Road Trip Survival - Traveling with Kids for the Holidays
Road Trip Survival - Traveling with Kids for the Holidays
Road Trip Survival - Traveling with Kids for the Holidays

“On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again…” This Willie Nelson song is one of our family’s favorites, and for good reason. We sing it every time we get in the car for yet another family road trip. This past week was no different, traveling back to Calgary, Alberta to visit with family and friends over the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend.

Road Trip! Gorgeous view of the Rocky Mountains in the Distance

Oh, How We’ve Missed Everyone!

One week isn’t long enough to see everyone that we’ve missed over the last year, but we tried our best to fit in as many as we could while still making Gaby’s family our top priority. The kids were so excited to see Mémère and Pépère, along with all the Matantes, Mononcles, Aunts, Uncles, and most especially cousins! (Pépère kept calling Serge his “roomie” all week long.) And speaking of cousins, we got to meet the newest member of the clan, our six-week-old nephew. What a joy it was to hold that little one!

Though we couldn’t get together with everyone we knew this time around, we were able to attend church the first Sunday we were in town (we’ve missed our church family!) as well as hang out with a few close friends and old colleagues over lunch and drinks. We had such an amazing time, and even though the snow flurried around us (I am not quite ready for that yet!) we made the most of the stretch we had here.

With Katrina in school now, traveling on a whim is going to get a little more complicated. Instead of going when is convenient for us, we will need to start planning holidays around the school schedule, and time with family and friends in Alberta is going to come at a premium. (But we figured that her missing two days of kindergarten this week was well worth it to have a chance to meet our newest family member.)

Why We Prefer to Drive Instead of Fly

Since our wedding and subsequent move to Calgary in 2005, Gaby and I have been traveling back and forth between two provinces more often than I care to admit. Although our entire family is from southeastern Manitoba, through the years, his family has all moved to Alberta. With one family living 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) from the other, travel will always be a part of our lives. In our early years of marriage, travel by airplane was simple enough when it was just the two of us, and by using a travel incentive credit card, we earned quite a few free trips.

Fast forward 12 years and three kids later, and flying really isn’t an option anymore now that the kids are a little older and can no longer fly for free. (We have flown a few times in the past with babies and toddlers, and would recommend all of the tips that Rebekah from The Tex-Mex Mom outlines in her post Tips for Flying with a One-Year-Old.) Consider this. Five round trip tickets for flying within Canada can start around $2,500 CDN, and that’s if you can catch a seat sale. Gas for our vehicle comes to around $300 CDN there and back. So, we drive.

Other pros to driving include:

  • Having your own vehicle at the destination
  • Not having to check baggage and car seats and hope they get there when you do
  • Less concern about how much stuff you’re bringing because there isn’t a weight restriction per bag
  • There’s room to pack your own pillows and blankets (which you’ll probably need to use on the drive there!)

Our Top 10 Tips for a Successful Road Trip

I’ll be perfectly honest. Our kids are fantastic road trip-pers. But we have been training them since infancy, taking long country drives, often gone for two to three hours at a time, and each took their first long distance road trip when they were about six months old. (By the way, driving is also one of the tips we talk about in our post about marriage.) But 13.5 hours in a car can wear on even the happiest of travelers. So without further ado, we present our road trip secrets for success:

1. Strategize the Packing Process

Know ahead of time what you’re bringing, the size of the items, what needs to be accessible during the trip, and make sure that after you’re done, you can still see out the car through the rearview mirror.

2. Give the Vehicle a Good Once-Over

Check fluids and tire pressures, wash the windows. Make sure the vehicle is long-drive ready to avoid any hiccups on the road.

3. Plan for the Weather

Check the forecasts along the traveling route and make sure that any outdoor wear you’ll need along the way is part of the gear that is easily accessible.

4. Timing is Everything

The best time to travel with little ones is at night. They sleep the entire way, and if you’re tag-teaming the drive and have a family member or friend that can watch the kids when you get there so you can take a nap, you’re golden. If this isn’t an option, another way you can go about it is to leave very early in the morning (like 2:30am early), transfer the kids while they’re still sleeping, and you’ll get at least a few hours of quiet before they wake up for breakfast. If you’re not in a rush to get to your destination, you can always book a hotel for an overnight stay at the halfway point of the trip.

5. Make Sure the Ride is Comfortable

Kids have short legs, and with their car seats, they have no hope for their legs reaching the floor. We like to pack our blankets and pillows at their feet so that they have somewhere comfortable to rest their tootsies. (We also make sure that they travel without footwear for added comfort, and have their shoes packed nearby if they need to get out of the vehicle during stops.)

6. Food

To minimize costs along the way, we make sure to pack at least one full meal (lunch or supper, depending what time we’re leaving), along with plenty of snacks. Fluids are kept to only what is necessary to lessen the amount of pit stops needed.

7. Toys

One of the biggest chores of planning for a road trip is how to keep the kids amused. I try to purchase a new toy or dig out from storage something they haven’t played with in awhile (travel sized of course) for them to entertain themselves with. Having something new, or new-ish, will help to breakup the boredom for a longer stretch of time.

8. Activity Books

The kids love to do crafts and their “learning” books, so this time we brought along a French activity book for Katrina, and an alphabet workbook for Serge. Just make sure to pack a lap desk or clipboard for them to work on. By the way, if you’re in search of some good activity books, check out the Usborne Wipe Clean books. Educational and great for the car!


9. Road Trip Games

On one of our longest road trips to date (2,500 kilometers or 1,600 miles from Alberta to Manitoba through the USA) I bought a set of flash cards about things to do on a car journey. What a trip saver! It kept the kids entertained for hours! Other easy road games that we like to play include the classic: I Spy, along with spotting and counting games (ie. Count all the red cars you see).

10. When the Plan Falls Apart

It never fails, the plan will fall apart at some point. When all other resources fail to entertain, we break out the portable DVD player and put on a movie. Because after you’ve been in the car going on 10 or more hours, you just get tired of hearing “are we there yet?”.

View Down the Road

Have you gone on a long road trip with kids? How did you prepare for it and what did you bring along for entertainment? We’re always looking for new ways to distract our kids during our biannual road trip, and would love to hear your ideas.

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