A great deal of preparation goes into creating a memorable road trip for your family. I am going to give you an overview of everything we had to consider when planning our massive family road trip to Barkerville, BC this summer.
I may write more about some of these topics at a later date, but this post will give you an overview of the main things that you need to think about when planning your next big family road trip.
Decide where you want to go
First, we had to decide where we wanted to go and how we wanted to get there. My husband and I had been wanting to do a road trip in BC for a few years now and we finally decided to just take the plunge. We chose Barkerville, BC because it was somewhere that both of us really wanted to see and we thought it would be a cool experience for the kids.
Consider the needs of the people travelling with you
I have mobility issues and some other health problems (that we are trying to sort out right now) so we had to factor those limitations into our travel plans. This meant considering only accommodations and attractions that were accessible friendly. In some areas, we accomplished this really well, but we did have a couple of fails too. We have a better idea now what questions we need to ask and what resources we need to have on hand for ourselves.
We also have one child with diagnosed autism and several with sensory issues. Since this was our first long trip away from home, we really had no idea what to expect when travelling with them. We learned a lot and will make a few adaptations when planning in the future.
Gather your resources
Since Barkerville was only one piece of the trip, we needed to plan the drive there and back as well as other activities to do along the way.
Gathering my resources included three main things:
- online research
- writing to the Chamber of Commerce for each location we were considering
- writing to the Visitor’s Center for each location we were considering
Plan a budget and save your money
We started planning for our trip in March (and our trip took place in July). We used our income tax return to book some of the accommodations in March (as soon as the BC Provincial Parks opened for booking) and we reserved at Cottonwood House (and paid on site when we arrived).
Accommodations was one of the biggest expenses of our trip. We mostly tent camped, but we had an unplanned night in a motel that could have really messed us up if there was not a little wiggle room in the budget. One thing I would do for all future trips is plan to have a couple nights of motel money in savings as an emergency. It might be easy for one or two people to get a motel, but finding accommodations for 7 people for the night (and one with mobility issues) was not an easy task (especially in the middle of BC’s Wildfire evacuations).
In order for us to travel off Vancouver Island to the mainland, we have to take BC Ferries. This was a HUGE expense and a big part of our travel budget.
A rough gas estimate can easily be calculated if you know how many kilometers you get to the tank. Thankfully, my husband knew this information. I plugged our whole trip, including all of our major driving, into Google Maps to get an estimate of how many kilometers our trip would take and then I divided that by the amount per tank. This gave me a rough idea of how many times we would need to fill up. Gas was cheaper in many of the places where we were driving, so this was helpful to the budget.
Planning your food is a whole post in itself, so I am not going to cover that much here. Consider where you will be eating (in the car, at the campsite, in a fast food joint, in restaurants, etc.) and that will help you plan your budget accordingly.
Laundromat is something that I did not budget, but I had a crazy amount of quarters from my savings that saved the day. It would be helpful for future trips to make note of the locations of close laundromats about 5 days into your trip when everyone runs out of clothes and starts to smell. Long car rides and smelly teens need to be avoided.
Since attractions can be costly, you might want to select which ones you absolutely must visit and which ones are optional (depending on budget, savings, or any crisis you might find along the way). We visited Science World and the Vancouver Aquarium.
We set aside savings for the kids in envelopes over the four months prior to the trip, so they had some spending money for their souvenirs. And when it was gone, it was gone.
We had a bit of wiggle room in our budget because I prefer to over budget for everything. This was particularly helpful for times when we needed to grab a quick meal on the road and when we got stuck in a three sailing wait at the BC Ferries.
You might also want to go through your camping or travel gear and see if anything needs to be replaced or updated. We needed to get bigger sleeping bags because some of our teens grew substantially since the last time we camped.
Things to include on a budget:
- Accommodations (camping, motel, etc.)
- BC Ferries
Ways to save money
To help us save for this trip, we took a set amount of money off each of our paychecks and put it right into savings. We also saved all our coins (quarters, Loonies, and Toonies). I casually saved coins for this trip and ended up with nearly $100 in Loonies and Toonies and over $45 in quarters.
A savings trick I saw on Pinterest was to put every five-dollar bill into an envelope and save it. I am going to add this to my money saving tricks for next time.
Plan your route and book your accommodations but be adaptable
When planning our route and booking accommodations we had a destination in mind, a highway we wanted to take, and pit stops we wanted to enjoy. And then out of nowhere came the BC Wildfires which shut down our main highway route in multiple places and completely changed our plans. (The map is our new, adjusted route.)
Things to consider when planning your route:
- How long does Google Maps say it will take (and add more time)?
- How long can you travel at one time (we last 1.5 to 3 hours at a stretch)?
- How often do you or your little people need to stretch their legs or use the bathroom to stay happy (again 1.5 to 2 hours)?
- Do you want to stop to take pictures? Where?
- How long can you drive in one day (we can last about 6 hours driving time, not including stops)?
- How much work do you have to do at your destination (even if it is just a one-night stop) including setting up camp, cooking, etc.?
- Do you have a backup plan? Do you have a backup budget (for emergencies or motels)?
- Have you checked DriveBC or the BC Wildfires site to check for emergencies in BC?
Planning for food
When you are travelling with a family of seven you need to have a good plan for food. I did not want to run out of food or money for food on this nearly two-week adventure. I brought fresh, frozen, and canned food. I brought healthy meal food, snack food, and junky treats. We eat very differently when we are travelling. Our kids like to snack more often when we are driving, but they don’t eat as much at meal time. I have much to think about for our upcoming travels.
Things to consider when planning food:
- What will you eat in the car?
- Will you stop at gas stations, restaurants, or stores during your driving days?
- How will you be cooking? (camp stove, campfire, or something else)
- If there is a campfire ban do you have a camp stove (and enough propane)?
- Will you eat at fast food restaurants? (We planned a stop at Carl’s Jr. Restaurant because we do not have one where we live.)
- Will you eat at a real restaurant?
- Will you eat the buffet on the BC Ferries? (We would have enjoyed this, but for our family it would have doubled the price of the ferry trip).
Enjoy the process of planning
I have to admit that I love planning. I enjoyed the preparations for this trip almost as much as the trip itself (okay, maybe not quite as much). I loved gathering information, deciding what adventures to have, and learning so much.
Here are a few of the things I learned while planning for this trip:
- I learned how to find information that I needed by searching the internet, writing to people, or calling for information.
- I learned a great deal about the geography of BC and can now accurately locate many of the highways, small towns, cities, and rivers on the map.
- I learned that BC has MANY different habitats and there are a few that I am not interested in visiting (other than driving through) like the grasslands of Merritt and Kamloops. I much prefer forests and rivers and greenery.
- I learned that it is important to keep all your travel information and documents together in one place. This trip I had a travel binder where I kept reservation information, internet printouts with contact information, travel brochures, and receipts. I included a roughed out itinerary, notes about which campsites we were staying at, and information from attractions we wanted to visit.
- I also learned that I LOVE travel brochures and handouts. My souvenirs for this trip included travel brochures from all of the province (in order to plan more trips, of course).