“Are we there yet?”: Tips for planning a family road trip

Several summers ago my husband and I chose to drive from Toronto, Ontario to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with our two daughters, then aged twelve and nineteen. It was one of the most memorable and awesome summer vacations we had ever experienced as a family.  Along with being able to capture the historic beauty of Quebec, we also visited New Brunswick and PEI for the first time. After spending time with friends in Halifax, we were awe inspired by the breathtaking Green and White Mountain ranges as we drove back home through Maine, New Hampshire  and Vermont.  Never having experienced a family road trip before, I wasn’t sure how everyone would adapt to spending so many hours on the road but planning  ahead really paid off and we can’t wait to do it again.  If you’re planning a road trip with your family anytime soon, here’s what you might like to know:

  • Consider the age and temperament of your children. Travelling as we did with two older children who are quite capable of entertaining themselves, and each other, made our trip that much more enjoyable. I don’t think it would have been quite the same if we had made the same trip when they were much younger. Although travelling overnight so that young children can sleep the hours away may make getting to your destination easier, there are cons to this. For one thing, you may feel exhausted from driving without getting a night’s sleep and the beauty of your surroundings will be lost.
  • The journey is really just as important as the destination. If you plot out stops and points of interest along the way, then the final destination becomes the place that you are spending the most amount of time at, but is not that much more important than all the special stops along the way. If you journey over several days and don’t need to be somewhere in a hurry, then you’re more likely going to appreciate every place you stop at. And dont be afraid to make slight diversions along the way if something special catches your attention.
  • Involve your family in the planning stage. If your children do research on the internet, for example, about special places they’d like to visit and if you integrate these stops along the way, they will feel that their needs have been equally considered. Then, the vacation truly becomes a family vacation.
  • Take lots to occupy them in the car. One of the great things about car travel is that you don’t have to worry about your luggage being a couple of pounds overweight. You also don’t have to worry about other restrictions such as products that are not allowed on board an aircraft, for example. Other than the portable dvd and other electronics, how  about a knapsack of creative car activities such as a paper and crayons, stickers and maybe even a small lap tray to place the material on. This knapsack can also be taken in and out of restaurants, for example, too.
  • Other than material items for the kids, think about other games that require nothing more than thought and imagination. Counting the number of red, versus blue cars, for example between point  A and B or playing a memory game such as “I went to the market…..”are great ways to pass time.
  • Help your children know in advance how much time between stops so that they don’t ask “Are we there yet?” every half hour.  Older children, who understand time and can read, can be provided  with an itinerary including approximate time planned to be on the road. Children can also be helped by showing them how to read a GPS so that they can see at a glance how much time remains until they can stretch their legs or visit another place of interest.
  • If you typically drive a smaller car, consider renting a mini van for the time you’re going to be away. A van allows you the luxury of extra leg space, extra luggage space and extra elbow space may even mean that the children are less likely to fight with one another – both physically and verbally.
  • Place a small garbage can or hang a small garbage bag by the front passenger seat so that you can keep the interior of your car (or van) organized and clean. You’re less likely to misplace items if you have everything organized and throw out litter or items you no longer need right away. Then, when you stop to fill up with gas, for example, you can dump your garbage into a larger bin and start fresh again.

Most importantly, take lots of time planning and researching a road trip so that you know where and when you are coming and going. Treasure each stop and inhale every moment along the way. Don’t rush the trip but plan the scenic route so that so that you can experience the beauty of your surroundings. Safe travels!