Road tripping with kids - tips and tricks to make it great!

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I have a bit of a romantic view of road trips - I think of the days in my teens and twenties when I took to the road with friends and we drove for hours, singing at the top of our lungs, stopping at random roadside attractions and were totally carefree.

This romantic view sometimes slides into thinking that a road trip with my husband and three kids will be the same, but we all know that’s not quite true. It can be fun and amazing, but there are a LOT more things to plan for and factor in.

As I was gearing up for a recent road trip with my family I thought I would collect some of MY best road trip tips, but I also went to our Facebook Page and asked others what their best road trip tips are - and there are some gems. Multiple times in the thread others responded, “I am printing this word for word for my road trip!”

So, here are some ideas, thoughts, and strategies to consider employing on YOUR next road trip.

If you have others to add, comment and we can either add them here (or maybe we’ll need a whole second post!)

Packing for a road trip

Janet said:

Socks, blankets and snacks. I have done many road trips with kids from when they were tiny between Ottawa and the east coast. For kids to sleep/nap/chill, they need to be warm and not hungry. I realized that when we are warm in the front and have air conditioning on, it can be cold in the back. Especially if they are barefoot and in sandals. So even in summer, I had my kids in socks with blankets in reach.

Gi Na said:

- Each person has their own packing cube for their clean clothes. We bring a large wet bag for dirty clothes until we can do laundry. 
- If we have some hotel stops along the way to our final destination I plan ahead and pack for hotel specifically (as there is often a pool and need for less clothes etc) to minimize what we have to carry in. And I label all the bags that are only for the hotel so it’s easy for my husband/myself to quickly identify what has to come into the hotel for the night and what can be left in the car. 
-aside from the usual we always have a potty in the trunk (our kids are 1, 3 and 5) and toilet paper and old grocery bags. And paper towels. And wet wipes. And a change of clothes easily accessible, including socks, for all the kids. 

Natalie said:

One of the best tips I’ve ever received is to pack things in a white bin tower in your trunk (if you have an SUV). That way you can easily access things you need without having to rummage through luggage every time.

Géraldine said:

Essentials on board are: one pillow each and their little special "road trip backpacks", that we keep packed and ready to go in the closet close to the front door. In each backpack, we have a notebook and pencils, one or two colouring books, (the magic ink ones are great!) and a rigid Crayola case they can use as a mini desk. Also a bottle of water and some snacks and Kleenex.

Give them food and other stuff

Activities and food can be the key to keeping kids entertained in the vehicle. Some people have a no food in the vehicle rule and some people say ALL THE SNACKS. You pick what works best for you and your family!

Misty said

They get a new wrapped gift every hour which was something they could read or play with (e.g colouring books, crayons, car games, silly putty etc.) Another thing I found super helpful was gum and/or suckers. For some reason they are always quieter when sucking on something.

Jennifer said

We also let the kids pack their own 'fun bag' of art supplies, books etc, which they like. And then I augment with maps from CAA showing where we're going (so when they ask 'where are we?' we can just tell them to check the map - it hasn't really worked yet, but I remain hopeful!), and a relevant book (the Dear Canada series is great for this), and my super secret bag of emergency sugar snacks.

Screen time for the road trip

Just like food, some people say yea and some say nay. I’m a yea but you pick what works best for you and your family here too! :)

  • Download movies from Netflix and have them loaded up on iPads and other devices.

  • Bring all the devices and charge cords you can find - we brought the Switch, the DSes, the iPods and the iPad. They got passed around and shared and for the most part, nobody whined about how long the drive was..

What to listen to

We loaded up a bunch of new and never heard songs onto our phones from Amazon music to keep things interesting and new.

We also loaded up on dozens of episodes of a podcast everyone enjoyed - Story Pirates (we also posted on Facebook and got some other great podcast recommendations!).

How to work out the sillies on a road trip

Rest Stop Rock Stretches

Rest Stop Rock Stretches

  • Look for hotels with a pool (and make sure their hours will work for when you’re arriving and leaving). A kid who spend 5+ hours in a car will almost ALWAYS have lots of energy to expend and a pool is an easy and contained way to let them get it all out before you try to have a big group of people trying to fall asleep in one room!

