Epic Road Trip Planning Part 3: Embrace the Journey (plan to make many stops)

by - Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The ideal family road trip is a pleasure, not a hardship, with a healthy balance between travelling and out-of-the-car exploring. You could drive all day and night to maximize time at your destination, but there would be no joy in the journey! Breaks are necessary to refuel your body and mind in addition to your vehicle. By getting some fresh air and nourishment, you can resume driving with a clear head. Your passengers and backside will thank you, and you may discover some hidden gems along the way: a shaded boardwalk that provides respite on a scorching day, a secluded lakeside campground, or unique tourist attraction. Some of the best places you will ever visit are ones you never planned on visiting!

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta
There is no hard and fast rule for how many hours a day you should drive with kids. While some kids may sleep, play games, or watch movies half the day, others may tantrum or puke if you don't give them very frequent breaks. We were blessed with a child in the latter category, so even 2-hour drives to the mountains used to require pulling over at some point. How did we manage epic road trips? We planned to stop somewhere scenic or interesting every couple hours, and only drove half the day;  a far cry from the 10-12 hour drives we took in our pre-kid road days. If you have kids and need to cover a lot of ground in one day, what are your options?
  1. Drive at Nap Time(s) - Head out right before baby's first nap, take a lunch and play break when she wakes up, then resume driving right before afternoon nap time. When she awoke, we only had to entertain her in the car for 1-2 hours until we stopped to set up camp and make dinner. This method allowed us to drive 4-6 hours a day when our oldest was one year old.
  2. Lengthen your trip - If you are going somewhere more than 8-10 hours away, consider taking extra time off work, so you can spend the night somewhere on the way there and back. A stopover in the Okanagan is perfect when heading to the West Coast. 
  3. Have an Epic Day (Embrace the Journey) - If you must get somewhere in one day, make it an epic day. Take several breaks throughout the day to avoid mutiny. In the evening, go out for dinner - even if it's fast food, get out of the car - and brush the kids' teeth after so if they fall asleep in the car, they are ready for bed. Just transfer your kids from car to bed at the end of the day.*
  4. Drive at Night - While you can log a lot of miles at night while the kids sleep, I only recommend this to night owls or folks who can stay alert for the drive (e.g. shift workers who are used to being up all night). If you night drive, someone should stay awake with you to help keep you awake and make sure you don't fall asleep at the wheel. 
  5. Reconsider your destination/mode of travel. If there is no time for stops and stopovers, or you have difficult/carsick-prone passengers, consider flying or going somewhere closer. You want your children to remember the fun they had, not the interminable hours in the car asking once more, "Are we there yet?" To small children, there is not much difference between Banff or Jasper. They just want to sleep in a tent and roast marshmallows! Save the long drive for when they are bigger and can appreciate the difference and why you are sitting in the car 3 times longer.
Kettle Valley Railway trestle bridge, Kelowna, BC
While many of our stops are spontaneous, I recommend doing some pre-trip research so you don't miss great places en route. Too much effort? Local Visitor Centers can tell you what regional features/destinations would suit your interests. Think beyond roadside pullouts for memorable moments and incredible photos. Our favorite stopping spots are unique Visitor Centres, picnic areas, interpretive boardwalks (these are usually less than 1 km/0.6 mi, perfect for stretching your legs), fruit stands, historical sites, and legendary local restaurants.

Goats on the Roof, Coombs, BC
The benefits to slow travel are numerous. Besides happier passengers, less stressed and well rested drivers, you get to experience multiple destinations. That charming lakeside village you had lunch in might be your getaway of choice next summer! The campground you stayed at on the way to Vancouver might be your new favorite campground. When travelling with children, you will be obliged to make more stops than you would like, but these interludes only make for more epic adventures. Embrace the journey! 

Rialto Beach, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Related Posts

The complete Epic Road Trip Planning series may be found here:

Part 1: Vehicle Check

*EXAMPLE: Calgary, Alberta to Shuswap, BC (578 km)
  • 8 am - Leave Calgary
  • 9:45 am - 10 am - Washroom/snack break at Castle Junction (157 km)
  • 11:30 am - 12:30 pm Lunch in Golden (109 km)
  • 2 pm - 2:30 pm Walk/snack at Giant Cedars Boardwalk & Picnic Area, Mount Revelstoke National Park (121 km)
  • 5 pm Arrive at Shuswap Lake Provincial Park - camp for 2 nights (191 km)

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  1. What a great article! I'm just at the stage of looking into road trips with a walking toddler so this was all great information :) I especially like your itinerary at the end. I might have to borrow & modify that for the summer!

  2. Thanks Sarah! Maybe we can meet there! And you definitely have to stop at the Enchanted Forest on the way there or back. So much fun!!


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