Fun family road trip

Planning a road trip with the family? Discover how proper packing and positive attitudes all result in an exciting, upbeat adventure for everyone.

By Kathy Ullyott

Plan ahead for a family road trip

An old story in my family has it that a foremother drove a covered wagon from Ontario to North Dakota, circa 1850, stopping only briefly somewhere between Minneapolis and Billings to give birth to her ninth child.

Well, it could be true. Certainly her progeny has the same wanderlust in our veins. Before we had kids, my partner Victor and I defined vacation as "road trip": Nothing involving fewer than 5,000 clicks on the odometer qualified as a true getaway. Children, of course, have a way of resetting your benchmarks, so as our own (eventually) three arrived we filed the tattered CAA road maps and reckoned that an outing to the mall with a teenager, toddler and newborn was adventure enough.

Be enthusiastic about a family road trip
Still, when we embarked on our first real driving trip -- from Toronto to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island -- with our two daughters (then aged eight months and almost three), my 15-year-old stepson and my parents, it was with nothing but enthusiasm. My stepson, Tom, had made the trip to Cape Breton Island -- Victor's birthplace -- every summer since he was a toddler and could, I figured, find his way there unaided, like the trio of animals in The Incredible Journey. My parents were veteran road warriors -- and besides, as my kids' favourite babysitters, they'd be a net gain. And my little babies were, I considered, as portable and accommodating as Eddie Bauer duffel bags.

Is it possible to have a fun trip without any complications?
I was surprised, therefore, when innocent bystanders suggested that we were taking not a holiday but leave of our senses. As my brother-in-law pointed out, "Chevy Chase makes movies about this kind of vacation." You may be expecting me to admit here that the whole project devolved into a sort of horror on wheels. (And, indeed, there was one night, as we searched fruitlessly for a hotel somewhere in rural Quebec during a thunderstorm, that did seem like the opening of a Wes Craven film.) But it wasn't. A horror, I mean. How else could I have acquired memories like the one of my three-year-old paddling in the Atlantic with her grandfather, or my husband and his son sitting under the eaves of an isolated motel in Maine, with the ancient North Woods a dozen feet away and a Stephen King rain sheeting from the roof?

Since then we've hit the road at least once a year and been rewarded with a reaffirmation of our philosophy of family travel: Vacations should be true getaways for every member of the family. And, with some give-and-take, some ingenuity and some -- OK, a lot -- of tongue-biting, everybody on board can have the holiday of his or her dreams.

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