Thanksgiving in Texas and 10 New Counties Along The Way

Every time we travel as a family, we get a new set of challenges and learn a ton along the way. Austin has gotten to the point where he likes to run around and explore everything. He also has his opinions. He doesn't hesitate to let us know his opinions, too. This trip has probably been the most challenging so far.

Many people think we're a bit crazy for taking these kinds of trips. They often view taking a young child on a cross-country trip as an impossible task. While it is definitely challenging, it isn't impossible. It's actually pretty manageable with the right preparation and mindset.

For us, we value being able to see family and friends. Being able to do that overcomes any obstacles and frustrations we have along the way. I also like to get perspective from traveling. When you travel as a family, you definitely get perspective on things. Things can be done much differently in different parts of the country.

On our first trip with Austin, our main thing was ensuring we had good stopping points. Austin was still bottle-fed. This made it easy to have everything in order and stop at regular intervals. On our second trip, Austin could eat the same food we did. That allowed us to be more flexible with our stops. On the other end, he was now mobile, so we had to keep a greater eye on him. He did seem content with a small play area as long as he had toys.

On this trip, Austin is fully mobile. He can run and is getting faster by the day. He is no longer content in a small play space. He wants to explore the whole room if we let him. We have to really keep an eye on things to make sure he stays out of trouble. Overall, he isn't very picky with food. He is also more flexible with his schedule.

We can explore a little more because of this. We do have to keep it within reason because he can get grumpy fast and loudly share his discontent. That loudness in a confined space can wear you out a bit.

With the greater flexibility, we decided we'd take a different route. We had initially planned to go to Austin, TX, and visit friends before heading to Bryan. Nobody was available, so we had some extra time. We planned to go through Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. This is instead of our usual route on I35.

Before the trip, I took the 6-hour round trip to Marshfield so my parents could watch Maya while we were gone.

When we arrived, Maya jumped on the bed and hung out with Jordy.

When I got home, I made a Pep's Taco Pizza.

The following day, we loaded up the car.

We stopped at Kwik Trip for gas. I saw a Tesla parked at the pump, so I wondered what they were stopping for.

After a few uses, the strap broke on the 20L MOLLE backpack I bought. I guess they all can't be winners.

I tied it together to make it work in the meantime. I'll have to see if I can more permanently repair it.

We drove past the Belleville High School. It appears it was bring your tractor to school day.

We then hit the highway. We had a way to go, and Victoria was driving.

We took a back way into Illinois. The only way we knew we were in Illinois was that the road had slightly changed.

Before you knew it, we were on the interstate.

We stopped at a rest stop along the way. They had a nice playground, so we let Austin play to expel some energy.

When we hit the road again, there was a sign about not crowding the snowplows. This would be a pre-cursor for later in our trip.

Our lunch stop would be in LaSalle, Illinois.

We looked at a few places but settled for Mickey's Massive Burritos. I'm glad we ended up there since they lived up to their name, and the food was delicious!

We hit the road and went over the Illinois River. I've bowfished on this river several times and passed under this bridge in a boat.

After the river, we got to the area of Illinois that is flat, nothing.

Austin was getting fussy on and off, so I rode in the back with him.

We drove until it was snack time. We stopped at another Illinois rest stop.

I always love passing by Country Classic Cars. Since Austin could be distracting, I made sure to watch for it on the map.

It is always cool to see what they have outside. I need to stop again one of these days!

We were soon in Belleville, Illinois. We had literally driven from Belleville (WI) to Belleville (IL)!

I saw a massive cathedral.

Since I hadn't visited the St. Clair County Courthouse, we stopped there. It was nice being able to claim another county.

We then went to the Hampton Inn in O'Fallon.

The room was nice and big. This would definitely be good for Little Dude to run around in.

He has also learned how to open doors with the lever handle. We made sure the door was secured so he couldn't wander out.

I saw that they were taking a more zero-waste approach to the toiletries.

Overall, we're finding Hamptons to be a bit more toddler-friendly. Besides pushing the microwave buttons, there wasn't much he could get into. We were able to fix that by putting his pack 'n play in front of it.

For supper, we decided to get some St. Louis-style BBQ. This place was right next to our hotel, so it made it easy to get there.

They had an interesting assortment of sodas and sauces.

