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Road Trip With Parents (9 top tips to make it a success)

by | Dec 3, 2016 | Road Trip Tips | 0 comments

Emily and I can often be found sleeping in the back of a car or in a tent at a trailhead.  We have been known to plan a whole trip around good coffee or a chance to see bears.  This freedom is just part of the reason we love road trips.  However, a road trip with parents is an entirely different kettle of fish.  When my Dad flew halfway round the world to join us for part of our America road trip, I knew that our usual approach wouldn’t fly.  He wanted to see as much as possible, and in comfort.

So how do you have a successful road trip with parents?  These are our tips.

1 Get a big car

As a couple we usually opt for a Toyota Yarris or something equally as embarrassing.  Cheap and cheerful.  However, when there are suddenly four of you in the car plus baggage (my Dad has not quite got the art of packing light nailed yet) space suddenly becomes a premium.  We hired a giant Toyota 4Runner and everyone was comfortable for the entire 3,000 miles we put down.  The inbuilt GPS worked perfect and the air con was crucial in the desert.

2 Take the lead on planning

I love planning a road trip, there I said it.  Not everyone does.  This is an area where the fewer people there are involved in the detail, the better.  The best approach is to get a rough overview of what everyone wants to get out of the trip.  What are the key things they want to see, do and experience?  You can then research the details and see what options are available.  Provide the group with a list of potential places to visit and activities to do.  As a group narrow it down to 3/4 key places and then individually build the trip around them.

We ended up with the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, whale watching and Yosemite.  This was enough to plan a 2 week trip and everything else we did was just a surprise to everyone else.

This approach also helped us to keep an element of spontaneity to our road trip and removed the pressure if anyone needed a lazy afternoon.

3 Set expectations

Answer these questions before you book anything:

  • Who is going to drive, or will you all take turns?
  • How far should you drive per a day?
  • What is your daily budget?
  • Will you book everything in advance or just wing it?
  • What kind of accommodation do you want?
  • Will you move every day or have rest days?

If you don’t answer these key questions you can run into problems.  Not everyone will feel comfortable driving in a foreign country, for example.  Discussing the above before you set off will avoid potential conflict and make sure everyone gets the trip they want (with a few compromises, of course!).

4 Book in advance

We decided to book everything in advance to remove any stress after a long day’s drive.  This allowed us to have a big part of the budget nailed down and gave us a level comfort we had previously agreed upon.  

The trade off for this is that we had to make it to a set destination every night which removed some of the adventure. 

5 Have your own space

Hours on end in the car together can sometimes get a little too cozy.  Make sure you book a big enough Airbnb or separate hotel rooms so everyone can have their own space.  It is also perfectly acceptable to do things separately. We had already been whale watching, so we sat that trip out.

As grown ups, we’re not used to being with our parents 24/7.  Accept that everyone will need some time to themselves occasionally and you’ll enjoy the time you do spend together more.

6 Show them something different

Having your own car gives you the freedom to get off the beaten track.  Just because you are on a road trip with parents there is no need to play it completely safe.  On the way to the Grand Canyon we spent a night at a cowboy ranch in Arizona.  It was certainly something none of us had done before and turned out to be a huge highlight.  These are the things you will talk about for years to come and really help to build relationships. 

Be flexible

Plans can always be changed.  Try to build contingency time into all your days and maybe include some rest days.  The great thing about road trips is that you never know what you will find.  We spent an additional 2 hours in a Bear Sanctuary in Arizona we just happened to drive past.  None of us even knew it existed until that moment but we where all glad we had the time to check it out.  It then took us 4 hours to drive a 2 hour stretch of Highway One because we happened to spot whales, dolphins, elephant seals, otters and zebras.  Zebras in California, who knew?

8) Be decisive

Something which quickly becomes clear on your first road trip with parents is the shift in responsibility.  No one really knows who is in charge of making menial decisions.  You grew up with your parents just taking you everywhere and not really being consulted.  Now the shoe is on the other foot and you are suddenly in charge of planning. This is new ground for everyone, embrace it.  If you don’t, you end up with a car full of people who are ‘happy to do anything’.  Translation – nothing ever gets done.  Someone has to make a decision; it may as well be you.

9) Enjoy it

You can get massively caught up in the stress of planning the trip and making sure everyone is having a good time.  But this is probably the longest you have spent with your parents without any distractions since you where a child, so enjoy it!  I had not been on holiday with my dad for almost 10 years by this point.  It was certainly the first time we had done anything like this as adults.  A road trip is a great chance to build a different kind of relationship and see another side to your parents. Take it.


Have you done a road trip with parents? Let us know how it went in the comments.

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About The Author

Strategy consultant by week, explorer by weekend. His first ever hike was a 9 day thru-hike at Torres del Paine and it was love at first hike. He now sleeps better in a tent than a bed. He would rather drive for 2 hours down a country lane than sit for 2 minutes in traffic. He has been known to lead driving safaris in areas without wildlife with a Justin Bieber soundtrack.

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