6 tips for planning a stress-free family road trip

By: Kait Fowlie

© Nine LLC Author: Canadian Living Credits: © Nine LLC


6 tips for planning a stress-free family road trip

By: Kait Fowlie
Family vacations on the road can be a one-of-a-kind bonding experience. Stepping outside the realm of day-to-day life with your family often makes for the best memories. But getting from the planning stages into the car and on the road can be full of frustration -- if you let it.

To help make the journey a smooth one, we reached out to Carrie Fleetwood, a family therapist and mother of four based in Markham, Ont.

"The very fact that you're away together, spending time together and having fun is powerful in and of itself," says Fleetwood, who shares her tips for making sure your road trip rolls along smoothly.

1. Let your kids help
Get your kids involved in the planning of your trip by designating an expert for each particular city or monument you'll be exploring.

"If you tell your kids ahead of time where you'll be stopping you can designate one city to each of them," suggests Fleetwood. "It adds to the excitement when someone becomes the expert on that city, and that's very empowering for the kids," she explains.

In addition to getting your kids to practise their research skills before the trip, encourage them to follow along on a map or keep track of the distance you've travelled along the way.

2. Encourage your kids to appreciate their surroundings
The visual stimulus of new sights is exciting for kids -- and the history behind those sights makes the experience even more fulfilling. Do some research yourself so you can get your kids engaged on a deeper level.

"Kids relate to stories, they're really fascinated by them," says Fleetwood. "Let's say you're in Quebec City, you can talk about the battles that went on there or the fortification walls and how thick they are," she suggests.

3. Compromise with your family
Lay out some ground rules as you plan the trip and make sure everyone gets a chance to be heard. "Problems can arise when there isn't a sense that everyone has an equal voice in terms of everyone getting heard and everyone taking on responsibility," says Fleetwood. "All those things go into the trip being a positive bonding experience."

For example, if one person wants to visit a particular museum and the rest of the family does not, go to the museum but don't spend all day there. Choose a reasonable amount of time and then move on to the activity that everyone else wants to do.

Page 1 of 2 -- Discover three more great tips for planning a stress-free family vacation on page 2
4. Develop tactics for taking turns
Figuring out the best style of decision-making for your family is crucial if you want compromise to be a fruitful and enduring part of your road trip. Help your family stick with it by making it fun.

"Maybe you'll put names in a hat or make a seat rotation chart -- or if you've got three restaurant meals that are going to be eaten on the trip, decide who gets to pick where and in what order. If you've got that all figured out ahead of time, you'll save a lot of tension," says Fleetwood. Ask your family to talk about -- or vote on -- how they'd most like to organize seating arrangements and activity choices.

5. Get anxieties out in the open beforehand
If your kids don't do well with change, a road trip might seem more intimidating than inviting. Being open about their concerns will help minimize stress.

"A holiday can create anxiety for some kids. Ask your child what he fears the most. It might be as simple as 'I'm going to be building sand castles then we're going to have to leave and I won't want to leave once I'm there,'" says Fleetwood. "When you talk about it, you have a better idea of what the anxiety is, and then you can make a plan for it."

Kids may have a hard time articulating their anxieties, so ask concrete questions that they will be able to answer by explaining a specific situation they might be envisioning.

6. Make sure your kids check in with you
Everyone should get a say in what activities take place on your vacation, but you and your spouse will lead the pack. Be honest with each other about what you both want and expect from the trip.

"I recommend parents do some talking ahead of time so they're on the same page," Fleetwood advises. "I'd suggest they answer two questions: What's your worst fear of what could go wrong? And what would you be disappointed in if it didn't happen by the end of the trip?" Once you've discussed your must-dos and general feelings about the trip you'll have a better idea of how to make it work for everyone, she explains.

Be honest with yourself and your kids about what you expect from your road trip experience. Remember to plan in advance and that it's the journey, not the destination, that's half the fun.

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6 tips for planning a stress-free family road trip