Road Trip with a 14-Month-Old: Our Holiday Travels With A Toddler

I seem to have a bit of a mid-January tradition going here on this blog: belatedly writing about our holiday travels. Last year, we made the road trip down to Pensacola Florida to visit Joe’s side of the family when Lillian was only two months old (which you can read about here), and this year we made a similar trip for the holidays.

This time around my mom joined us for the trip, and we made the journey in her roomy SUV rather than our little cramped-in-the-backseat hybrid — gas was more expensive, but the added comfort and cargo space was well worth it. And like last year, we split the driving into two days again, stopping for the night in Nashville both ways.

A map showing the route from Chicago, IL to Penascola, FL.

We actually stayed in the exact same hotel both times because Mom forgot her coat in the room on the way down. They found it and held it for us, and luckily the weather was pretty nice in Florida (seventy degrees on Christmas!) and we were able to just pick up the coat a week later on our way back up to the icy north.

So how did traveling with a 14-month-old compare to traveling with a 2-month-old? I was a little concerned going in, since this would be the most time Lillian had spent in a car in a very long time (we hadn’t taken any long road trips with her since the previous Christmas). She’s long since outgrown the “sleep all the time” tendency she had at two months, and even when we’re driving around running errands she tends to only fall asleep at around nap time for an hour or so. Would she be inconsolably bored and fussy and miserable spending so long in the car seat?

Not knowing quite how that would play out, we made sure to bring a lot of toys and books for her to play with on the ride. Here’s a view of the backseat of the SUV loaded up with an overflowing basket of toys, various snacks and baby supplies, and a somewhat confused-looking Lillian:

Baby in Car with Toys

Having a bunch of different things to switch out as the hours went on seemed like a good strategy for keeping her calm and entertained, though in general she seemed to be a much easier traveler than we might’ve feared. Phew!

Another big difference this time around was the feeding frequency. At two months, Lillian was eating every three hours, and we needed to stop to feed her each time, since back then she seemed more likely to spit up an entire bottle if we tried to feed her in the car seat while driving. These days, she eats three meals a day at around the same time we do (with a snack or two thrown in the gaps between) and has no problem eating in a moving vehicle, so we could swing through a fast food place for a quick diaper change, and grab some food, and keep on going with all of us eating in the car.

But even though we could have gotten away with fewer quicker stops, we actually found ourselves wanting to go in and sit down and take our time eating, both for ourselves to rest a bit and to let Lillian move around. She’s getting to the point where she loves just walking around in circles while holding our hands, and was even standing completely on her own at an Arby’s on the way home:

A 14 month old standing in an Arby's restaurant.

She was so enthralled by something behind the counter that she stood without holding onto anything for a good 30 seconds. And then, like one of those cartoon characters that can keep running off a cliff without being affected by gravity until they look down, she noticed what was going on and plopped down into a sitting position.

Splitting the road trip into two days and staying in a motel halfway made things easier on Lillian as well, I think. We would arrive early enough in the evening to allow her some time to explore and play before her usual bedtime, so it wasn’t like she’d spent all of her waking hours in a car seat.

Baby In Hotel Room

I never noticed how many opportunities for mischief there are in a typical motel room. Everything was new and fascinating for Lillian, and we ran ourselves a little ragged trying to keep her from calling the front desk, turning the thermostat up to 90 degrees, pulling all of the tissues out of the dispenser beneath the sink, etc. We’ve probably spoiled ourselves a little with our various efforts at baby-proofing things at home, and it’s good to teach toddlers that some things aren’t for playing with, but it can be tiring.

A baby playing with the controls for a heating / air conditioning unit in a hotel room.

The experience made me wonder why more hotel chains haven’t designed and marketed “toddler rooms,” which would be just like normal hotel rooms except that all phones, wires, thermostat controls, etc. are mounted at least four feet off the floor. And at ground level, there’s all sorts of fascinating but non-functional knobs and compartments to get into, so mom and dad can relax a little after their long day of travel while the little one burns out all its energy exploring the place. Million dollar idea, I tell you.

Anyway, a post about our holiday travels wouldn’t be complete without some mention of what we did when we actually made it down there! For the duration of the trip, we stayed at Joe’s grandmama’s house. In addition to hosting the Christmas celebrations and providing rooms for the four of us Chicagoans to stay, Grandmama introduced us to a really fun TV show called The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency as well as the easiest and most delicious roast beef recipe I’ve ever tasted. I took a ton of photographs, but for this post I’ll include just a few highlights from the trip.

For instance, here’s Lillian opening a present (with my help) on Christmas Day:

Baby Opening Christmas Presents

It’s one of those fun “match the shapes to the holes in the box” toys, which she’s still getting the hang of, but she enjoys just opening the lid and putting the blocks in and taking them out.

Another fun present-related photo: Joe’s dad apparently went on a mission to find Lillian the biggest teddy bear he possibly could, and succeeded with this gigantic fellow that’s almost bigger than she is! Here she is flopping down on it like a giant bear-shaped pillow:

Baby With Giant Teddy Bear

The day after Christmas, we headed over to Panama City Beach with Joe’s family to check out this neat little amusement park called Pier Park Miracle Strip.

