Transitioning a Toddler to Full-Time Travel

A Rocky Beginning

Visiting family and making connections is very important to us and to our daughter. Between my husband and I, we have family spread out to at least 18 different states and a few other countries. We love visiting and reconnecting with them. But, our number one biggest mistake when deciding to become full time travelers was treating our first two months like a vacation.

The funny thing is, we were warned about this! During my research, I repeatedly came across warnings stating that, at the start of full time travel, it’s difficult to get out of vacation mode and into “work” mode. Thanks Heath! When it came to working, I had no problem buckling down and keeping up my hours (ok, that’s not entirely true around the Christmas holiday—but still!).

What I didn’t think about was that a small child doesn’t make physical transitions as easily as we adults do. We take for granted the ability to fully understand the difference between “visiting” a family and our actual “home.” With this article, I hope to help anyone out there who is considering transitioning their family to full-time travel and has a young child.

January, 2018

We were so excited to suddenly be FREE of our physical location! We shared our news with family and friends everywhere, warning them that we would be in their area and to make space in their driveway! What we didn’t consider was that the timing of when we were leaving (the middle of winter in Northeast Ohio) and the multiple locations we were visiting would mean many new environments for our toddler.

Our official move-out date was December 1st. Since we had full-time renters, it was a hard date. We wanted to stay in the area for Christmas, and hopefully see a little snow, so we moved into my in-laws home for a few weeks. Next stop, Philadelphia to visit a cousin I hadn’t seen in 15 years! Then on to South Carolina to visit my brother and let our children play together—a rarity since he’s in the Infantry. Finally landing in Orlando, where the plan was to do a week of work travel and a week of real, actual vacation.

We had the RV all nice and tucked in for winter; thinking we’d be able to de-winterize the minute we left Ohio. Boy were we wrong. Mid-December began one of the coldest winters in history—still going as I write this—for the entire country. Florida even closed school down for two days because of an uncharacteristic freeze! So, in each location we visited, we weren’t able to use our RV and had to move in with family.

This meant no less than a whopping FOUR transitions for our almost two-year old. And now, for the part of our travel that’s supposed to be actual vacation in Orlando: we’re moving into a resort hotel for a week, then transitioning back to the RV. This will bump that number up to six environmental transitions.

My poor daughter. My poor worrying mind that’s now up at 1am writing this article. The effect on her has been tangible in her body, her sleep patterns, and her emotions. For the last few weeks, we’ve had a completely uncharacteristically grumpy, angry toddler on our hands. I’d like to blame it on the “terrible two’s” that are supposedly around the corner; but as we settled into our real home this week her happy, observant self has re-emerged, along with her increasingly good sleep.

For the entire month of December, she was a horrible sleeper. Ok, let’s not fool ourselves, my daughter was always a horrible sleeper. But we at least had worked up to 4-5 hour stretches before full-time transition. But during the first 5 weeks she returned to her “up-every-hour” routine. As a result, both her and I have been repeatedly sick. She had everything from a runny nose, to an all-out stomach virus, to croup, and topped it off with hand, foot and mouth disease. /sigh

On a side note, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) is AMAZING!!! Their Rube Goldberg Sculpture was a big hit with Daecklyn.

This week, finally in our RV, finally with running water and just now beginning to get things “moved in” and organized, I have seen my daughter’s normal state beginning to return. Yet, I am up at these wee hours because I’m uprooting her once again, next week, for our true Disney World vacation. It clicked in my head what a colossal mistake it’s all been.

If I could rent a DeLorean (they all time-travel, right?) and return to my past self, I would revisit last June, a good 6 months before our leave date, and tell that stubborn woman THIS:

  • Have the RV fully ready to be moved into (maintenance, repairs, etc.) at least three months before actual travel. During this time, let your child play in the RV as much as possible.
  • While moving into the RV, have your child help you put things away at their level. Consider their space (see blog post #2) and make sure they have access to every part of your new home.
  • At least one month before leaving, start taking naps in their new sleep environment.
  • At least one week before leaving, start sleeping overnight in the RV. (I know these past two points may seem a bit odd, but I really think my daughter would have transitioned easier if she had grown accustomed to waking up in the RV slowly and much earlier.)
  • While traveling, try to stop in places where you can fully open the RV, rather than staying at rest stops and parking lots. Make sure to check each locations’ amenities for hiking trails or playgrounds so you can get lots of exercise.
  • Try not to travel more than 5-6 hours in a day (we limit it to 300 miles). Consider their nap and eating schedule when choosing what hours to travel.
  • While you are packing, be sure to consider these short one-night stops and make sure you have a 5-minute setup configuration in addition to your full set-up. For example:
    • We have a small basket of materials and one shelf for inside the RV that travels with us and can be set-up in 60 seconds.
    • Our daughter’s small desk, staircase, and permanent sleeping area is inside and also takes a simple move.
    • Our kitchen, including her cooking items, are already in place and don’t need to be unpacked so we are always eating healthy foods.
    • Her personal care items are at her level (underwear, pull-ups, wipes, toothbrush, hair brush, mirror, etc.) and travel in the same location as when we are parked.
  • As much as possible… STAY IN THE RV. When visiting family, explain that you love them, and their guest room is fabulous, but you like your home! And besides… this way you won’t overstay your welcome by showing up in the kitchen early mornings with bed head and stinky breath.
  • Fall back on “This is what’s best for our child” if the previous excuse doesn’t hold up… because, this IS what’s best for your child.
Ducky On Bed
  • As much as possible, maintain the same routine you did at home. Up at the same time and morning routine, identical nap times, same bedtime routine and bedtimes even though you’re visiting family (where it’s ALL to easy to be up all night talking and reconnecting).
  • Don’t plan an actual vacation the first month of travel…/sigh. Even though you’re in love with Disney World and it sounds like a fantastic way to kick off your full-time life. It’s not.

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