My mother often laments that I didn’t have a daughter. A daughter, she argues, would have allowed her to watch me suffer as she once had. She needn’t have worried. All I had to do to understand parental pain was take my kids on their first road trip.
Decades after fighting my way out of the middle seat, my husband, Ish, and I have been guilty on more than one occasion of setting out to create childhood memory magic by throwing our kids in the back seat of an overstuffed automobile, too. Sure, we could get where we want to go faster and with less arguments if we took a plane or train, but to do so would mean abandoning the allure of a cooler filled with drinks and unhealthy snacks and robbing our kids of the chance to argue over who put the window down first and “what that smell is.”
And what kind of evil parent monsters would we be if we did that?
I still remember how tough I thought road trips were when I was a kid. (Hours trapped in an enclosed space with siblings whose sole purpose in life is to provoke you to tears and parents who believe that this is the perfect time for a trip down a musical memory lane only they remember.).
Luckily, road trips can also be amazing. I remember many of the holidays we took as kids and the road trips are the most vivid. From tours around Ontario and Quebec to epic drives through the Rocky Mountains, my immigrant parents were keen on showing their Canadian kids their home and native land. And it worked: I developed a love for this country from coast to coast to coast, along with a desire to see as much of it as I can.
But taking your first road trip with your young children will have you writing apology notes to your parents. It only takes one extended ride where you’ve had to dodge flying juice boxes, fish for a pacifier under the car seat or conduct a UN-like negotiation of the back-seat sitters for you to shift your perspective.
Over the years, my kids have learned to love our outings despite the bumps.
We do too.
All that uninterrupted family time has net us some serious insight into the dramas taking place at school, their fears and dreams and the latest vernacular (Hint: “lit” is out, but “straight fire” is in.)
What has made the difference between those first painful trips and our most recent ones? Time.
Road trips require muscle memory. Doing them regularly will keep your abilities sharp. Skip a few years and you run the risk of atrophying into hours of eternal whining and suffering.
No parent starts off with a “Don’t make me have to pull this car over” speech in mind. Nope, those words only escape the lips of a human who has been playing the licence plate game for far too long.
This summer, set the stage for future road trips by training your family with these tips in mind:
To thine own family be true
Kids who get carsick on the way to school? Spouse who gets shaky after more than an hour on the road? Infant who sleeps the moment the car starts moving? Plan accordingly. There is no point in following some stranger’s road trip itinerary without making adjustments for your own family’s needs and interests. Even if you start with that epic road trip you found on Facebook as your base, tweak it to account for your family’s idiosyncrasies like frequent bathroom breaks or love of fast food.
Plan the journey like it’s the destination
Yes, you want to see Quebec City, but don’t be so focused on getting there that you forget to stop and enjoy the goodness that exists in provincial parks, national parks and iconic viewpoints just off the main roads. One of my favourite apps for a road trip is Roadtrippers (roadtrippers.com). It helps you plot a route that will take in some of the highlights along the way. It can mean the difference between gas station coffee or a stop at a local diner with fresh brew and a slice of the area’s best apple pie.
Treat your vehicle like it’s your new home
Just as you have a side of the bed at home, you have a role to play in the car. The driver drives. The front seat passenger navigates and can’t nap after dark. And the kids in the back seat are responsible for dispensing all snacks and beverages. Pack your car with the same care and attention you give your family room. Are there sufficient drink holders? Is the long-legged teen behind the shorter front seat passenger? Precision is key to comfort. Also: Road snacks have no calorie count and no mention should ever be made about how many cookies have been eaten.
Some rules are non-negotiable
Any request by a female in the car to stop at a restroom must be adhered to with the utmost speed. Our inability to simply pull over on the side of the road and unzip when nature calls, gives us priority over dictating restroom breaks.
Know your limit; play within it
The Ontario Lottery Corp.’s motto works well for road trips too. Thinking a race to Nova Scotia seems like a great idea? Think again. The speeding ticket you could net will wipe out the option for that lobster dinner when you get there. And be realistic about how many hours in a row you really want to put in behind the wheel. Safety should be your No. 1 priority and the goal is to build family memories you’ll be happy about. The story about the time Mom crashed the car because she thought she could out drive the rain storm, is not the kind of memory you’re after. Slow down. Relax. Your vacation doesn’t start when you get to the destination; it starts the moment you leave home. Go too fast and you’ll miss it.
Three Canadian road trips for you to consider this summer
East Coast vikings
Whether you opt to get to Newfoundland the long way (driving from home) or fly into either St. John’s or Deer Lake, the province is ideal for a road trip adventure with family. We opted for a west coast adventure on our last trip and included visits to Gros Morne National Park (including the Tablelands) on our route. The hands-down favourite part of the slow drive? Our stops – including L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site (where we walked in the footsteps of Norsemen such as Leif Eriksson) and Bonne Bay (where the kids loved both the Bonne Bay Marine Station and the BonTours boat ride out to see whales.)
West Coast wilds
The most difficult part of a British Columbia road trip is deciding how big to make your circle. We’ve flown to Vancouver and then taken the ferry over to Victoria and up to Tofino. We’ve headed up to spend time in Squamish (Canada’s adventure capital) and Whistler. And we’ve enjoyed cottage-like stays at Alpine Meadows Resort and grizzly bear views on a Blue River safari, followed by wakeboarding lessons in Osoyoos. Decide on the type of vacation your family is after, the scenic background you want and then choose your own adventure.
Fly into Saskatoon and start your exploration within the city centre. Fantastic art galleries including the Remai Modern and a booming restaurant scene is the perfect start to a road trip adventure. Then set out for East End where the Frenchman River Valley offers rugged terrain but stunning Prairie views. Kids will love a stop at Canada’s largest (and most complete) T-Rex skeleton and there are more recent history lessons to be learned at the site of Crazy Horse’s 1876 encampment. Continue to Lake Diefenbaker if you’re up for some water play: sailing, kayaking and swimming options abound.