How to Prepare for a Really Long Family Trip

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How to prepare for a really long family trip

I love our long family road trips!  This summer, we're going on one more long road trip in North America, which will take two and a half months to drive from Los Angeles to Alaska and back. 

We're leaving exactly one month from today, which makes us go "Woohoo!" and "OMG—it's so close!" simultaneously.

To alleviate some of my travel anxiety, I will talk today about why long road trips are the best thing a family can do. I will also share some tips about preparing for our long road trips.

After all, there's a 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!

Hatchback Car travel driving road trip of woman summer vacation in blue car at sunset,Girls happy traveling enjoy holidays and relaxation with friends together get the atmosphere and go to d

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 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 are 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 started researching our first road trip through 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. In December, they're leaving for a Florida RV vacation with their four daughters. 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 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.

Driving down an empty road with a view of mountains in the distance and cloudy sky through a front car windshield.

Why long-term family travel requires long-term planning

Just how much you should plan for any trip is a question of personal preference. Some people love the spontaneity and adventure of landing in a foreign airport and winging it from there. I envy those people.

I suffer from travel anxiety - funny. A travel blogger with travel anxiety? - and detailed planning helps me overcome some of the fears 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.

Here's why.

Scenic view big modern white family rv camper van vehicle driving on european highway road against sunset sun sky summer. Rving motorhome rent lifestyle travel adventure tourism trip journey concept

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 lives instead of spending our lives traveling.

My husband is a freelancer. I'm a blogger and web publisher working from home. It may sound like we can leave everything and get away at a moment's notice, but this is not the case.

A freelancer has to plan his projects and let existing clients know when he won't be available for work. As a website owner, I must adjust my content and promotional strategies for my future absence.

Sure, we both stay in touch with "our work," but we like to spend our days on a trip or, well, actually traveling!

Two adorable little sisters sitting in a car just before leaving for a car vacation with their parents

Budget considerations

We recently visited Berlin for four days. When looking for accommodation, I was hoping to find something around $70 a night.

The problem was I waited until the last minute to book our hotel and couldn't find anything I liked for under $100. We stayed at The Mitte Novotel, which cost us $100 a night.

Had I made reservations nine months in advance, I could have saved us at least $100 on our four-day stay, but hey, that's something I can live with as the price tag for being spontaneous.

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 upcoming trip this summer, for example. We will spend about one month traveling to Alaska and 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, and many have no more available rooms.

At a conservative estimate, I saved more than $3000 by making these early reservations. In a long family road trip, these savings add up.

Family driving convertible car along winding coastal road

So, how do you best prepare for a long road trip?

1. Know thy destination

You don't have to plan a detailed itinerary immediately (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? Are there any specific must-see attractions to anchor your trip around? What would be the minimal period needed?

It would be best if you had these things in the back of your mind. Me? I have several long-term trips stored in the back of my mind, including a six-month trip to Australia and New Zealand and a four —to five-month trip to the southern regions of South America. 

Our road trip to Alaska and back from the Lower 48 has been stored 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 to travel that once-in-a-lifetime road trip, driving to Alaska? Awesome!

Now's the time to start planning. Find out 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 to book your hotels.

The same goes for excursions, shows, activities, and anything else in short supply. Prices for attractions may have early bird rates, or they may just run out if you wait too long.

Some permits and passes need to be reserved far in advance, and some run out within hours of 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 need? That depends on where you're coming from and where you're going.

You must ensure they will all be updated on the departure date 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 easier than preparing for a journey 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 will 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, spontaneity, and a sense of freedom. There is 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.

Update: Since I finished writing this post, we've traveled much more as a family. You can read more about our trips here and check out my 37 road trip tips in this post.

Sounds daunting?

A long family trip is doable if you take the time - sometimes years! - to plan. This way, you can break down the tasks and do everything gradually over a year or even two.

As a solo traveler, you probably have more flexibility but 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!

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