It’s hard to say whose idea it really was (we both take credit), but my husband and I purchased a small tent trailer in 2011. When summer arrived, we packed up the kids (who were 9 and 11) and headed out in search of adventure. What started off as a test trip to the west coast turned into five fantastic summer vacations that covered every province and half of the United States.
The first year we travelled from Winnipeg to Vancouver Island. In Year Two we got as far east as Quebec City. On the third year we spent 5 weeks meandering through the Atlantic provinces and New England. The fourth trip took us to the Grand Canyon, and on the final year we explored the west coast highway from Vancouver to San Francisco. In 19 weeks we covered over 30,000 kilometers; eventually (and predictably) our teenagers succumbed to the lure of summer jobs and time with their friends which put an end to our wandering ways.
It is tough to pick a favourite adventure, but here are some that I would highly recommend:
- Whale watching was a highlight, both in Tadoussac, Quebec, and off the coast of St. John’s, Newfoundland
- While the redwood forests of California were spectacular, we also loved the old growth forests on Vancouver Island
- The Grand Canyon was magnificent, but so was the smaller Antelope Canyon, with its magical shapes and light patterns
- My daughter would probably tell you that the highlight was the Hershey’s Chocolate Factory in Pennsylvania
- We loved everything about the Pacific Northwest – from playing in tidepools with starfish and anemones and the quirkiness of Portland, to glass-blowing in Lincoln City and the stunning beach-side sunsets.
Of course, not every day was a picnic. We had several flat tires, and when our engine died on the highway in Pennsylvania we had to rely on the kindness of gun-toting strangers who told stories that we hoped weren’t true. There were a few health incidents, and one required a trip to the hospital. Google Maps misled us routinely, so we were often a bit lost. The usual stuff. However, through these experiences I refined my parenting motto: “We’re in the business of making memories; they won’t all be good.”
If you have a hankering to try a road trip, my advice is to start with a plan. Being spontaneous sounds romantic but taking time to scour tourism websites and Tripadvisor will alert you to off-the-beaten path adventures that are easily missed. Many excursions need to be booked in advance, and you’ll want to ensure your schedule aligns with the dates and times that venues are open. We learned to start with detailed plans and then amend them spontaneously.
Beyond sight-seeing, these trips provided us with amazing family time. The shared experiences, the group decision making, and the endless games of cribbage were even more valuable than the incredible scenery. All in all, I count these trips among my greatest parenting successes.
Are you a road tripper? If so, what destinations do you recommend for my next adventure?