Thursday, 4 January 2018

How to plan an awesome family road trip - Guest post by Battlemum

Fellow family travel blogger and friend, has written a guest post for me on how to plan an awesome road trip. Her and her family go on some amazing holidays and last year embarked on an incredible road trip in America. Here is what she has to say:

The thought of a family road trip can often be the thing of nightmares for some families. Spending hours together in a car, with many miles to drive between destinations, can fill some people with dread. But it need not scare you. A family road trip could turn out to be one of the best holidays you have, if you plan it right. Our big holiday this year, and our most adventurous to date, was a two-week trip across no less than five states of the Pacific North West.

My husband and I have always wanted to visit Yellowstone National Park after watching the BBC three-part series about it. We’ve also wanted to visit Portland. We were big fans of the TV series Grimm and Portland, where it is set, always looked like a very cool city. But initially we had planned to wait to visit Yellowstone until our son was older than he is. After visiting New York when our son was two and a half years old, and loving it, we couldn’t hold off any longer. And so, once we got back from New York, we started researching a trip to Yellowstone.

To my surprise, Portland wasn’t a million miles away from Yellowstone. We decided that if we were going all that way for Yellowstone, we were going to combine the two into one trip, and visit Portland at the same time. And so began a few months of planning an awesome family road trip.

The first thing I did was look into hiring a car at the nearest airport to Yellowstone and dropping it off at Portland airport. The idea was we could fly into Yellowstone, spend some time there, and then take our time driving to Portland. We could then fly back to the UK from Portland. However, I got a big shock when the car hire quotes came back. They were beyond our budget and we had to think of something else.

Hiring a car from Portland airport and returning it there was a quarter of the price, so we decided we’d have to drive to Yellowstone first and then make our way back to Portland. What we saved on car hire covered our air fares! But it did mean we faced 808 miles of driving just to start our holiday. We broke up the miles over two days and then started with four days in Yellowstone National Park before we started our road trip back to Portland.
Planning the miles and stops along the route proved instrumental in making it an unforgettable family road trip. I think if we had tried to wing it, we might not have enjoyed it as much. Having some down time along the way was also a welcome break from being in the car.

Our two weeks in northwest America proved to be the most unforgettable holiday we’ve had to date and turned out to be an awesome family road trip. So much so, we have already researched and booked our next road trip in Ireland next Easter. And we are in the planning stages of a European road trip that will see us visit four countries over two weeks, all being well, at the end of next summer.

So how can you plan an awesome family road trip. Well, here are some tips which we employed to make our USA road trip an unforgettable one.

Although you might think this is the boring part, if you do it well, it may prove to be the one thing that is instrumental in making the trip truly awesome. First, pick your destination and don’t be afraid to go big. If you are doing a road trip abroad, consider your car hire and decide your routes to and from your pick up/drop off points. Budget may dictate these, as you’ve already seen from our experience. Once car hire is sorted, you can book your flights, but I would recommend you have your flights picked out and ready to pay once your car hire is confirmed. At least you will have transport sorted.

The next thing to research is the destinations you want to visit along the way, and most importantly, the miles and driving times between them. You don’t want to be doing big miles day after day with kids in tow. They aren’t going to enjoy it, and if they’re not happy, you can be sure you’re going to end up just as grumpy as them. Plan your route with both you AND them in mind.

And last but not least, your accommodation. I know there are some families out there who wing it and just stop along road trips when they feel like it and find accommodation there. My sister-in-law did just that when she did Route 66 twice. But that’s not for me. I like to know I have accommodation sorted before we arrive anywhere. That said, particularly if you are in America, you could always change last minute if somewhere really took your fancy along the way.

Family road trips can be as expensive or as cheap as you want. By taking your own car, you will save on car hire but that limits your options of destinations, and you’ll still need to factor in ferry or Channel Tunnel costs. If you are doing a road trip abroad, set a budget for transport including car hire and flights, and stick to it. This may impact your options for car hire pick up and drop off, but we couldn’t justify blowing our transport budget on car hire just for the convenience of picking it up at Yellowstone, and dropping off at Portland airport.
Budget for your accommodation next and for daily expenditure. If you are visiting paid-for attractions, check out the cost before you go. And budget for fuel. This can easily be overlooked during the planning stages. What I will say is we were pleasantly surprised at the cost of fuel in America and also how economical our big 4x4 was.

Be Realistic
This point ties in with your research. Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day and what your kids may be willing to take on. 808 miles in one go from Portland to Yellowstone might have been doable for my husband and I, but I knew our son would never be able for that in one go. We broke up that mammoth journey into two days. Subsequent travel days were a lot shorter than those first two days and it was great to get the big miles out of the way at the start of the holiday.

You also need to be realistic about how much you can squeeze into one day. For example, we would never have covered the whole of Yellowstone National Park in one or two days. As it was, we spent four days there and didn’t see everything the park had to offer.

You should also factor in down time for everyone, especially the kids. Plan to visit attractions that will let them be kids and run off some steam. We visited the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre just outside Yellowstone park on two occasions and our son thoroughly enjoyed it. In Portland, we visited no less than three places with him in mind and it was a welcome break for him.

Pack Smart
Although our USA road trip was 18 days in total, when you include our pit stop in London on the way there, I didn’t pack for 18 days. I packed for 10. I knew that our AirBnB near Yellowstone had laundry facilities, as did one of our hotels. This meant we didn’t need to bring as much clothes with us. However, if you know you will not have access to laundry, pack enough clothes for your trip, and a few extra bits, just in case. You never know if car sickness might hit your kids.

And I wouldn’t recommend packing the kitchen sink in terms of entertainment for the kids either. We packed a cabin bag for our son, full of toys, sticker books, cars and his tablet. And until we arrived in Portland, he didn’t use any of it. He was more than happy looking out the window and checking for bison in Yellowstone through the binoculars we’d bought him. He covered 3000 miles and over 60 hours in the car without any entertainment except the radio and his binoculars. His tablet didn’t make an appearance until Portland. All those toys had been a waste of time. My advice is let the kids pack a small backpack.

Snacks and Picnics
During your family road trip, always ensure you have snacks in the car for everyone, and pack a picnic for your trips too. We didn’t pack a picnic on our first day in Yellowstone and spent $40 on bland, tasteless food at one of the restaurants and vowed never to forget one again. Each day after that, we packed a picnic and as a result we could enjoy it wherever we wanted. We ate near the waterfalls one day and out of the back of the car another at Roosevelt Lodge while watching horses being groomed. We also made sure to have plenty of water in the car. We put a case of small bottles of water into the boot of the car and gave some to two guys we met in Montana who had run out on a particularly hot day. They were so grateful, and we were glad to help.

These things helped to make our USA holiday a trip-of-a-lifetime and it is a holiday we will be remembering for years to come. With some planning and these tips in mind, you too could have an awesome family road trip with your kids. And, despite the fact he is only coming up for four years of age, our son still talks about our ‘cave in the woods’ (our AirBnB log cabin), the bison and the campfire he and daddy built with sticks. Next up is a road trip in Ireland and we cannot wait.

You can keep up to date with Battlemum and her travels on the following social media:


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