For families across Canada, summertime is all about the road trip! While the idea of just jumping in the car and spontaneously driving from Saskatoon to Montreal certainly seems adventurous, in reality, road trips are usually much more enjoyable if you do a little bit of planning and preparation. Here are 10 tips to help you make the most of your time in the car over the summer months:
1. Ensure your car is road ready
Nothing can spoil a road trip like a mechanical breakdown. Before heading out on the highway get your car tuned up so that you won’t run into any unwanted surprises.
2. Start with a clean car
Before you set out, make sure your car is spotless both inside and out — psychologically it’ll make you feel like you’re making a fresh start. Organize your luggage and in-car items so that you’re not engulfed in clutter while you’re driving. Don’t forget organizational must-haves like garbage bags, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and baby wipes, which are indispensable, even if you don’t have a baby.
3. Plan stops along the way
A great road trip isn’t just about getting from point A to point B — do your research and plan some fun stops along the way that will interest everyone in the car. Bring some outdoor toys like a soccer ball or Frisbee so you can get a couple minutes of exercise when you stop.
4. Crank the tunes!
Even if you’re addicted to the radio it can cut out through stretches of a long road trip, so bring some backup. Get everyone in the car to make up a mix CD or MP3 playlist so you can share music, then turn it up and sing along!
5. Invest in a good paper map
Even if you have a reliable GPS, things can go awry, especially if you’re driving through mountain ranges or crossing boarders. Download appropriate smartphone apps in advance to help you on your journey, but also pack a paper map to save on data and avoid being stranded if your electronic devices fail.
6. Plan your restaurant meals
Treat yourself to a nice meal rather than falling back on fast food. If you’re exploring a new region, do your research in advance so you can find a really spectacular place to eat. This is especially important if you have specific dietary needs (gluten-free, vegetarian, etc.) since middle-of-nowhere restaurants don’t always offer those options.
7. Pack a picnic
Enjoy the beauty our country has to offer and eat outdoors. Pack a cooler full of sandwiches and salads so that you can pull off and eat lunch at a viewpoint along the road. If you’re on a multi-day trip, stop at a grocery store each morning to stock up on fresh food. Don’t forget cutlery and paper or plastic plates!
8. Stock up on snacks and drinks
Go light on junk food, but remember that you’re on vacation, so let everyone choose a favourite treat. Do some baking ahead of time so you have some healthy options and bring fruit and veggies in your cooler. I always over-estimate how many snacks I’ll need — don’t plan for more than you’ll normally eat on a regular day, but bring extra baking and fruit for a quick motel breakfast if you’re doing a multi-day drive.
9. Timing is essential
Last year on my family’s annual drive from Calgary to Vancouver we drove on a weekday and left at 5 am so that we could avoid heavy traffic and, at least for the first few hours, highway construction. While the wake-up time was painful, we probably shaved two hours off our drive.
10. Plan some activities to occupy yourselves, but not too many
Road trips offer the rare opportunity to decompress and literally do nothing but watch the world go by. If you’re travelling with kids bring some in-car activities, but also encourage them to put away the electronics and use the time in the car to enjoy the view. Socialize with your car mates by playing classic car games like travel bingo, I Spy, and the license plate game.