I got some ribs and cheesy hashbrowns. They definitely hit the spot.

We can came back to the hotel. I noticed there were some people who traveled further than us. I always find it interesting to see Canadian plates.

We watched some cartoons before getting ready for bed.

The nice thing is that with the extra room, it was easy to locate the pack 'n play a little way from our beds.

We also figured we could sleep in a bit. I usually get up at 6:30, but I was able to set my alarm for 7:00.

The next morning, Austin had a great time looking out the window. He liked seeing the water, or “Lala” to him. He also enjoyed seeing the various animals and people walking.

The breakfast area was packed, so we found a nook off to the side.

There was a nice variety, and the breakfast was delicious.

After breakfast, we hit the road and made our way into St. Louis.

Victoria found a parking garage and reserved a spot before this. This would make it easy to walk to The Arch.

On the way, we passed by an old courthouse. The City of St. Louis operates as an independent city, effectively like a county. I was able to claim another county!

We then went to The Arch and walked the path around it.

I could see the courthouse from a ways away.

It was also cool looking across the river into Illinois.

We then made it back to the parking garage. In the elevator, there was info on their parking app. Overall, they had a pretty efficient system.

We were soon on the road. This area was very scenic!

We stopped at a Taco Bell in Perryville. You can tell they modernized.

After eating, we headed downtown to visit the Perry County Courthouse.

Next up was Cape Girardeau County.

You could see the courthouse from a ways away when you came into Jackson.

There was a cool mural across the street from the courthouse.

I also found out the courthouse above was the historic courthouse. They had a more modern-looking building right next to it.

I rode more in the back seat on the way to Scott County.

Before you know it, we were soon in Arkansas.

It was raining on and off as I entertained Austin in the back seat.

We drove into the night and stopped at Waldo's Chicken and Beer for supper.

I got the rotisserie chicken with mac and cheese and a cucumber and tomato salad. Both the food and service were amazing. I wish we had something like this in the Madison area.

We then made it to the hotel. We decided to stay at a Tru hotel.

You could tell this hotel was aimed towards Millennials. It had a more minimalistic approach. From a toddler perspective, this meant fewer things for him to get into, which is definitely a plus.

They also did the more eco-friendly soap and shampoo bottles.

They had recycling. Honestly, I didn't like this bin as much as having two separate bins. I will give them credit for recycling, though. You don't see that at a lot of hotels.

The desk could also be rolled around. I can see where this would be convenient to work out of the room.

The main problem with the room is it was small. It would be fine if it were just Victoria and I. She absolutely loved the concept and how they did things. For having a toddler, it was a little cramped.

We got a good night's sleep, and the morning consisted of more staring out the window.

The breakfast area was a bit of a challenge. They had a bunch of unique places to sit, but regular tables were limited. It was very busy so the area with the tables was mainly taken. I was able to find a place that worked.

I will say they did have the best selection I've seen for breakfast at a hotel. They had just about everything!

We checked out of the hotel and then got some Starbucks to fuel our drive.

We first stopped at the Pulaski County Courthouse. This was a very quick in-and-out experience to get a picture. There was a mentally unstable individual walking around the courthouse. He crossed the road in front of us and then walked to the courthouse building. He threw something at the courthouse and yelled some obscenities at it. We made sure to drive to the other side of the courthouse to stay away from him.

He was walking in my general direction, so I quickly got the pictures. Victoria was actually waiting in the car and had it in drive, so I could easily hop in, and we could go. The guy never made any threatening motions towards us, but we wouldn't take our chances.

We then swung by the Arkansas State Capitol Building.

Austin loves animals, so we went to the Little Rock Zoo.

The goats were super friendly.

They also had some cool displays for Christmas.

Austin was in a good mood, so we figured we could hit some more counties. We hit the road and made it to Saline County.

While I took pictures, Victoria was in the car getting the next courthouse address into the GPS.

I notice that older interstates have such tight curves with their exits. In my opinion, they are poorly designed. Any time it gets a little slippery, they are extremely dangerous.

Before going to the next courthouse, we stopped at Wendy's. I got something a little lighter.

We were soon downtown and at the Hot Spring County Courthouse.

We started driving again and then stopped at a gas station. It's always interesting seeing signs like this. In Wisconsin, you can even buy liquor at gas stations seven days a week. In Arkansas, it appears you can't even get beer on Sundays.

