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We have been wanting to take the kids on a Canada wide trip for a long time but it seemed so daunting.  As we were heading out on our trip to Key West last winter, James said we had better make it count because the dollar exchange rate was going to make southern travel too expensive next year, and sadly, he was right.  So, the time had come to explore our own back yard…. just not in winter, that would be ridiculous with four kids!

The date is now set and we are racing to lay out our plan so that we can begin preparing the “stuff” that must be prepared.  So how do we plan for such a long trip with kids?  In this post I will walk through a few steps we always take when planning an awesome  Fun Family aventure.

Gather Ideas

This is where I love Google and Pinterest. I have a Pinterest board named Next Stop and that is exactly what I use it for. I clear out all pins related to our previous trip (because we have been there, done that by now) and load up on cool looking pins about where we are headed and everywhere in BETWEEN here and there.  This part is done casually over many weeks or months.  I keep coming back to it when I have time.  then I Google the places I think would be a good fit for our family ( outside, educational, FUN) and read reviews on them all.  Some things I look for:  Is it super pricy(we are six people)? Will weather affect our enjoyment/view? Is it stroller friendly and can we bring in our own food?  Is there somewhere to park a 28′ motorhome (our only ride)?   I tend to look for natural wonders and unique attractions, things that are not just a local version of the standard cultural enrichment buildings that we have here in Ontario (like science centres and large museums).  There are always more points of interest than we will have time for. I don’t take too many notes just yet, this is just the selection phase.

Map it out

I use Google Maps to drops pins at our top pics and get a visual feel for how do-able the trip looks in terms of driving and time.  On this trip, I would have loved to take in the sand dunes of Athabaska Lake but as you can see, they are way out of our way at the extreme North of Saskatchewan! so that will have to be another trip, maybe a Northern Canada trip? Update: as I am getting this post ready for publishing, a major forest fire is devastating the town of Fort McMurry, near those sand dunes we wont be able to visit.  we will be following this story closely.  Perhaps we can help in some way.

visual map

Those sand dunes are too far

We struck gold and found this giant puzzle map for four bucks at a second hand store.  The kids and I assembled it then hot glued it first to foam board them to a display board (dollar store) and mounted it to the wall with 3M command mounting strips.  Now we can press push pins into it and use yarn to plot out different routes.  My 9yr old loved this part and could see the difference it makes when we hit destinations in different orders.  I Googled the destinations and found printable pictures to print onto photo paper and cut out.  This is our vision board for the trip and you could feel the excitement pick up for this trip once it was complete.  Will we have time to visit all these places?  Likely not.  Some will depend on weather anyways, so we will make some decisions on the road as we get near to each area.  In addition to these attractions, we need to find places to park the motorhome for the night and every second or third night must to be at a serviced campground or RV park so we can dump sewage and fill up our water tank. We only have two weeks to complete our trip.  Wish me luck.

thrift store puzzle map vision board

This thrift store puzzle map made a great vision board

Price it out

Most of the ‘Must See’ attractions have ‘must pay’ admission prices.  I look online for discounts, coupons and special ‘off peak’ pricing. Sometimes Costco.ca has discounted admission for popular theme parks.

Drawing of RV

Tiny easle drawing of the RV

In addition, I will source out some RV parks and get their average prices to  put into the equation.  We rarely decide on RV parks ahead of time unless there is a specific one that is a destination in its own right.  We like having the flexibility of just stopping when the family needs to stop for a day or moving on to escape bad weather, but a general idea of prices is good to have as some popular areas can be quite expensive.  If you are not traveling in an RV, you will want to know what to expect for hotel or campground fees.  Calculating the fuel expense is something the kids can have fun with, multiplying the kilometers to be driven by the average per km cost of our motorhome based on current gas prices. (That’s math class taken care of for this week)

So that’s basicaly how we plan our trip.  I find that if we plan it out too exactly we get frustrated when circumstances throw a wrench in our plans. Here’s a little experience we had. When traveling to Key West, we had set our hearts on a sea-plane ride to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas  National Park (thank you Pinterest). For the first time ever, the sea plane tour company had to cancel all flights for a day and a half due to fog around the island. We were so disappointed… to the point of choking back tears since my son loves airplanes and he had been looking forward to that flight for the entire trip plus we were scheduled to start our homeward drive the next day.  We were offered an open flight that was another two days away. It was a hard choice but we took a leap of faith and booked it, knowing the fog could still be an issue.  This meant dropping some stops we had planned for the trip home. Even the morning of, they were canceling flights but at 1pm we took to the skies. It was so worth it to get that tour in (knowing this would be our last southern trip for years) and we had a blast checking out more of Key West during that extra day.

So have a plan, but dont carve it in stone. Your adventure awaits…Happy planning!

next post: Going West-Preparing for the Trip where I will explain how I remember what to bring and how I prepare to make this trips educational value sink in.