"A Mask and a Minivan" - Our Pandemic Road Trip (Prologue)
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
For most of this year, my wife, our baby daughter Eowyn, and I were on a cross country road trip while I worked remote. While we knew that such a trip... with a baby... during a pandemic... would be challenging, it was even harder and more rewarding than any of us could have imagined. Originally, I was going to create a second blog for documenting the trip in the moment, entitled "A Mask and a Minivan," however, it turned out that taking on a new writing project was more than I could handle.
In any event, I've decided to write about our amazing, crazy ordeal here. To start, I figure I'd publish those first few unpublished posts here to get everyone up to speed (hence the tense of the writing), and then will plan to tell the story of the rest of our trip in a number of subsequent posts. Thanks for reading!
"An Introduction" (November 29, 2020)
My wife Supriya and I had our first child (a girl!), Eowyn, this past August in Brooklyn, NY in our apartment (with expert help, of course) against the backdrop of the pandemic. Even before Covid, we’d talked a lot about leaving NYC, but the pandemic, the baby, and the fact that I’m working remotely indefinitely finally pushed us over the edge.
When our lease is up at the end of January, we’re packing up, putting our things into storage, and hitting the open road in the old Honda Odyssey we’ve borrowed from my wife’s parents. We’ll stop in a number of locations as we make our way west, driving and exploring on weekends, with me working remotely during the week.
The rough plan is to spend 2.5 months making our way west to finally get to the Bay Area where I grew up so my dad can meet his first grandkid. From there, we have some rough plans, but we’re keeping our options open.
The purpose of this blog is to create a forcing mechanism for me to write and document the trip for Eowyn’s sake, but if along the way others can find this entertaining, informative, or inspiring, all the better!
"Our Plan" (December 1, 2020)
As of today, it’s just about two months exactly before we leave our apartment in Brooklyn and start our trip.
Given how much is potentially in flux with the pandemic, our baby daughter, and work, we’re taking a relatively flexible approach to the trip, but as of today, here’s our rough outline of a plan.
First two weeks of February: Stay with in-laws outside of Philly
Feb. 13: Drive down to Asheville (about 9 hours)
Feb. 13 – March 13: Stay in Asheville Airbnb
March 13: Day 1 drive to Lawrence, KS (not sure where we’ll stop)
March 14: Day 2 drive to Lawrence, KS
March 14 – April 3: Stay in Lawrence, KS
April 3 – April 17: Some combination of Denver and Moab, UT
April 17: Day 1 drive to Santa Clara, CA (not sure of route but maybe go through Great Basin National Park?)
April 18: Day 2 drive to Santa Clara, CA
April 18 – May 9: Stay in Santa Clara, CA (with dad) and maybe take a weekend excursion to Pinnacles National Park
May 9: Day 1 drive to Bozeman, MT (not sure of the route)
May 10: Day 2 drive to Bozeman, MT
May 10 – June 11: Stay in Bozeman with weekend trips to Missoula and Grand Teton
June 11 – June 13: Marathon drive across Montana and Dakotas to De Pere, WI (to visit mom)
June 13 – June 26: Stay in De Pere (with mom)
June 26: Day 1 to Portland, ME or Boston (stop in Pittsburg)
June 27: Day 2 to Portland, ME or Boston
June 27 – July 11: Portland, ME or Boston
After July 11: ???
Overall, the first couple months are pretty locked in and we know we want to get out to California. Things get a big (or a lot more tentative) for the return trip based on a lot of different factors, how we’re feeling, how Eowyn’s doing, my work situation, etcetera, though my wife would love for us to be back by her parents place outside Philly for Eowyn’s first birthday.
Have great recommendations for any of the route? Or should we change the route altogether? Drop a note in the comments.
"Are We Crazy" (December 26, 2020)
Thus far when we’ve told people about our plans we’ve received two types of responses:
Positive: Oh wow, that’s so amazing! What an adventure! There’s no better time to do something like this than when the baby is small, etc. ,etc.
Less Positive: It’s going to be hard traveling around with a baby… You know there’s a pandemic, right? Why? Are you sure now is the best time to be driving around the country?
Even though we’re super excited about our upcoming trip, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the thought crossed my mind:
Are we crazy?
