Our family is a road trip family. Sure, if we’re short on time or going from, say, Calgary to Florida, we’ll fly, but we’ve discovered over the years that our favourite way to travel is by car. We tend to drive from our home in Calgary to Vancouver just about every summer and we’ve also driven to Seattle, all around Alberta, and even all the way down to Palm Springs, California. If you’re careful about where you stay (i.e. no five-star hotels) it’s usually cheaper than flying and can be a lot of fun.
I know that the thought of strapping a small child into a car and driving for multiple hours (or multiple days) can be daunting, but trust me, it’s doable. Here are some tips that I’ve learned along the way to make your family road trip survivable:
1. Plan your route and any major stops ahead of time
If you’re going on a long trip where you’re going to have to stop overnight, make a plan of how long you want to drive the first day and where you’re going to stop. Factor in any longer stops you might want to make or sights you want to see along the way. If you have a destination in mind it makes the drive easier from a psychological point of view. That said, don’t pre-pay for hotel room in advance if you can help it — it’s nice to have some flexibility if the driver gets tired earlier than expected or if traffic is slow.
2. GPS is your friend
Even if you know exactly where you’re going or have enough room in your data plan to run Google Maps on your phone all day, we found that a good dash-mounted GPS came in really handy. Not only did it tell us where we were going and how to get back on track if we diverted from the main highway, but the model we have tells the estimated time of arrival, what the local speed limits are, and the elevation, which is something my husband finds fascinating.
3. Don’t waste your money on too many toys and such for the car
I used to always buy a ton of new colouring books, car games, and other toys to entertain the kids in the car. I don’t do that anymore. I found that they’d break in to their special car backpacks the second we pulled out of the driveway and would be bored by all of the stuff by the time we left the city limits. This stuff is expensive and you’ll find all it’s really good for is making a mess of your car. Instead, re-purpose toys and books you already have on hand that haven’t seen the light of day in a while. The old will seem new!
4. Relax your restrictions on electronics
Like most parents, at home we put pretty clear limits on our kids’ screen time. In the car, all bets are off. Our vehicle is equipped with a backseat DVD player and we also bring along our family iPad. They do get sick of the electronics after a while so they aren’t on them for the whole ride , but plugging them in buys everyone a little bit of much needed quiet time.
5. Encourage your kids to document the trip
If you’re driving through several different landscapes, get your kids to keep a record of what they see. We get ours to draw a picture of what they see outside their window every hour on the hour. Our daughter also shot some video footage on our phones on our last trip so that she could make a documentary to show to her class when she got home.
6. Pack a lunch
Packing your own lunch not only saves you money and is healthier than stopping for fast food, but it also means that you can stop just about anywhere along the road to eat. Eating at a lookout point or picnic spot is a lot nicer than sitting in a greasy spoon on the side of the highway.
7. Make some stops
It’s understandable that you may want to bee line down the highway to get to your destination asap, but to make the most of your trip you need to turn off the main road now and again. Plan to stop at some interesting places, be they tourist attractions, antique shows, or whatever along the way, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. If you have to get gas or take a bathroom break, consider skipping the places right on the highway and go into the historic business district of a random small town. At the very least, you’ll probably find some interesting Instagram fodder!
8. Chill out
If your kids are being loud and your spouse is being cranky it can be really easy to get frustrated. Try to keep the vibe light in the car and remember that you’re not on a drive — you’re on a great adventure! Enjoying a road trip is really a mental game and if you let yourself go with the flow you’re bound to win.