Monday, 9 April 2018

Life Is A Highway - Tips for A Road Trip Down South With Kids

This past summer we test drove the minions on how they would react to a lengthy road trip when we drove to the East Coast.  The trip went really well, so well in fact, that we decided to take the plunge this past March and take on a 2250 KM road trip each way to visit the grandparents in Florida and take the children for their inaugural trip to Disney (more on that later).  While our trip to the east coast was shorter, it also took place in the summer, this meant we were able to take many of our rest stops as outdoor picnics and hikes, which really helped take the edge off the hours cooped up in a car.  (Here are ten tips for a great road trips that I came up with this summer.)  Driving from Ontario to Florida, with a stop off in Myrtle Beach, can make for unpredictable weather, so it changes up the rules a little, as does driving in the US instead of Canada.

10 Tips for An Amazing Road Trip Driving South With Kids

1. When Booking Hotels, double check Amenities
I was booking hotels on the road, I looked for ones with pools, but didn't bother to check if they were indoor or outdoor.  Even in Virginia, an outdoor pool is going to be closed in March or April because it's too cold.  In addition to this, when making a last minute booking for Columbus Ohio I searched for a hotel with an Olympic Pool, only to arrive and discover it had shortened Easter hours, so we were out of luck in terms of swimming.
2. Sack of Snacks
Before we left for the trip I went out and spent $50 on snacks alone.  Energy bars, apple sauce tubes, and fruit leathers kept us healthy each day and saved us money.  We topped up at the grocer regularly for carrots and cherry tomatoes, in addition to two new road favourites clementines and pistachios.  We even kept a separate shell bottle to help keep the car clean.

My sack of mostly healthy snacks

3. Be Wary of Portion Sizes
When on the road, travel will take you to restaurants with different portion sizes.  We felt a sizable difference in super sized meals on the road and found that two to three meals easily fed all four of us with left overs.  It's also better to under order, and then order more food, than it is to waste food and money.
4. Gas Station Differences
I guess Canadians are just more trusting than Americans when it comes to gas.  Most Canadian gas stations will let you pump your gas and go inside and pay after (particularly during the day).  In the states you need to go in and pay for your gas before you pump, and if you overpay you'll sometimes need to go back inside to get them to refund you the difference on your credit card.
5. Speaking of Gas
Both Chris and I have been driving long enough to know that when driving, particularly on a highway in an area that we don't know, it stresses us out to be low on gas. Travel can be stressful enough, so we made a rule that if the tank fell to a quarter we found the next gas station.  My grandfather always used to say, 'it takes the same amount of money to fill the top half of your gas tank as it does the bottom'.  By the time we hit a quarter tank it was time to get up and stretch our legs anyway.
6. Avoid Rush Hour
By making weekends the days when we did the largest blocks of driving we never hit 'rush hour'. This probably saved us hours on the road.
7. Learn Your Power Hours
You'll quickly figure out the times of day when you feel the most energized and alert, and are able to cover the bulk of your mileage with little issue.  For us an early start was key to getting to our destination and being able to kick back a bit and feel like we were still in vacation mode, even if we had just finished a big day of driving.

One of Our Best Mid-Day Stops was at the Art Museum in Indianapolis

8. Mid-Sized Towns Are King
Big cities are expensive to stay in and have a lot of local traffic, some smaller towns may not have a restaurant open by the time you arrive and settle in.  By booking our travel days around medium sized cities we saved on cost, but were able to order pizza to our room at 10PM if we needed or wanted a late dinner.
9. Know Your Maximum Driving Times & Stick To It
Figure out the maximum time you ever want to be in a car during the day and then subtract an hour to half hour from that total.  This way you can have a traffic mishap and still come out close to your intended time on the road (most of the time).  Take shifts driving, particularly on longer days. When I took a shift Chris would often fill his time helping Jack build Lego or playing Mad Libs in the car with the kids.  Sure it wasn't a break to sleep but it made us both better appreciate the driver.
10. Have Fun With It & Embrace the Weird
Some days won't go as planned, but have a sense of humour about it.  The family now has a number of vacation related jokes about how a field full of deer may have saved Chris a speeding ticket, some overly animated billboard posters, and the hopefully well-intentioned gentleman we spotted who accidentally hit an armadillo with his car and thought he'd kick it to see if it was okay.

What are your best tips for family road trips?

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