07/14/2015 16:08 EDT | Updated 07/14/2016 01:12 EDT

Ready to roll? Five tips for thriving and surviving on a family road trip

TORONTO — Michael Palmer and his family didn't have to look further than their van to help them unplug from their busy schedules.

In 2013, he set off with his wife, Catharine Maxwell-Palmer, and their kids Andrew, Ryan and Jenna — now ages 11, nine and eight — on a cross-Canada adventure that took them from Calgary to the northern tip of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The author and entrepreneur documented their journey in his upcoming humorous travel book "No Tranquilizers! 17,000 kms, 63 Days, 3 Kids, 1 Van."

He credited the trip with helping the family prepare for international travel; they recently returned from a year in Costa Rica.

Palmer has partnered with Canadian Tire to share road trip tips for families embarking on their own adventures. Here are five ways to get ready for the ride:



Palmer said the family had a lot of fun and saw many beautiful places, but admitted they "probably packed in too many destinations."

"Looking back, we were almost jumping around a bit too much at times. We really didn't have a chance to sit there and smell the roses."

He said it's important to involve everyone in the decision-making to help foster a greater connection and excitement.

"I think you'll get a lot of good feedback from the kids and your spouse or partner on ... what spots to pick and focus on and not (to) cram in too much."

A GPS can help ensure travellers don't veer too far off course or schedule.

"Even one hour lost time can really upset the balance of your travelling plans — especially with tired kids at the end of the afternoon."



Palmer said they only wore about half of what they brought.

"It's good to have some things in place. Some extra clothing, some rain jackets ... because you're going to go through a lot of the elements, fog and rain and what have you. But you've got to be reasonable about it."



"When you're in a vehicle for five or six hours a day, things can get a bit snaky in the back seat with the kids. They can be bored, they can be tired, they can be hungry. So you've really got to plan for those types of things —and planning is a big part of this whole adventure as well," said Palmer.

He said they like to pack an "entertainment bag" for each child, which they can tailor with their favourite car games, puzzles or books.

They also enjoyed outside viewing activities like the alphabet game, in which participants try to locate items starting with the letter "A" and so on. 

"We're trying to engage them with the outside world so they aren't just plugged into screens all the time," said Palmer, noting that screen time was limited to 45 minutes daily. 



Palmer said they stayed away from fast-food restaurants and hauled their cooler to parks for lunches. They also made smoothies in their hotel rooms and snacked on boiled eggs and nuts.

"You want to make sure your kids have good foods, have healthy snacks. You don't want to juice them up all full of sugar.... (The) food that we took, it probably took up 25 per cent of the space in our vehicle, but that was important to us."



As they travelled through Cape Breton, N.S., Palmer said his daughter had the flu and wound up vomiting in the back seat.

He recommended having sanitizing wipes at the ready, as well as an emergency roadside kit.

Palmer said they'd drive five to six hours a day, stopping for breaks every 2 1/2 hours.  

As the trip wore on, even the break habit evolved — especially when nature called.

"In the beginning, we tried to stick to clean bathrooms and gas stations.... Then near the end ... we'd just pull over to the side of the road and the kids would use the washroom with cars whizzing by."




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Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press