Ahh, it’s finally here. There’s no time of year quite as exciting as the beginning of summer. The entire season feels stretched out ahead of you, doubly so for the kids who think summer’s going to last forever. Perhaps like other families, you’re riding the upward travel trend of planning a trip with other family members in a large, multi-generational group?
If you’ve planned a summer road trip with extended family, and you’ve never attempted it before, there are a few things you should know before you put that car into Drive. Take it from someone who’s been in the multi-generational travel trenches and lived to tell the tale. A little prep and planning goes a long way to maintaining your own (and family’s) travel sanity.
The Where and When
Easy, right? You’ve decided to drive to Disneyland! Oops, the grandparents actually want to drive to the Oregon coast and rent a beach house. Destination and routing requires some brainstorming and consensus early on in the travel planning process. After all, you can’t plan a road trip if you don’t know where you’re going.
There are so many fabulous road trip destinations and options for families to visit. Planning the route is an early step, as is deciding whether you’re going to share accommodation or stay next to each other if sharing isn’t a workable plan. If you rent a large house with multiple bedrooms, sharing will save money and ensure some privacy for everyone. If grandparents wish to be close but not too close i.e. in their own unit, flexibility and understanding of their needs is important. They’re not just along for the ride as baby-sitters, are they?
One Car or Two?
How bad of a backseat driver are you, really? How about your mother or mother-in-law? If you don’t think you can handle piling in the happy van as an extended family unit for a 6 hour daily drive over three weeks, don’t. The stress, arguments and directional challenges can quickly ruin your road trip adventure. Rent two vehicles (unless using your own), divide up the family to minimize stress, and figure out who’s going to lead the merry high-way.
Pre-Trip Car Inspection
If planning to use your own vehicles, book a pre-departure mechanical once over. Top up fluids, check tire wear, and let your mechanic know your ultimate destination and route. This is valuable to ensure that your oil viscosity is correct for the hot California desert, or your brakes are capable of handling the steep descents and curves of the BC Rocky Mountains. Ensure your CAA coverage is up-to-date.
Use Technology Wisely
GPS and SAT-NAV systems can save your bacon on the road, particularly in busy urban areas and confusing highway clover-leaves. But they’re not foolproof, nor are they a substitute for looking out the window to ensure you haven’t just passed the same windmill, twice. Oh yay, we’re going in circles!
If you have been going in circles (been there, done that), then it’s likely you or young travellers need motion sickness relief too.
Technology is great until the batteries die. Kick it old school and pick up a trusty and free paper map from your CAA office as navigational back-up. This also doubles as a learning opportunity for kids to learn how to actually read a map.
Ensure you can communicate between the two vehicles, which may mean pre-purchasing daily cell phone roaming if travelling in the US or Europe. Don’t skimp out and assume hand signals will work. If one or both vehicles get lost, communication is vital to reconnect and get back on track.
Stay Healthy on the Road
Summer road trips are often hot, sweaty affairs. Hydrate constantly with individual water bottles, pack snacks in coolers for easy access in the back seats. Wear comfortable, light-coloured clothing and slap on sunscreen, sunglasses and hats.
Maintaining physical health is one aspect of good travel planning, but what about our mental health? As adult children, caught up in the sandwich between caring for our young kids and our ageing parents, we often don’t pay enough attention to our own stress levels. This stress can be compounded several times over during a multi-generational road trip. Disagreements over directions, hotel bookings, daily itinerary, parenting styles, nap times, who pays for what. Even ancient childhood grievances can resurface in surprising, and surprisingly unpleasant ways.
It’s vital to know what your own trigger and stress points are, and to develop a coping mechanism for them. If this means locking yourself in the bathroom for 5-10 minutes, screaming into a pillow, counting to ten, separating out for one day’s activities, then do so. Public adult meltdowns are just as ugly as those of the toddler variety. Find ways to cope to ensure your family holiday stays on track and your relationships in good health.
There are also medications that can help reduce stress-related symptoms, like nervousness, hypersensitivity and irritability.