Let’s start even by ignoring the whole pandemic thing… Taking care of a newborn/ infant has been a lot harder than I expected and traveling with one adds a whole new layer of complexity. For starters, babies just require a lot of stuff. In addition to all the expected items like clothes and toiletries, babies also require diapers, wipes, toys, a changing pad, a crib of some sort, an activity mat, etc., etc. Add to that the fact that babies want to eat when they want to eat, will go to the bathroom whenever they have the urge, and are prone to bouts of crankiness triggered by boredom or tiredness or whim, and you have the recipe for a really hard trip. And that’s under normal circumstances.
The circumstances we’re in are anything but normal. As everyone is well aware, a once-in-a-century (one-in-several-centuries?) pandemic is raging across the country. Traveling undoubtedly will expose us to additional risk. Also, the pandemic has so changed life that a lot of what makes traveling special–going to restaurants, meeting with people, seeing new things–will in some ways be curbed or eliminated by the desire to maintain social distancing.
So then, why are we planning this trip? Here are, roughly, my reasons:
Because we can. While the circumstances around the pandemic make traveling conditions less than optimal, it’s also important to recognize that it’s only because of the pandemic that the stars have aligned to allow for this kind of extended road trip. My work has gone fully remote and due to the pandemic, we decided to take any possibility for external childcare off the table. As such, my wife is giving up her acupuncture practice and staying with my daughter. For the first time in a long time, nothing is keeping us to one geographical location.
Because we’re really careful. It was months into the pandemic before we even got takeout from a restaurant and we haven’t eaten (even outdoors) at a restaurant since March. We don’t socialize with anyone indoors and only very close family has been allowed inside our apartment–and that only because we had a newborn daughter. We are maniacal about hand washing and masks and washing clothes. Also, we plan to not stay at hotels and to mostly do extended stays for several weeks in each location. To that end, outside of my in-law’s place, we will only be in two different locations through the first week in April (and hopefully some of the COVID cases will have cooled down by then). All this is not to ignore the risk of travel, but it is to suggest that perhaps we can mitigate some of the added risk of traveling around through our behavior?
Because I want my dad to meet my baby daughter. My dad lives in California and turned eighty last year. My daughter is his first grandchild and we really want him to meet her. For now, my dad remains in relatively good health, but we don’t want to wait too long before they get to meet each other and I think we’re all a little apprehensive with hopping on a plane prior to being vaccinated.
Because bad things can happen anywhere. Again, not to ignore the fact that traveling does offer increased risk, but many of the dangers associated with our trip outside of COVID (auto accidents, etc.) could happen even if we were to stay in Brooklyn.
Because we want to leave NYC anyway. In 2013, after my first seven-year stint in NYC, we moved to the Midwest so I could pursue a writing program in Kansas. When I moved back to Brooklyn in 2016, it wasn’t because I missed the hustle and bustle of the city, but was almost entirely for a specific job opportunity. Now that work isn’t holding us in the city–and if anything, we’re even more over “the romance of the city”–we’ve been talking for a while about how to escape off to somewhere more livable. The present circumstances, however tragic they are on a macro level, seem like the right opportunity for us to get out. And in the slim chance we decide we actually want to return, we can always do so.
Because I want to optimize against future regret. This is probably the biggest one. When thinking about any big decision, I try to image my future self and ask, which decision am I more likely to regret? True, a trip could lead to something catastrophic, but such outcomes seem relatively unlikely. In all probability the downside case of going on a cross-country road trip right now is that, given the circumstances of COVID and having a baby, that the trip will simply be exhausting and not as much fun as we hope. That said, even if that ends up being the case, I doubt that I will have a lot of regret around taking the trip. If, on the other hand, we decided not to go on this once-in-a-lifetime trip when we had the opportunity, I can easily see us, years from now, wishing we’d had the courage to go ahead with it.
So there you have it. Maybe we’re under-calculating the risk of travel and maybe we’re not, but that’s our logic and we’re sticking to it.
Those above three were the only posts I wrote prior to the trip. From here on out, I'll be talking about the trip in the past tense and plan to roughly post city by city. Up next: Asheville North Carolina.