I’ve been on my fair share of road trips. They are a part of every summer for our family. The best advice I can offer a newbie, is to go to sleep and when you wake up three days later, you’ll be in Texas – only joking. In truth, many times a vacation is more about the journey than the destination.
Road trippin’ combines the freedom of the open road with the confines of a vehicle. It juxtaposes the convenience of travelling by your own timetable with the challenges of covering great distances in a limited amount of time. Road trips are intense. Your family may not literally be in a nutshell, but a Volkswagen Westfalia isn’t much better.
My REAL advice is to keep your itinerary reasonable. Think about everything you’d like to do and see, over the course of your trip. Now scale it back to what you can actually accomplish, in the time you have available, and then scale it back to less than you think you can manage. The harsh reality is you won’t be able to do everything on your wish list. The trip will suffer delays, there will be unexpected detours, and traffic jams that nobody saw coming.
Some of the amusing circumstances that have slowed my road trip progress include, but are not limited to:
- Nasty weather
- The Mystery Spot
- Speeding ticket
- Forest fire
- Train derailment
But, if you’re like me, you’re not listening to my advice. You’re going to have to get in over your head and learn about itinerary limitations the hard way.
But if you are listening, take it from my experience:
Before we were parents, my husband and I took a road trip around Europe. We started in Britain and, after an overnight boat ride, we went through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France and back to the Netherlands. It sounds awesome doesn’t it?
We had one week to accomplish all of that. It was a blur. I vaguely remember being in an IKEA somewhere in Germany…there was a Leaning Tower and an Eiffel tower and a couple of parking garages…ya, I don’t remember much. We’re going to have to do some of those countries over again.
Road trips let us experience the dizzying highs and the crushing lows of family togetherness. Occasional arguments and grouchiness are par for the course. Your 11-year-old may abuse your ears with the tweets and squeaks of a souvenir tin whistle, all the way from Nova Scotia to Ontario. Mom and Dad may stop speaking to each other, for a while, after a misunderstanding about an off-ramp. But, you’ll look back and laugh…ah hahahaha.
While, on the down side, you won’t be able to escape your family, on the up side, your family won’t be able to escape you. If you manage to survive all that togetherness, you’ll know each other better and have a fresh collection of shared experiences.
Part of pacing your trip is understanding your family’s limitations.
How long can the kids sit before they go crazy?
How long can Mom and Dad drive safely before switching or taking a break?
Plan games and activities to participate in together, (eye spy), but also allow for individual activities, (books, ipods). Even within the confines of a vehicle, everyone is entitled to some alone time.
One of them is cost. While the price of gas is all over the headlines right now, it is still less expensive to pile the family into the car, than purchase airline or even train tickets for the group.
Setting your own itinerary helps control costs in other ways too. Having the ability to drive off the main tourist track can allow you to find quality food and accommodation at a discount. If you bring a camp stove along, you can tailgate some of your meals. If you bring the rest of your camping equipment, you can save the cost of a hotel and keep your budget lean and mean.
Roaming the highways of the world has afforded us some unforgettable experiences. We’ve encountered elephant seals while driving the Pacific Coast Highway. We’ve gone off course to climb the highest peak in Australia. And there are so many unusual landmarks to spot: Cadillac Ranch outside Amarillo, the Ace of Clubs House in Texarkana, or the flying saucer in Moonbeam, Ontario, just to name a few.
Road trips offer a lot of variety. Driving around, you get to see the best and the worst. The richest neighbourhoods and the hoods you might be glad to leave. You have the opportunity to glimpse into people’s lives in a way that wouldn’t be possible if you were traveling by any other means.
You may go from the middle of a major metropolis to the dead centre of nowhere in the span of a day’s drive.
Motoring around Northern Ontario a couple of summers ago, we persevered along a desolate stretch of Highway 11 where, for three hours, there was absolutely nothing. Not a house, not a restaurant, not a gas station. We couldn’t receive any radio stations. Logging trucks were the only other vehicles we saw – and there weren’t many of them. You know that song “I’d sure hate to break down here. Nothin’ up ahead or in the rear view mirror.” That’s where we were! It was eerie and strange but also, kind of hardcore.
A road trip may be the adventure your family needs. You’ll have the chance to really see and experience everything along your route. Give yourself lots of time to stop here or there, take advantage of the photo ops, and see the country through your children’s eyes. Bring some snacks, play some games and have a great family vacation this summer. May the road rise up to meet you. – Jen R, Staff Writer