Austin was getting especially fussy and starting to take his shoes off along the drive.

We decided Clark County would be our last county for a while.

We were then headed for Louisiana. It appeared that a good snack stop was few and far between.

As I was planning our next stop, we hit the Louisiana border.

The place we stopped at was decent. It had super fast WIFI we could use as Austin ate his snack. For a place in the middle of nowhere, that was pretty top-notch!

After Austin ate, we hit the road and drove past Louisiana Oil Country.

Austin was in a better mood, so we stopped at the Caddo Parish Courthouse once we got to Shreveport.

We then made it to the La Quinta. This hotel was a bit older, so there was definitely more for Austin to get into.

It may have been an older hotel, but they adopted less wasteful practices.

For supper, we went to Sam's Southern Eatery. I got a shrimp po'boy.

Their portions were super large. You definitely got value for your money. This was Austin's kid's meal.

And Victoria's meal.

We ended up with a lot of leftover food. We didn't have a good place to keep it good on our drive to Texas. We felt a bit guilty about throwing it out. It was so good, and I definitely would have had it for leftovers if I could. This was also a sign that I needed to pace myself eating. I was feeling a bit bloated and stuffed.

We saw a very Cajun gas station on the way back to the hotel.

For breakfast, I made sure to watch my portions.

After breakfast, we streamed our church. For a while, Austin was also interested in becoming a disciple. After a bit, we had to wrangle him.

We then hit the road and saw we were getting close to Texas with the Buc-ee's signs.

It wasn't long before we were in Texas.

For lunch, we stopped at Newk's. I got another shrimp po' boy but kept the sides lighter.

After lunch, I rode in the back with Austin. He was a trooper with being in the car so much, but it was clearly a lot for him.

I noticed another Sam's Southern Eatery along the way.

I also saw the Nacogdoches County Courthouse as we drove by. I already visited it, so there was no reason to stop.

With a little driving, we were in the middle of nowhere with no service.

Soon, we were driving past the Houston County Courthouse. The beauty of taking state roads is you'll often go right by the courthouses.

Talking about Buc-ee's, it looks like the one in Madisonville was a zoo. We drove right past it, along with the courthouse.

We soon made it to our hotel in College Station.

They had a more minimalistic luggage cart. I actually hate these. Compared to the normal ones, this holds half the stuff, and you must take more trips.

Our room was nice.

It looks like my rewards were upgraded again to the point where I got the free welcome bag.

This hotel was a little more old-fashioned with its toiletries.

We went to Victoria's grandparent's house and got takeout from Lupe Tortilla for supper. I kept on the shrimp bandwagon and got shrimp tacos. This hit the spot and was a bit lighter.

When we returned to the hotel, I tried researching places with changing tables in the men's restrooms. This came from my frustration on the way down. I wanted to be more prepared for the trip back up.

This seems to be one sticking point of traveling. It's interesting some of the correlations I have found while traveling. The garbage overflowing by the gas pumps is one thing. That usually means the bathroom is just as neglected and is gross. Also, if the bathroom is out of soap to wash your hands, don't buy any prepared food there.

Another correlation I have found is between certain billboards. These usually say, “Love the babies” or “Reform your life or face eternal struggles." The more of them, it seems, the less friendly that area is to your current struggles with your children.

It seems these places want to virtue signal their supposed morals yet won't back them up. Many places don't even have changing stations. If they do, they're typically only in the women's bathroom. Maybe I'm just not old-fashioned in terms of caring for my child, but I also change diapers. I don't know how many times we found ourselves changing Austin in the car because of this. This is probably the most frustrating part of traveling with a young child.

After finishing my research, I decided to go to bed. The next morning, it was a bit cloudy.

We had an interesting organizational method for our stuff to also keep Austin out of it.

Breakfast consisted of more eggs and sausage.

I also had to do some dishes when we got back to our room.

The weather looked a little gloomy.

It made it a good time to watch cartoons.

For lunch, we headed to Layne's.

Victoria and I just ordered food for ourselves and then gave Austin some of it. That is definitely a good way to take advantage of the large portions and also save some money.

On the way back to the room, I stopped by the maids and picked up some essentials. Since we spent a lot of time in the room, we put the do not disturb sign on the door.

