While everyone loves to watch the misadventures of a family lampooning across America, escaping bears and generally amusing with a comedy of errors, few actually want to be in such a grizzly spot during their vacations.
When it comes time to pack up the kids and set out on that long-awaited road-trek, some tips from the those who’ve gone before can help ensure your family’s health and safety as well as help you keep your sanity throughout your travels. Avoid these potential pitfalls, identified by the RV road warriors at Vermont Country Campers, and you’ll get safely on the road to your successful adventure.
Failing to Plan
The two biggest mistakes that can cause misadventures happen before you ever set foot outside your door. “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” or so the maxim goes. Planning begins when you start writing down what you want to take and where you want to go. Looking forward to the trip isn’t planning, and “winging it” is a recipe for disaster.
#1: Packing Too Little or Not Enough
Perhaps the easiest way to derail your adventure, packing wrong means you won’t have what you need or you won’t have any room for comfort. Pack smart and take along the essentials for both health and happiness. Clothes and first-aid kits are a must, but pack for utility instead of bringing an outfit for every occasion.
When you’re traveling with young kids, finding ways to keep them occupied and interested is the key to preserving parents’ sanity. If you’re vacationing in an RV, or have a portable media player along in your ride, favorite movies and even video games can be a real boon. Remember to pack charging equipment. Even parents are likely to enjoy books on tape or other road-trip staples for those times when the road seems endless.
#2: Failing to Scout the Road Ahead
The classic foldaway map remains a great resource when you’re out of cellphone tower range and having trouble getting a GPS signal, but it can only tell you so much. Get online and visit the forums for the cities and destinations you plan to visit. The road ahead includes the potential hazards and challenges others have faced as well as the literal pavement.
Check out other tools, especially those that can download maps for offline use. Phone apps are great for both entertainment and utility. There are key rest stop apps for Android or for finding them on iOS, making it easier to find spots for breaks along your route. Other useful apps include weather alerts, one-button call apps for roadside assistance and media libraries with movies, games and audiobooks.
Thinking Any Vehicle Will Do
The classic vehicle for lampooning across the country is the family sedan or station wagon: a good, reliable four-wheeled vehicle designed for city streets and stop-and-go traffic. Of course, those very factors make it a poor choice for the rigors of the long road trip.
We’re not going to kid you, having made these trips countless summers, what you need is a vehicle that can not only stand up to the challenge but also make it a hundred times more enjoyable. Making the mistake of having the wrong vehicle for the journey will likely mean the trip is a short one that ends with time spent in motels instead of on the open road.
#3: Tackling Tough Roads With Weak Wheels
We mentioned before that the family sedan and station wagon are actually poor choices for long-haul adventures, and here’s one reason why. Engines designed for long periods of use on the highways can run hotter and longer with no ill side effects. These are the engines to look for whether you’re driving an 18-wheeler or choosing an RV.
Family cars feature engines and support designed for stop-and-go traffic. Vacationing in an RV delivers added comfort along with the raw utility for long periods of travel. Drivetrains and tires built for that type of exercise go a long way toward adding safety and security to your travels. If you’re towing a boat or a trailer, even a fifth wheel, you’re going to want and even need extra power.
#4: Cramped Quarters for Long Journeys
There’s another reason why RVs are a smarter choice than the family wagon: space. Your family may sometimes feel like your home is too small and you already live on top of one another, getting out for an adventure is supposed to free you from that. Being cramped in a small car full of luggage and essentials adds more stress instead of delivering the joy that vacation should bring.
Choosing an RV with family-friendly features, including plenty of leg space for parents, teens and younger kids, means everyone can relax and enjoy the scenery. Even if your truck is a heavy-duty model that can handle the long road, a fifth-wheel RV addon delivers so much extra space that it can literally transform your trip and eliminate that cramped, stuffy feeling.
Failing to Prepare
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray,” warns poet Robert Burns. The national poet of Scotland won’t be there to help when your carefully laid plans for your travels face their big challenges.
If you’re prepared, however, you’ll know what to do when plans fail and you have to fall back on your own wisdom and the tools you brought for the journey. If you’re not, these mistakes could very well spell disaster for your fun when the unexpected arrives.
#5: Panicking in a Bad Situation
The unexpected will happen. Everyone will tell you to expect it. When it does happen, it will usually be when you least expect it. Murphy’s Law exists on the road as much as anywhere else. The way you react to these unexpected events will determine more than just their outcome. It will also determine how your family reacts to them, and to you, over the course of the adventure.
Even if you’re an Eagle scout and you’ve found your own survival guide for the road ahead, practice keeping a level head and create contingency plans for those things you can expect. Blown tires, bad weather and animals on the road are just a few undesired adventures that you can handle with a little mindfulness and a lot of intestinal fortitude.
#6: Trying to Soldier On
Even if you’ve got the guts to keep going, forcing that decision on your family may not be the best idea. If the emergency isn’t something you can fix, an ill child for instance, you may be a hero for finding an alternative to soldiering on. This is especially true if you’re camping with infants and toddlers, who can’t tell you what is wrong.
Should nerves get frayed and tempers start to flare, consider how you can help the family relax. This might mean a night away from vacationing in an RV and spent in a nice hotel with a swimming pool and spa. It’s time to hit the map app you found and take a time-out from your adventure for something different.
Leaving Little Leeway
Your plans are successful; you’ve overcome the unexpected; you’re ready to return home. You’re also only about two days behind schedule due to that little emergency you ran into along the way. You may have had to wait for a storm to blow over or a roadway to clear before you could continue. Perhaps a little one got carsick or left a beloved toy at a rest stop.
Regardless of whatever misadventure did find you on the road, you’ll be fine as long as you didn’t make these final two mistakes that could give your otherwise great trip a sad ending.
#7: Not Making the Most of Your Time
Extended trips are all about making the most of your time. You don’t need to keep a tight time schedule, but you’ve likely got a lot to see and not a lot of time to get it done. Plan your trips by the day, not by the hour, for added sanity.
Give everyone plenty of time to enjoy their favorite attractions, of course, but don’t be afraid to move on when it looks like interest is waning. Kids can only see so many roadside tourist traps before they no longer care about the “state’s biggest whatever, only at exit 33.”
#8: Failing to Revise
That daily schedule still isn’t set in stone. When emergencies strike, it’s time to revise. Figure out if you need an extra day somewhere, preferably somewhere that everyone enjoys, to give a little one time to recover from one too many chili dogs or a teen time to get over the breakup text that just pinged.
Scheduling visits to national parks and other scenic locations as part of your travels gives you plenty of time for revision. Trips to these destinations don’t need to be all-day affairs. Take in the local draw, a geyser or a canyon or a smarter-than-the-average bear, and head out to save time. Or stick around to fish and hike if you’re ahead of schedule.
Parks are also one more reason why RVs make a great choice. You can camp out during bad weather and wait for the storm to pass in comfort instead of heading to ground at the nearest – and not always safest or cleanest – local motel.
Go ahead and watch those movies that lampoon the road trip. Take them as “what not to do” advice for your own travels! For more tips on making the most of your adventures with young children or to find out how to choose an RV, contact Vermont Country Campers.