpected travel, I hope these tips will help to smooth your family’s way.
In loving memory of our “Poppa,” 1933 – 2008