Miracle Strip - Pier Park (Sign)

It wasn’t crowded at all due to being the off season and a bit chilly that day, but all the rides were operating. There were no lines for anything (which was awesome), and I’m pretty sure it was the same one or two attendants running from ride to ride to operate them as needed.

Pier Park Miracle Strip

We rode the merry-go-round once with Lillian, but I think she’s a little too young to see the fun in these kinds of amusement park rides. Instead, she spent most of the time doing what’s apparently the most fun thing in the world right now: walking up and down the various paths in the amusement park.

Practicing Walking With Mommy

We took turns holding her hands and walking around, and occasionally sneaking off to go on a ride or two. Joe and I even managed to go on the tilt-a-whirl while Lillian hung out with her Grandpa.

Practicing Walking With Daddy

The light is kind of wacky in the picture above, but that gigantic pillow-looking thing behind Joe is actually a big inflatable jumping jack. It looked like so much fun, and after asking a bunch of questions to the attendant about whether a big fat adult would pop the thing, I eventually decided to go for it. Here’s a picture Joe snapped of me bouncing around on it like a dork:

An Adult On A Jumping Jack

I can’t even say how many years it’s been since I’ve jumped on one of these things. It was like reliving my childhood. Although I seem to recall having a lot more energy back in the day — after about two minutes I was ready to give it a rest!

The next day, we made a little visit to Joe’s uncle’s horse farm, which my mom (who loves horses) was really excited about. Lillian seemed to find it interesting as well — even though we’ve taken her to the regular zoo and the petting zoo at a pumpkin patch, I don’t think she’s ever been in such close proximity to such large animals before. Here’s a photo of Mom, Joe, and Lillian with one of the horses:

At The Horse Farm

Lillian would do this thing where she’d reach out toward the horses, then giggle excitedly and turn away. Here she is in the giggling and turning away phase:

Baby Giggle At Horse Farm

One other highlight of our holiday stay in Pensacola was the family meal we enjoyed at the Fish House, a fancy local seafood restaurant located right on the waterfront. It was neat how the rustic exterior was all decked out in ribbons and garland for the holidays:

Fish House Restaurant Sign

While we waited for our table, Lillian practiced her walking some more in the outdoor area overlooking the water while I hovered around taking pictures.

Walking Outside The Fish House

It didn’t matter where we were — anyplace new with room to toddle around was like the best place ever in Lillian’s eyes. And even in the span of our trip she seemed to get more adventurous, holding on with only one hand instead of two.

Toddler Walking Outside Fish House Restaurant (Pensacola, FL)

Anyway, that’s a glimpse of what we were up to during our holiday travels — probably the longest and most photo-filled post I’ve written yet! And now for a question: Do you think a hotel chain could make a fortune by cornering the “tired parents of toddlers” market? I’d be curious to hear any thoughts on this matter in the comments!


  1. I think having the outlets and controls at adult height is a great idea, for parents of toddlers, but also for those of us who find bending to plug stuff in a bit of a pain as well! I have been in one or 2 who at least had a power strip on the desktop for computers and phone chargers, but not most. I wonder if you could get some sort of royalty for the idea?

    We loved seeing y’all, and love your blog as well. And of course, we love you and Joe and Lillian, too!

    • That’s a good point! I hadn’t even thought about the added convenience for the grown-ups of having the outlets up higher — all the more reason for some hotel chain to jump on the idea, haha. Thanks for reading and commenting here on the blog, and lots of love to everyone down in Florida! :)

  2. It was fun reliving those events! I agree with everything Leanne says about hotel rooms, too!

    I bet Lillian is walking on her own by now. ‘Wait until she discovers she can go where ever she chooses if no one is holding her hands! LOL!

    It was a blessing having you all here!

    • Believe it or not she actually is starting to walk on her own! Just over the past few days, she’s been getting more and more confident about letting go for longer and taking steps without holding on to anything. It’s so exciting to watch — I’ll have to post an update about it! :)

  3. Okay, Sarah, get started on this million dollar idea. I agree with Leanne. You should definitely get royalities for it!! :) I also agree with the outlets being at adult height for the same reason. Bending over stinks! LOL

    I am so glad to see the pic of you enjoying yourself on the pillow thing! You absolutely did not look like a dork. We all have to cut loose sometimes! Also, I have to admit that I’m tickled seeing that picture of Lillian laying on the giant bear and clutching the little telephone! I’m going to have to show it off to my coworkers. Hope you don’t mind! ;)

    It was wonderful seeing you all, and yes, this blog means a great deal to all of us down here. It’s awesome for all of us to watch Lillian grow up. Thank you for this. Love all of you!

    • That’s true about everyone having to cut loose once in a while — and it was so so much fun! I’m glad you enjoyed the photo of Lillian with the giant bear, she’s definitely enjoying how big and comfy that stuffed animal is and it’s so much fun to watch her flop onto it like a pillow. It was wonderful seeing you all over the holidays, and thanks for reading and commenting! :)

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