Andrea Loewen Nair: Connect-Four Parenting


Family Travel & Technology = Perfect Road Mix

Modern-day road tripping is easier than ever

I grew up five latitudinal degrees south of the Arctic Circle. This meant long cold winters and long, long car rides. Flying was out of the question due to the formidable cost of doing so. We joked that it was cheaper to fly to Hawaii from most major cities than from our city to our capitol city! Each summer, our parents would load us, and our little dog into our truck and camper for two months of road tripping (my dad was a high school teacher).

This is what the skies look like where I'm from: (Thank you to Brad Rempel from for sharing this image with us!)

Growing up this way has given me a road tripping bug! A ten-hour drive from northern Manitoba would get us to the middle of nowhere in the nearby prairie province of Saskatchewan, southeast to the Brandon area or straight south to what was a very exotic location for us—Fargo, North Dakota! Now, it absolutely blows my mind that a ten to twelve-hour drive from my current home in London, Ontario, Canada gets us to amazing places like Boston, Chicago, Wisconsin Dells, Nashville, Atlanta and even New York City! My heads spins with our road-tripping possibilities. In the last two years, we’ve been to all but two of the places on that list.

We recently road tripped during a family trip to Park City, Utah. Our handy maps application showed us that Yellowstone National Park was only a five-hour drive from Park City.

During our recent drive my husband and I chatted about all the modern day advances, which have certainly made road tripping with children easier. Well, except for being strapped in car or booster seats: did you experience free-reign in a camper or back seat?! I love these four recent inventions that have made vehicle trips so much easier to do.

Use computer applications like Google Maps to plan routes and get out of traffic.

Although I enjoy cracking open our Rand McNally atlases, I love using maps programs to plan our route, stops and find attractions. This spring we had to do a twenty-hour drive (one way!) to Winnipeg, MB for a family funeral and discovered that Wisconsin Dells was exactly halfway. This find totally informed my plans! I decided to break the drive into two days with four chunks of driving once I knew that my young boys could run all their ya-yas out in the water park. I did this trek with my boys by myself!

I also like using Google Maps to look at the different possible routes. It is pretty easy to see what type of highway is ahead and which route is the best option for our travel goals, whether that is to get there fast or have nicer rest stops to hang out in.

The Google Maps app on my iPhone6 shows me where there is traffic and possible alternate routes to get out of it. We use the vehicle navigation unless we end up parked on a highway. When this happens, we fire up our smartphone to see how long the “red line” is on Google Maps. This program has certainly saved us from sitting on busy highways many times! (Make sure you have a good roaming plan if you are out of your home country to avoid paying huge roaming fees. We use Roger’s Roam Like Home)

Find a vehicle navigation system that you feel comfortable using on your own.

We have used our own vehicle, rentals and media test-drive vehicles for our many trips and have discovered some likes and dislikes that have really influenced our journey. I have discovered that all navigation systems are not the same! Some are really easy to use when the passenger takes a nap or isn’t there. I find it very panic-inducing to be whizzing down interstate highways at 75 miles and hour without feeling completely confident about what lane to be in and when to exit.

The navigation system I have found the easiest to use is in the 2016 KIA Sorento, which is the vehicle in these pictures. I’m not sure if this same system is in all of their 2016 vehicles, but I’d assume so. I like this one the best because I could clearly see when I needed to exit without having the navigation sound on. My boys and the radio are loud enough so trying to hear the nav voice above that racket is hard! I could see exactly which lane I was supposed to be, the distance to my exit, and a moving icon showing me how close I was to needing a change in course.

Although other features like the physical layout and fuel efficiency are important to me, I’m going to choose my next vehicle with the usability of the navigation system as a high priority.

Use screens wisely to help pass the time.

I can hardly believe I just typed those words! As a parenting educator who routinely suggests reducing screen time, I believe travel days are a time when the American Paediatric Society’s screen use guidelines can be stretched. To still use screen as moderately as possible, I like having pre-decided upon screen time followed by “scenery time.” It is good to give eyes a break and look around and the passing landscape.

The KIA Sorento we had for our Yellowstone trip had an electrical outlet and USB cable input to keep electronics charged. You can usually plug your mobile device into the vehicle’s sound system, too. My personal preference is to use mobile devices rather than built-in DVD players because you can download whatever you like from your wifi at home, not need to have DVDs in the vehicle and also it is possible to physically put the screens away. I like being able to tuck my laptop away after a movie so our guys forget to ask about watching another one.

Reduce the stress of long highway stretches with “smart cruise.”

Until a family member came home with a new vehicle declaring “smart cruise” to be a brilliant invention, I had never heard of such of thing! Now, after having it in the KIA for our Utah trip, I’m having a hard time living without it. It’s remarkable: there are sensors on the vehicle which slow it down when there is someone on the road in front of you so you don’t have to keep turning the cruise on and off! (Yes, I’m excited!) You set the speed once and let it take over. My leg and hip are loving this invention.

Is there a technological advance that is making your road-trips easier? I’d love to hear about it: please post your information in the comments below or over on my Facebook page. 

 RELATED: 10 Ways to Keep Kids Entertained on Road Trips