Soon, it was nap time for Austin. Chasing Austin around the whole time got to be exhausting. I decided that every time Austin slept, I would sleep, too. We had the lights off in the room, so sitting there in the dark wasn't too appealing. I'd just be scrolling on my phone to pass the time if I didn't sleep. I was probably averaging 12-14 hours of sleep for the next few days.

For dinner, we visited Victoria's grandparents. We got takeout from Wings 'N More. I got the steak fingers.

We then went to the hotel and went to bed. The following day was still a bit overcast.

Breakfast was the same as the day before.

The weather was a bit nicer. We went to the park and let Austin release some of his energy.

It was cool that they had a lightning alert system.

Austin loved this little maze thing. He ran through it so many times.

For lunch, we went to Fuego. We got chips and queso, and I made sure only to get one taco. I typically get two tacos, but I knew that I would start feeling bloated again.

I also appreciated that they had whole milk for Austin.

Another stop we went to a few times was Walgreens. When traveling with a toddler, this place is a lifesaver.

Another lifesaver is Amazon. Trying to wash Austin's cups while he was running around seemed to be a bit much. We ordered some disposable cups and had them shipped to Victoria's grandparents. Maya also had chewed through her leash so we were able to send another leash to my parents' house.

For supper, we had C&J BBQ. I rode with Victoria's uncle to pick it up. If I lived in the area, those party packs would look enticing. Feeding 30 people can also mean feeding one for 30 days. That could be a good way to avoid cooking.

I ended up getting some brisket and sausage. That's my go-to when I get BBQ in Texas.

One thing I was keeping an eye on was a possible storm in Kansas. We had planned to take I35 up since we would do it in 2 days and knew good stopping points. We'd be staying overnight in Emporia, which appeared would have some snow. We'd be leaving just before it would hit.

The next morning, there were cool colors in the sky.

One thing I've found about La Quinta's is their breakfasts are usually pretty consistent.

With that being said, they can get repetitious and old. The eggs can sometimes also be watery.

I decided to eat even lighter and just get sausage.

For lunch, we met up with Victoria's brother and some friends. We went to Chuy's.

Their dips were awesome!

I got shrimp tacos.

Our friends also had kids, so we made a play date at the park.

Later, we headed to Victoria's grandparents. You could see people were getting ready for the holiday weekend.

For dinner, we got Carter's Burgers. I opted for their catfish. It was really good.

I made sure to recheck the weather.

For Thanksgiving, we got up a little earlier.

We kept the do not disturb sign as we had breakfast.

We then started watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Victoria's aunt Kathy cooked for us. We had tamales and chili.

Her food is always phenomenal. So phenomenal that she has her own catering business:

After eating, it was nice to see the Packers win.

After visiting, we went to the hotel. I rechecked the weather for the next day's drive. There were a lot of warnings out.

We got up early again. Austin wanted to keep sleeping.

The snow still looked to have the same timing, so we still should be good.

In Texas, it was nice outside.

The weather might have been nice outside, but the news brought us back to reality.

We skipped the hotel breakfast, and I got some food from the snack bag.

We checked out and headed to HEB to get some essentials.

They also had cheaper gas than other stations, so we filled up.

We had a decent amount of driving to do.

Some of that driving took us past the Brazos County Courthouse.

On I35, there was an obnoxious amount of Buc-ee's signs.

It also looks like a new one was going up.

Luckily, we were heading north. Southbound looked pretty backed up.

We still took the express lane. The speed limits are higher, and you can make better time.

I saw many (most likely Amazon) warehouses along the way.

Our gas stop in North Texas had the cheapest gas I've seen on our trip.

Right next to the gas station was a Chicken Express.

We miss this place, so getting some chicken and some of their seasoning was great.

We then hit the road. I got a glimpse of the Cooke County Courthouse.

Soon, we were in Oklahoma.

They definitely wanted to let you know there was no tolerance for the speed limits. With that being said, people didn't drive like there was no tolerance. Some were definitely Speed Racers.

OnCue is one of our favorite stops along the way. We stopped there for snack time.

I sat in the back with Austin as we drove into Kansas.

Of course, we ran into a traffic jam.

It also looked like there would be more snow in Emporia.

When we got to Emporia, we stopped at Spangles before heading to the hotel. It was a cool, old-fashioned restaurant.

