Why and How To Road Trip
Travel is an important aspect of my life. In my single years, I kept a change jar on the ready for whatever crazy plans my friends and I would make. Whether an all-inclusive we couldn’t afford or a jump in the car and return Sunday sun-kissed and weary road trip. In our dating years, I think my husband used travel to woo me and I used it to show how adventurous I could be. From ski weekends to camping, wine tours or Mexican getaways, the excitement of packing up and trying new things was thrilling. We learned more about each other in those miles travelled than any expensive dinner at a restaurant whose name we would never remember. As life changed (insert 3 kids, a dog, a mortgage and more responsibilities then passport stamps) we adapted our travel dreams to match reality. How do we keep the wanderlust alive when our budget is meager? How do we explore without plane tickets? We load into our minivan and hit the road. Sometimes the destination is more theme park hotel versus remote rugged landscape but we see value in adventures with our kids and the memories we create instead of checking off bucket list items.
7 years of road trips with1, then 2 and now 3 children mean we have compiled a ton of information that makes our trips faster to prepare for, more affordable and further distance. We have made mistakes (do not park next to a cow field to nurse your baby!) but our kids are more resilient and we have all learned to adapt and be flexible.
Here are our tips to prepare for your family road trip.
#1 Manage Your Expectations
Each trip you take, every mile you drive will not be the same. You might experience the Mecca of road trips, the one that all tripping families long for. The elusive road trip where children are happy, quiet and occupy their time with books and magazines, colouring and car games. Full of perfect family selfies and every member will smile with joy at each new experience you tirelessly planned. You will return rested and euphoric that you plan your next trip just weeks later, but this time further away, why not? Then you have the most common of road trips. Tantrum filled, garbage everywhere, “I’m bored” sung at the top of lungs, fast food and video game fuelled miles of family fun. This trip while not as restful or perfect will still amount to great family adventure it’s just wrapped up and packaged with crazy enroute. Both trips bring about closeness and new experiences but your expectation level will determine what you take away from the trip. You have to be ok with rain, forgotten items, getting lost and sick kids the same way you are ok with sunsets, picnics and late checkouts. A roll with the punches attitude at all times.
#2 Pack For Anything
The beauty of travelling in your car, van, truck or RV is not having luggage limits and weight restrictions. You can bring whatever your little ones require for their sanity and yours without having to make sacrifices. Personally, I love to pack with a level of organization and thoughtfulness that borders on obsessive. “Everything has a home and everything in its home” is my motto. I prep our trips with lists and an idea of what each person will require for any of the activities planned and their regular daily living needs all according to the weather conditions that might apply. Categories like; hygiene, medicinal/first Aid, sleeping, bathing/swimming, clothing, outerwear, eating in/out, potty/diapering, car activities and hotel/rental/outdoor activities. Of course, this is all dependent on your destination. Packing for camping, for example, requires cooking materials, tents etc. With three kids there have been many trips where baby seats, playpens, jumparoos and nursing pillows were part of the list. There are no limits. My packing materials are a variety of vessels purchased or recycled over the years. I love Thirty31 Gifts – Utility totes in large and medium for loose items like beach supplies, oversized outerwear, food and even baby gear. They have a line of pouches that I use for packing snacks, storing all of our medicinal/First Aid needs and for smaller trips I have packed all our hygiene supplies in one. Costco has a great line of foldable crates that stack nicely and hold a ton. Reusable shopping bags are great for kids to carry their car activities or the variety of electronics and cords that come on most road trips. We mostly pack our clothing in canvas duffel bags that are flexible and easy to over stuff and stack on top of one another in the van. I am not a fan of backpacks for the kids. They never seem to carry them and they are a pain to carry in bundles as an adult. The items never go back in the same way, the zipper is annoying to open and close and they get muddy/wet/food stained etc. I always pack a separate adult bag for the car. It contains our maps and travel book (we geek out and track mileage, timing and spending to see how we compare to previous trips, I know, I know insert facepalm here) phone chargers, books, headphones for podcasts, first aid kit, pens, an envelope with some emergency money, camera, paper towel, Lysol wipes, empty shopping bags for garbage, gravol and gum.
#3 Make A Plan
Trust me! I know it doesn’t sound like the spontaneous adventure you saw on those adorable car commercials. But you will thank me later. Planning ahead doesn’t just mean booking an AirBnB or hotel at your destination. It means a plan for the drive by looking into the rest areas, tourism, restaurant and gas options and a printed map with directions along the way. Look at your total travel time to the destination and then calculate the stops you will require and add that to your total travel time. For example for our drive to Lake Placid, the driving time was estimated at 5hrs 46mins. With a departure time of 7am, a meal/gas stop and a planned 2hr tourism stop plus the border crossing it translated into an 8.5hr day. Knowing the estimated travel time, where and what we want to do on the way makes it more enjoyable and less frantic.
If you only remember one thing make it this; Trying to find a hotel that will take more then 4 people with a reasonable nightly rate is difficult if you don’t do it in advance. Hotels charge premium rates for larger families and most often never have a sale or deal when you arrive. There are often limited rooms to handle more than 4 people as well. Trust me! 2 hours of night driving with three crying kids around North Carolina just to find a room for the night taught us a serious lesson.
#3 Set a Budget
Road Trips can be as cost saving or luxury as you make them. You can choose between gorgeous hotels, resorts, AirBnB’s, fancy places to eat or fast food chains, snacks you pack or snacks you buy on the road. Decide at the planning stage what you want to spend and make it happen. Take into account currency exchange, travel insurance, oil changes, tolls, gas, fluids, food, car activities, long distance and data usage, lodging, activities, impromptu purchases if you forgot, lost or had an emergency and of course souvenirs!
#4 Plan Car Entertainment For Kids
You might think an iPad and some movies will do it. For short distances (under 4 hrs) it might. But kids get bored, motion sick, anxious or just annoying (are we there yet?) because they’re as excited as you are, if not more. We have tried a variety of things depending on the ages and stages of our kids.
Babies – puppets, blocks, flashlights, music, rattles, car/stroller toys, snacks, pacifiers, cause and effect toys, tissue paper for crinkling, bubble wrap for squeezing, rain sticks and time out bottles.
Toddler/Preschool – any of the items in the baby sections plus touch and feel/pop up/busy books, glow sticks, stickers and paper, crayons and paper, bubbles (not as messy as you think), Melissa & Doug paint papers, aqua doodle, magnet boards, puppet making, post-it notes, play-doh, felt boards and pieces
Kindergarten –this stage was about showing them how much time remained. I picked up toys or trinkets from the dollar store or the loot bag section of Mastermind toys based on my kids’ interests and had them individually wrapped. They got one every few hours. Or make a linking chain for each hour of the drive and every hour you take one of the links off. Kids love when they fall asleep and wake up to remove 3 chains. Also Ipads, books, books on tape, movies, glow sticks, colouring, with special markers, card games, car games like I spy/car bingo/I’m going camping etc.
Stay tuned for tips, guides and information specific to family-friendly road trip destinations.