Are we there yet? Tips for planning a family road trip

Last summer my husband and I chose to drive from Toronto to Halifax with our two daughters, then aged 12 and 19.

It was one of the most memorable summer vacations we had ever experienced as a family. Along with being able to capture the historic beauty of Quebec, we also visited New Brunswick and PEI for the first time.

After spending time with friends in Halifax, we were awe-inspired by the breathtaking Green and White Mountain ranges as we drove back home through Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Never having experienced a family road trip before, I wasn’t sure how everyone would adapt to spending so many hours on the road but planning ahead paid off and we can’t wait to do it again. If you’re planning a road trip with your family anytime soon, here’s what you might like to know.

Consider the age and temperament of your children. Travelling as we did with two older children who are quite capable of entertaining themselves, and each other, made our trip that much more enjoyable. I don’t think it would have been quite the same if we had made the same trip when they were much younger.

Although travelling overnight so that young children can sleep the hours away may make getting to your destination easier, there are cons to this. For one thing, you may feel exhausted from driving without getting a night’s sleep and the beauty of your surroundings will be lost.

The journey is really just as important as the destination. If you plot out stops and points of interest along the way, then the final destination becomes the place that you are spending the most amount of time at, but is not that much more important than all the special stops along the way.

Involve your family in the planning stage. If your children do research on the Internet, for example, about special places they’d like to visit and if you integrate these stops along the way, they will feel that their needs have been equally considered. Then, the vacation truly becomes a family vacation.

Take lots to occupy them in the car. One of the great things about car travel is that you don’t have to worry about your luggage being a couple of pounds overweight.

You also don’t have to worry about other restrictions such as products that are not allowed on board an aircraft, for example. Other than the portable DVD and other electronics, how about a knapsack of creative car activities such as a paper and crayons, stickers and maybe even a small lap tray to place the material on.

Help your children know in advance how much time between stops so that they don’t ask “Are we there yet?” every half hour.

Older children, who understand time and can read can be provided with an itinerary including approximate time planned to be on the road. Children can also be helped by showing them how to read a GPS so that they can see how much time remains until they can stretch their legs or visit another place of interest.

If you drive a smaller car, consider renting a minivan for the time you’re going to be away. A van allows you the luxury of extra leg space, extra luggage space and extra elbow space and may even mean that the children are less likely to fight with one another.

Most importantly, take lots of time planning and researching a trip so that you know where and when you are coming and going. Treasure each stop and inhale every moment along the way.

Sara Dimerman has been an individual, couple and family therapist for over 20 years. Visit