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By Sharee Collier
Your family wants to go on an awesome road trip. But not just any road trip. It’s an extended full-time sabbatical from everyday life.
Dreams of climbing through the Rocky Mountains, hiking the Appalachian Trail, seeing the Seven Wonders of the World and spending six months sailing in the Mediterranean, come to mind.
You know for sure this trip will be different. This trip will be one for the records books, because you’ve made the first decision to skip the theme park lines, your usual camping spot and the trip to Granny’s house, this year and are trading the usual for a life off the beaten path full of escapades along roads less often traveled.
Everyone is excited about this once-in-a-lifetime family experience and eagerly waiting to see what national treasures will be discovered. Teetering between absolutely amazing and horribly awful, your family’s nomadic life could be a smooth paved drive or a rocky dirt road from an 80’s horror film. The difference between the two can be as simple as a little forethought and planning to make sure all your bases are covered.
Taking time to talk with your crew about where they want to go, what they want to see and what they hope to gain from the adventure are always great starting points for family adventure. And while everyone’s input should be equally appreciated and accepted, some things will naturally fall into the hands of the adults to figure out the details.
Major tasks like planning when to go, choosing actual destinations, planning your route, booking overnight accommodations and planning activities, as well as creating your meal plans can be exhausting to think about let alone complete, but they all must be done for a smooth and successful trip.
So do yourself a big favor, and take some “adult time” to plan your family’s road trip itinerary with these seven steps:
1. Deciding When To Go
This might be as easy as waiting for the kids to get out of school or more intense like setting up an online business that allows you to earn an income while traveling extensively throughout North America.
Whatever obstacles are standing in your way, try to put them into a realistic perspective to be able to pinpoint exactly when your trip will begin. Once you’re able to pick an exact date to begin your travels, make sure to circle it on your calendar or start a countdown with the kids to keep them excited about what’s in store.
2. Choosing a destination
Some folks like to plan every minute, every stop and every destination they plan to visit- while others love the freedom of just making it up as they go. Whichever way you choose to go, make sure you think it through before starting out. Even a general idea of where you plan to travel to will work wonders on keeping your stress levels to a minimum.
Multi stop trips will require more planning than just a single destination, but they’re well worth the extra leg work. Asking yourself and your family members “Why” you’re taking this trip is sometimes an insightful place to start. When you can clearly put into words the reasons behind the journey, the road is most often ten time smoother.
3. Planning a Route
Once you’ve decided when and where to go, planning your route is the next big step. Your route can make or break your trip — with literally one wrong turn.
I advise everyone to plan the route with several different applications, such as your GPS, MapQuest and even online trip planners like Road Trippers, but to also use a physical map and driving directions to make sure you know where you’re going and, more importantly sometimes, where exactly you are.
Planning a route that goes through the mountains, avoids ferries, dirt roads and low bridges can be just as important as planning one within the travel comforts of your family.
4. Book overnight accommodations
Going on an extended road trip will require many nights of overnight accommodations, but that doesn’t mean you have to plan ever night before you go. Planning your stops, or at least a few in advance can be a real life saver, especially when just starting out.
Look at your route and pick some places to research. Find campgrounds you’d like to visit and that offer amenities your family finds important. Booking a few nights in campgrounds, a few at state parks and a few night roughing it can give your road trip mix of accommodations sure to please every family’s budget.
Also, tricks like staying in one location for a few days, a week or even more can offset the cost of just one-night stays. Other considerations are dry camping in approved areas where you bring all your necessities with you and pay pennies on the dollar, if anything, to camp.
5. Choose your activities
What will you pass along the route you’ve planned for your family? Are there any roadside attractions, national monuments, landmarks, or science centers along the way? What types of attractions are most interesting to your crew?
Choosing activities can be a big job, especially if you’re trying to spread them out over a long journey. I like to use the website and mobile app Road Trippers, to find places of interest within a specific distance from our route. The site also allows for full trip planning, which is helpful when switching routes, adding stops and planning in depth.
Activities can be planned along the route to split up your travels, but also after arrival at destination spots to keep the trip fun and exciting for your family of travelers.
6. Create a meal plan
Who wants to plan meals for an entire road trip, right? Wrong! You might think this is an extra and unnecessary step, but when you’re on the road for a few hours and the kids start asking for snacks, this step will feel more useful than ever.
Traveling in an RV has its perks and, let’s be honest, having your own personal home with you along the way is at the top of the list.
Make a few meals to use along the road. Start with a four- or five-day plan detailing what is for breakfast, lung and dinner and maybe a snack or two. Keeping your RV frig and pantry stocked with the staple items for at least one week worth of meals for your family, can save you time and money after a long day of driving.
7. Make a spreadsheet
At this point, you’ll have a map nicely laid out, showing your route with all your stops and activities, but it might be hard to read. Everything is planned, but figuring out one stop to the next, makes your eyes hurt and your head throb, which is definitely not ideal.
My suggestion for the easiest way to organize you trip is to keep a road trip spreadsheet. Creating a simple spreadsheet starting on the date you’re leaving with spaces for each day, destination stops, miles driven, travel time, lodging, activities, meals and notes will allow you to keep the trip organized and easily access all the information you need at the drop of a dime.
Clearly seeing your trip in an easy to read format, will allow you follow the plan more easily. And if a spreadsheet isn’t your cup of tea- try a monthly calendar layout.
Planning an extended road trip with your family will require time, effort, and patience. But, if you can successfully navigate the roads from start to finish, the results will make your trip ten times more enjoyable.
Without boundaries and limitations, the freedom to explore is a special gift to be able to give your family. I hope your travels will be filled with adventure, insight, and enlightenment and deliver long lasting memories for your family to cherish for a lifetime.