I got a grilled chicken pita.

Victoria got chicken fingers.

There was plenty enough food so we each gave Austin some.

We then made it to the La Quinta.

This hotel was probably the oldest we went to. Last time, they put us in an accessible room, and it provided a ton of room. This time, the room was pretty compact, and there was a lot of stuff Austin could get into. We had to keep a very watchful eye on him.

We wonder if it's worth looking into accessible rooms in the future. It seems like they're better suited for toddlers. Sadly, we're on the fence since we don't want to end up taking a room away from someone who truly needs it.

While the hotel is older, the internet is pretty amazing.

The next morning, it appeared we'd still be ahead of the storm.

The last time we stayed, they had breakfast burritos. They didn't have it this time, so I got eggs and sausage.

We then checked out and stopped for gas.

Due to the colder temperatures, the air pressure light came on. I filled up the tires.

We hit the road, and Google warned us about the winter weather.

We were still pretty ahead of it.

It also appears that they were pretreating the roads.

Before you know it, we were in Kansas City.

For lunch, we stopped at Taco Bell in Bethany, Missouri.

We ate and then hit the road. We were soon in Iowa.

I sat in the back seat and realized how much the toys could pile up.

Our snack stop was at a Kum & Go. They are a pretty good chain overall. I really appreciated the family bathroom there.

After the snack stop, it was more riding in the back and monitoring the weather.

Our next stop was the Wisconsin Welcome Center. Victoria ordered a pizza from JonnyO's so we could pick it up on our way home.

We made it right at the pickup time we designated.

I was planning on leaving the next day to get Maya, but a snowstorm was predicted for our area. I skipped on pizza and had some meat and cheese for supper as I hit the road early for Marshfield.

I was happy I left early. The following day, the roads were nasty when I went to church.

My car also showed its cold bloodness. Even after driving about 10 miles into town, it hadn't fully warmed up. A 3-cylinder 1.0L is excellent for gas mileage but doesn't generate too much heat.

I parked and went inside.

After Mass, I headed to Kwik Trip. I decided to check out the new one.

I looked at the road gunk on my car and then got breakfast.

I visited with both of my grandmas. It looked like the storm was mainly past us.

I visited with my parents a bit, and then Maya and I hit the road.

The county roads were still bad.

I stopped to get something to eat along with the venison jerky my dad gave me.

Luckily, the main roads were clear.

While driving, I was able to listen to the sermon from the church Victoria and I attend.

I usually take US-12, but I didn't want to risk it. I took I90/94 back to Madison. Around Deforest, I saw a Buc-ee's sign. This is the furthest from a Buc-ees I've seen a sign. That being said, I think they're looking to monopolize the signs since they are building one in the area.

After a little more driving, I was soon back home!

There was a little snow for me to clean up.

Victoria said seeing all the counties I traveled through in November would be interesting. I had taken this trip and also the trip to Thunder Bay. It looks like I covered a lot of ground!


Overall, the trip went well. I know we were all happy to be off the road. Austin seemed excited that he had way more room in our house to roam. I know we were excited that we could let him roam since everything is babyproofed. It's also just nice being in your own home where everything is in order.

Every trip we have, Austin seems to have a nice development leap. That's where there's a lot of value in travel. This time, he was starting to put phrases together. He got excited seeing semis. He'd proclaim, “Big truck!” It's awesome seeing him develop in this way.

One thing I noticed was that my right elbow kept getting sore on the trip. At first, I was trying to figure it out. I then realized I was sitting on the driver's side of the car, and Austin was on the passenger side. He was constantly throwing things. I'd be grabbing them and giving them back with my right hand. I guess I was getting a workout doing this, especially when I'd have to reach behind things.

I will say the tantrums in a close environment got to be exhausting. These are normal for his age, but it can definitely wear on a person. I'm glad I made it a priority to sleep as much as possible. I am also happy I paced myself with our meals since I didn't feel as weighted down by that.

I can't fault a toddler for being a toddler. I can fault businesses for not being toddler-friendly. I am disappointed that places are so hit-and-miss with things like changing tables. I never noticed this in the past, but now I'm especially sensitive. I'm glad some places have stepped up their game. I really appreciate them and will make sure to direct my business their way. Now, if other places would just follow their example.

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