As the days begin to get shorter and the evenings have a bit more bite, road trip season winds down as well. If you’re planning one last big family road trip before the snow flies (blasphemy to talk about it this early, I know), then read on for some great tips from a marathon-driving dad.
In June 2013, Michael Palmer, his wife, two sons and a daughter set out on a cross Canada adventure of a lifetime. Palmer, a writer, blogger and marketing/finance executive and his wife Catherine, a physiotherapist, decided to press pause on their jobs and see Canada by four wheels. The Palmers’ journey started in Calgary drove east on the trans-Canada highway through places like Winnipeg, Toronto, Quebec City, Edmundston, the Magdalene Islands, Grose Morne National Park and more. Palmer blogged along the way, recording some of his learning and sharing his road trip tips.
With their trusty mini van as chariot, The Palmer family enjoyed some typically Canadiana moments (spotting moose roadside, attending a Toronto Blue Jays game, boating among ice bergs off the coast of Newfoundland) and some messy situations (car sick kids imitating fountains on the twisty roads of Cape Breton).
Thanks to the Palmers’ super-trip-planning skills, their mega road trip was a success, spurring them on to go on even more adventures afield. In fact, when I caught up with Palmer, he and his family just returned from living in Costa Rica for a year. Earlier this summer, I had a coffee with Mr. Palmer to glean some tips on how to maximize fun and minimize stress on future family road trips. Whether you’re planning a trip to Yellowknife, Vancouver or Lethbridge, Palmer had some great road trip tips that Palmer can share. Here’s a handful to get you started on your way….
According to Palmer, safety is always the first consideration when they planning vacations, especially big ones like their 2013 odyssey. Having your vehicle serviced before you leave is a must as is snagging a basic car maintenance kit like this one to ensure you’re prepared for any (fixable) roadside misadventures.
Packing: Get organized
To keep their van tidy and organized the Palmers organized all their cleaning, snacking and activity supplies in Glovebox cases. Especially in the case of the Cape Breton vomit incident, having a container of wipes in the vehicle is always recommended.
By including their kids in trip planning and packing, Palmer’s sons and daughter felt really invested in the trip. They decided to let the kids pack their own activity packs with their favourite toys, games and time-passers. “We got the kids to fill up their car organizers themselves, so they felt part of the process and part of a team. Cards, chess boards, lego, books. It’s a team effort. It makes everyone feel like their part of a team.”
Try Healthy Snacks
There’s nothing worse than a ‘hangry’ child (or parent for that matter). Before their trip, the Palmers made a decision to avoid fast food outlets as much as possible (and did!). “ A van full of hungry kids is a recipe for disaster and tantrums will escalate quickly! I find it helps to have healthy food and drinks in addition to fun snacks so everyone can keep their energy level up and enjoy the ride.”
Limit driving time to 5-6 hours a day
As a rule, the Palmers drove about 5-6 hours a day allowing for a long-ish relaxed stop for lunch to check out sites, go for walks and have fun. “While it’s tempting to think about pulling a 12 hour marathon drive, I find the kids will naturally go a little nuts after sitting still for so long. And driving 5-6 hours is really more like 7-8 hours with breaks and stops. If possible, I’d also recommend staying in hotels, campgrounds or cabins that have pools or water access for the kids to unleash excess energy at the end of the day.”
Limit the tranquilizers
Canada is a vast country with a lot of beauty to see. It’s a shame to think a lot of folks travel it with their children’s head bent over a screen. “We like to limit device screen time for our kids to about 45 minutes a day while on the road; it’s important for them to unplug and enjoy the scenery along the way. That’s part of the fun! One way to do it is get them playing a classic “outside viewing” game. We love “I Spy” or the alphabet game (where the kids have to find objects outside that began with each letter of the alphabet, in order).”
Next year, Borealis Book Publishers will release Palmer’s book entitled No Tranquilizers! 17,000 kms, 63 Days, 3 Kids, 1 Van. He’s excited about recounting his family’s epic journey from sea to sea.
** Disclosure – Canadian Tire bought me a coffee during my interview with Michael and also sent me some of the Glovebox storage kits to try out. They didn’t pay for this article nor did they review it. All these words are my own or based on the Michael’s experience driving across Canada. Happy road tripping!**