  • Rest stops - the ones without any restaurants and lots of picnic tables, are great for kids to get their wiggles out. We often will look for geocaches at them, and the kids will just run around and jump up and around on all the rocks and tables and around the bathroom building. Even at 10 and 12, for us this works just as well as when they were 4 and 6 :)

    Where to stay

    When we’re just driving with no precise plan on when or where we’ll stop, we have a tendency to look for the closest and easiest Holiday Inn Express with a pool. We know what we’ll get and we know the approximate price point.

    For our time in Washington, DC we knew we would be there for a number of days and wanted a home base and we used Air BnB (that link gives you a discount if it’s your first time using the service) for the first time. What a treat to have three bedrooms, a kitchen and a place to watch TV so we weren’t on top of each other all the time. We will definitely use that option again when we are somewhere for a few nights!

    Find these tips and tricks useful? Comment and let us know which one you liked the most. Or share your tips in the comments below!!

Family Travel: Chaffey’s Lock

KITC would like to welcome back guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival. During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  



It was the first truly nice day of June. It was also a PD day for our son, David and I had the day off. The perfect combination for a road trip.

We decided to go check out Chaffey’s Lock. Located about 1.5 hours south of Ottawa on the Rideau Canal system, Chaffeys Lock is perhaps most well-known for having a lock station.

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We arrived late morning and were lucky enough to see the lock station in action. A pleasure cruiser arrived and the Parks Canada staff manually cranked the locks to move the bridge. It felt like stepping back in time. The same process would have been used a hundred years ago.

David was interested to see the process but when I had told him that Chaffey’s Lock was prime snake habitat, that was his primary focus. David has loved snakes since he saw a Little Ray’s Reptile presentation when he was three. We have been all over Ontario looking for snakes.

I have learned when searching for snakes, it can be very hit or miss. We got an insider tip from the Parks Canada staff and headed to the end of the point at the locks. At first, we did not find anything, and then I saw something slithering towards me. It was a Northern Water Snake. David jumped into action and took multiple photos with our smart phone.

Chaffey's Lock Water Snake

David is always very respectful when viewing nature and let the snake go on his way. We lingered around the area for awhile longer. This time, David spotted something in the water and it was another Northern Water Snake. I was afraid that David might jump in the water to go swimming with it but thankfully, my wife Sandy, is always able to steer the ship with some common sense.

We had satiated our desire to see snakes so it was time to check out Chaffey’s Lock. While not an overwhelming metropolis. There were still many cool things to see and do. We first headed to Opinicon Resort. I had visited Opinicon about fifteen years ago. Frankly, at the time, it looked a bit tired. The resort was bought a few years ago and I was happy to see all the improvements.

The first order of the day was to visit the ice cream parlour. There were multiple flavours and a single scoop was the size of most double scoops at other ice cream shops. We took our ice cream outside and David discovered the playground. The coolest feature was a zip line built for kids. The playground had a nature theme which fit in with the beauty of the location.

Caffey's Lock zip line

Opinicon has a pub and restaurant for fine dining. There are also cottage style accommodations for an overnight visit. I could imagine us making a return trip to the Opinicon.

It was now time for the main reason we had visited Chaffey’s Lock. I had read very good reviews online about Rideau Tours. They offer up kayak, canoe, paddleboard and bike rentals along with boat cruises. We opted for the more relaxed activity and chose the three lake loop boat tour.

We met our friendly, tour guide and boat operator, Captain Luc and were underway. The pontoon boat was very comfortable and had a cover shielding us from the hot mid-afternoon sun. The conversation with Captain Luc was as if you were seeing an old friend again and not a total stranger. It was obvious he was very well acquainted with the area and knew the history well.

Caffey's Lock Boat Tour

Our first big sighting was seeing a group of turtles basking on some rocks enjoying the sun. As our boat approached, the turtles slowly made their way into the water. David identified the turtles as painted and snapper turtles. Captain Luc kept a respectful distance as we watched the turtles swim by.

Captain Luc then showed us Richardson island where Agnes Etherington set up a hospital called Fettercairn for her brother and other veterans suffering from shell shock who had served in World War I. She found they responded well to the tranquility of nature.

