As I drove north on the Icefields Parkway, the western spine of Canada (aka the Rocky Mountains), the road trip was a blur. I was racing against time: trying to get to my destination before my then five-month-old woke up hungry and angry after being in a car for WAY TOO LONG on this seemingly NEVERENDING (translation: two days) road trip.
We sped by so many sights – Castle Mountain, Crowfoot Glacier, Mount Chepheren – instead of stopping to bask in the grandeur of the Canadian Rockies like all the other happy-looking families, we didn’t. There was just one panicky thought on repeat in my head: ‘When is this road trip going to end?’
We were on day two of travel across British Columbia and part of Alberta to go see my partner in central Alberta. Here we were on an incredibly beautiful road trip that people from around the world pay big bucks to come and do. Frankly I didn’t enjoy the scenic surroundings because I didn’t pack enough supplies or give myself enough time to get there. We ended up having to stop in David Thompson, kiddo balling his eyes out and mommy very frazzled for a snack, leg stretch and calm down.
Fast forward a year. Many road trips – Tofino, Victoria, Kamloops, Lesser Slave Lake, Calgary, Drumheller – big and small later, we are starting to find our family travel groove. I once interviewed Micheal A. Palmer – an international traveller, family guy and author. He travelled across Canada with his wife and THREE, yes, three kids a few summers ago and had all kinds of wisdom to share. The uptake: plan, stop often, eat healthy. You can read more here.
The summer of 2015 we explored Alberta. After a few slightly stressful trips, I decided to try to start learning from our four-wheel journeys. Whether I’m driving alone with our little dude or we’re on a trip with the whole fam (mama, daddy + tiny tyrant), if I implement the six tips below, it makes for a tear-free trip.
When you have a kid you have a lot of stuff. Bum changing stuff, clothes stuff, play stuff, eating stuff, adult stuff. So we try to keep our stuff organised. This means using space wisely in either of our sedans (we own a Volvo station wagon and a trusty gold Jetta TDI named Hayzeus). Everyday travel stuff goes into our Glovebox backseat organizer: wipes, spare face clothes, toys, adult granola bars, baby snack bars, etc. For the big people we have a trunk organizer. I especially love the Glovebox Grab’n’Go Buddy. It’s a portable office – it keeps my laptop, magazines and any important papers sorted. Whether you use these sweet Glovebox organizers or your own system, the key is do a little upfront packing/organising before you go.
Get a First Aid kit. Always have a couple extra blankets on hand. Pack a spare change of clothes (for your and kiddo) in an easy to access spot (for example: not in the bowels of your trunk). ALWAYS HAVE A PACKAGE OF WET WIPES. ALWAYS. You never know when vomit/coffee/poutine gravy explosion is going to strike. Plus – if you do end up stopping to hike/bike/explore and get a cut or scrape, you always know that your first aid kit is always stocked.
Plan your road trip route
In the days of smart phones and GPS coordinates this sounds like a no-brainer right? Well guess what? Phones can die or there may be a pocket of bad reception. Check out your route beforehand, know generally where you’re going. Or if you’re a bit old school like me – print out a map to reference in case your electronics go kaput.
For us this usually means podcasts, music, singing and having a grab bag of toys behind the passenger seat, below our son’s feet. Kid toys include: his favourite books, cars, musical toys (cringe-worthy I know, but if it keeps them happy, just chill), favourite stuffy or three and any other toys that are small and easy to play with. I’m a podcast geek and really love listening to: Amy Porterfield’s web marketing tips, Criminal, Serial, Elise Blaha Cripe’s craft podcast and the Strombo Show. For music: pack your phone/ipod/CD case with tunes you know your little person loves. Our current roadtrip playlist includes a mix of CANCON gold plus some dirty hipster blues and pop: The Kerplunks, Bobs & Lolo, Basia Bulat, Dan Mangan, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and Colemen Hell (because mama needs to car dance sometimes and this makes the child happy).
Pack finger food & H2O
Chop up fruit and veggies. Grab your fave semi-healthy snacks. Make some mini-sandwiches. Avoid the grease factor by essentially packing a couple of easy to eat-by-hand lunch options. If you’re a frequent pee-er then avoid coffee, tea or large smoothies before the trip. For the constant-stop-to-pee adults: opt to snack on juicy fruits like grapes, melon, blueberries or oranges to stay hydrated between sips, instead of gulps, of water.
This is especially true for long trips. Get out, stretch your legs and admire the scenery. Road trips are not meant to be a sedentary sentence. Implicit in this road trip tip is: give yourself enough time to stop. The times we haven’t scheduled in time to stop, let our little guy have a little run around a couple times during the trip have been disastrous. Leave early, be realistic about travel times (including stops) and have fun. Remember: you’re on this journey to see friends, family or visit a special place. There’s no point arriving in a fluster with a cranky family.
A few months after my first big cross-province road trip between BC and the ‘berta, we drove south to hang with family for Thanksgiving just east of Calgary. Our phones were charged, we checked our route beforehand and there were ample snacks. The CANCON playlist played, we danced and dug through the bag of toys,books and finger foods. And the trip was TEAR FREE. Yay for learning something.
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