I love our long family road trips! This summer we're going on one more long road trip in North America, taking two and a half months to drive from Los Angeles to Alaska and back. We're leaving in exactly one month from today which is making go "Woohoo!" but also "OMG - it's so close!" at the same time.
To alleviate some of my travel anxiety, I'm going to talk today about why long road trips are absolutely the best thing a family can do and also share some tips about how we prepare for our long road trips.
After all, there's a world of difference between taking a week-long excursion and going on a five-month-long road trip. That difference affects the way you plan the trip. A weekend in Paris is perfect for a quick spontaneous getaway. Half a year in India? That takes so much more research and planning!
Why nothing beats a good loooooong road trip
Some people shudder when I tell them we travel with our kids for such long durations. If you're having trouble spending the weekend with your kids, I can see why you might freak out over the thought of being cooped up with them for long hours every day inside a moving vehicle.
But here's the thing. These long family trips have brought us together in such wonderful ways that we LOVE spending weekends with our kids. And they with us. My two teenagers - both now towering over my own 6 feet- can't imagine not traveling with their parents. A romantic couples' getaway? Forget it. This family always travels together.
I've talked to other traveling families so I know this isn't unique to us. Eight years ago, I had started doing my research for our first road trip in the US. Oshra - a fellow Israeli travel blogger - had just returned from a nine-month long road trip in the US with her family of six. That's how we met. She was the seasoned traveler in North America who mentored me, the newbie seeking guidance.
I talked to Oshra on the phone last week. They're heading out for a Florida RV vacation with their four daughters in December. Three of the daughters are in their twenties but they're still coming with their parents on yet another long road trip.
I'm telling you this to show that these long trips are an amazing way to build up family ties. There's nothing quite like packing up your spouse and kids and leaving your worries behind to tour a brave new world together.
Why long term family travel requires long term planning
Just how much you should plan ahead for any trip is a question of personal preference. Some people love the spontaneity and adventure of landing in a foreign airport and just winging it from there. I envy those people. I suffer from travel anxiety - funny, isn't it? A travel blogger with travel anxiety? - and I find that detailed planning helps me overcome some of the fear associated with traveling.
Even if you're not like me, if you're thinking about taking a long family trip, you should really plan ahead.
Timing the trip
Are you a digital nomad? Wandering between countries and never settling in for more than a few months at a time?
No? Well, neither are we. Our motto is "Have life Will Travel". It means we incorporate traveling into our life instead of spending our life traveling.
My husband is a freelancer. I'm a blogger and web publisher working from home. It may sound like we can just leave everything and get away at a moment's notice but trust me, this is not the case. A freelancer has to plan his projects and let existing clients when he won't be available for work. As a website owner, I have to adjust my content and promotional strategies to account for my future absence. Sure, we both stay in touch with "our work" but we like to spend our days on a trip, well, actually traveling!
We recently visited Berlin for four days. When looking for accommodation, I was hoping to find something in the $70 a night range. The problem was I waited for the last minute to book our hotel and couldn't find anything I liked for under $100. We ended up staying at The Mitte Novotel which cost us $100 a night.
Had I made reservations 9 months in advance, I could probably save us at least $100 on our four-day-long stay but hey, that's something I can live with as the price tag for being spontaneous.
Now, obviously, I do not recommend making reservations for every night of your long road trip. On the contrary, having the freedom to roam around and change plans is one of the perks of long term travel. However, if you want to spend a part of your road trip in an expensive location, booking ahead of time can mean big savings.
Take our up and coming trip this summer, for example. We're going to spend about one month of the trip in Alaska and a few other expensive destinations such as the Canadian Rockies. I made our reservations for these areas almost a year in advance. As soon as motels in these locations were taking reservations, I was at Booking.com making them.
I kept checking occasionally and as expected, the rates went up. Way up. Most of the hotels I booked for us now offer the very same rooms at double the price. Some are asking for more than that. Many have no more available rooms. I saved more than $3000 - at a conservative estimate - by making these early reservations. In a long family road trip, these savings really add up.
So, how to best prepare for a long road trip?
1. Know thy destination
You don't have to plan a detailed itinerary right away (though it can help to do that!) but you have to know the basics. What's the general outline of your route? What time of year should you be going? Is that a budget destination or an expensive one? Any specific must-see attractions to anchor your trip around? What would be the minimal time span needed?
These are all things that you should have in the back of your mind. Me? I have several long term trips stored in the back of my mind. Including a six months long trip to Australia and New Zealand and a 4-5 months long trip to the southern regions of South America. Our road trip to Alaska and back from the Lower 48 has been stored in there (the back of my mind, not South America!) for at least five years before coming to fruition this year.
2. Schedule the trip
By that, I mean having a general concept of when you want to carry it out. As soon as you graduate college? After your kid graduates high school? On your spouse's sabbatical? As soon as you retire from your day job? Leaving your life for 4-6 months - or maybe even a year or two - requires strategic planning. Especially if you're a traveling family.
3. Prepare a timeline for booking the important things
So, you're going to dedicate the summer of 2019 to travel that once-in-a-lifetime road trip, driving to Alaska? Awesome! Now's the time to start planning. Find out when's the best time to book the important things for your trip. If you need to fly - flights are usually cheaper when booked a year in advance. The same goes for car rentals.
Accommodation? That would depend on where and when you need it. Big cities, national parks, festivals and special occasions may all be cheaper when booked in advance. That said, some places aren't open for reservations a year in advance, so research and find out when's the right time for booking your hotels.
The same goes for excursions, shows, activities and anything else that might be in short supply. Prices for attractions may have early bird rates or they may just run out if you wait for too long. Some permits and passes need to be reserved way in advance. Some run out within hours after becoming available. Get the information you need over a year in advance and add these tasks to your calendar so you won't miss out on anything.
4. Documents, documents, documents
What kind of documents will you be needing? That depends on where you're coming from and where you're going to. You need to make sure they will all be up to date on the date of departure and throughout your trip. Some countries may not let you in if your passport expires before your flight back is due.
Documents to consider for your long trip-
- Passport (duh!)
- Tourist visas
- Driving license (and an international driver's license if needed)
- Credit cards
- Medical documents if you may need follow-up treatments
5. Start working on your itinerary
The sooner you do that, the better. Planning for a week-long trip is obviously easier than planning for a trip that will last six months. Just how detailed your itinerary should be is up to you but whatever you usually put into planning a day's worth of traveling, you're going to invest X25 as much time.
And no, it doesn't mean you'll have to stick to that itinerary. Not at all. Part of the magic of long-term traveling is flexibility, the spontaneity, and the sense of freedom. There is absolutely no reason to be a slave to your itinerary.
The point here isn't creating a perfect final plan. It's about researching your destination so that once you're there, you'll be able to do what you want to do when you want to do it.
A long family trip is absolutely doable if you take the time - sometimes years! - to plan ahead. This way, you can break down the tasks and do everything gradually, over the course of a year or even two.
As a solo traveler, you probably have more flexibility, to begin with, but you could still benefit from preparing and organizing things in advance.
Am I wrong here? Or do you agree? I'd love to hear from fellow long-term travelers - how long before your big trip did you start planning it? Do you have any long-term trips planned in the coming years? Do share by leaving me a comment!