When my daughter was eight months old, my wife and I did something crazy. We packed up the car and spent two weeks driving across the country and back.
It was… a learning experience. We made some mistakes. We got some things right. Most of all, we had a great adventure as a family that we still talk about today.
Unlike the road trips you may have experienced in your child-free days, you can’t just toss some clothes into a bag, grab a few bags of chips, pour some coffee into a thermos and hit the road. With a little extra prep and an open mind, though, big family road trips with your little ones can be a great way to explore and vacation.
#1. Plan it out
The single biggest piece of advice I can offer is to plan things out carefully.
You don’t have to schedule every minute, but you’re going to want to at least plan out where you’re stopping every night. You might not like your last minute options. One time, we found ourselves spending the night in what looked like an abandoned campground, filled with prairie dogs. Staying overnight at a beautiful resort that is close to nature, like Pocono Mountain Villas or Summer Bay Orlando, is a much better choice than some of the ideas we had for overnight accommodations during this trip.
Taking a bit of time to work out where you’re going to stop at the end of the day also helps you avoid those days where you end up tired, hungry and cranky with each other while you drive around and look for a place to sleep for the night. Plan this ahead of time.
#2. Pace yourself
Even if you are still young enough to drive for 18 straight hours a day, don’t. No one in the car will be impressed by that marathon. Especially not your child.
Instead, break your day down into chunks. Drive until your kid gets restless and clearly isn’t happy with this situation anymore, then stop. Get out of the car, play, eat, change a diaper, read some books, then pack up and hit the road again.
If you really get your timing down (and if your kid has a somewhat predictable sleep pattern), you can get all your driving in while they sleep so you’ll be able to spend your downtime together while they’re awake.
This may take some practice to get this routine down, but once you do it’s surprisingly easy. If you plan more family travel in your future, it’s good to begin introducing a routine to your kids early.
#3. Expect the unexpected
Be prepared for the ridiculous.
On our family road trip, we found ourselves watching caterpillars fall from the sky. This wasn’t as poetic of a sight that it may sound, but it gave us a great story.
Let unexpected moments and absurd detours become the stories that your family will laugh about and share on future road trips and family vacations. With an adventurous attitude, momentary frustrations can easily turn into memorable markers of your family trip.
Take it all in stride. If caterpillars land on your hat, decide to laugh. Kids watch. If you want to truly instill a sense of adventure and love of nature in your family, then use these unexpected moments as opportunities to show your kids how to appreciate the unexpected, absurd, and ridiculous experiences that life has to offer.
#4. Relax. You got this.
The more you expect screaming and crying, the more likely you are to have just that trip. The more likely it becomes, then, that those experiences will be the moments you will remember from this family adventure.
If you approach this road trip with the right attitude, and plan out your accommodations ahead of time, then you’ll walk away from your road trip with an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life and have stories to share with your child as they grow older.
Guest contribution by loving dad and traveler, Douglas Paton
Douglas Paton is a writer, content marketer and explorer who lives in British Columbia, Canada. All of his best adventures involve his wife and daughter, except that one time with the polar bear. You can follow Doug’s adventures at thewatercalls.ca.