Our next destination was the Newboro Lock. We gently cruised along Indian, Clear and Newboro Lake. I could feel the stress of the work week slipping away as we enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

Chaffey's Lock scenery

We arrived at Newboro Lock and took a break to stretch our legs. I started to think I could get used to this boat cruising lifestyle. It was interesting to read the historical panels at Newboro Lock. We did not find any more snakes but enjoyed the visit.

On the way back, we saw more stunning lakeside scenery. Captain Luc showed us his favourite swimming hole. The water was still too cold to swim since it was only early June but we made a vow to return. We also covered every topic under the sun from the Montreal Canadians to classic rock.

Soon enough, we were once again back at Chaffey’s Lock. We had an unexpected surprise. Captain Luc’s partner, Anne Marie, had prepared a gourmet picnic for us. It consisted of locally produced artisan sausage, cheese, organic heirloom vegetables and homemade lemonade. Relaxing over good food and conversation was the perfect way to wrap up our visit to Chaffey’s Lock and with Rideau Tours.

Chaffey's Lock Tour Picnic

Rideau Tours offers many different tours and packages including overnight stays. The picnic meal is also available on many of the activities. For full information about all the various options visit, www.rideautours.ca

During the summer months there are plenty of other things to see and do around Chaffey’s Lock including the Chaffey’s Mill Art Gallery which features works of local artisans and the Chaffey’s Lockmaster’s Museum. Check out www.chaffeyslock.ca for all the info. For the outdoor enthusiasts the Cataraqui Trail (an old rail line now part of the TransCanada Trail) offers 100 km of hiking that also links to the Rideau Trail. If fishing is of interest head over to Brown’s Marina for all your supplies. They are located right in Chaffey’s Lock and if you chat with the locals they may just share some “Fish Tales” that are best told sitting on the “Liar’s Bench” at the Opinicon Resort.

Disclaimer: For the purpose of this review, Stephen was compensated for the boat tour and meal but all views are his own.

Family Travel: Escape to the Chateau Montebello

If you’re looking for an idyllic escape for your family or as a couple, check out the Chateau Montebello in Montebello, Quebec. Located only 90 kms from South Ottawa, simply stated, it is very close to being an all-inclusive resort – and you don’t have to travel very far to experience everything it has to offer.

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As soon as you walk in to the reception area you will feel at ease and welcomed. The warm colours, magnificent multi-story stone fireplace and multiple couches, tables and chairs make you want to immediately sit down and crack open your favourite book.

Fireplace at the Chateau Montebello

The rooms are just as comfortable and I love the fact that the windows open, so when the weather is just right, you can open them and enjoy the fresh air and sounds of the Ottawa River. During the summer you can also smell the evening campfires that take place just outside the building.

Chateau Montebello has everything a person looking to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life needs to relax and have fun. In addition to seasonal programming for children including crafts, cookie decorating, movie nights, and bingo, they also offer programming for adults including a kayak clinic, a chance to meet the chef, and aqua Zumba.

Included in the resort fee ($27+ tax per room) for Chateau Montebello are countless seasonal activities. During the summer you have access to their beautiful outdoor pool as well as their indoor pool, which is the largest indoor hotel pool in Canada!

Indoor pool at Chateau Montebello

There are also bikes that you can sign out and a 5 km trail along the Ottawa River to explore, as well as mini golf, outdoor tennis, horseshoes, canoeing, kayaking and (my daughter’s favourite) stand up paddle boarding. They even have bike helmets and life jackets - everything you need to safely participate in their fun activities.

Paddle boarding at Chateau Montebello

In the winter there are cross country trails, two outdoor ice rinks, curling, and snowshoes. The best part is that all of this is included in the resort fee and you can participate at any time and multiple times throughout your stay.

For additional fees, guests also have the option to rent a boat or participate in a fishing clinic. In the winter, guests can pay to go tubing or dogsledding! And if you forget your snowsuit – they have some to rent!

We only stayed at the Chateau Montebello one night but could have easily spent several days taking advantage of all the programming and activities available. Next time, I am booking some much-needed “me time” at their spa!

I loved being able to go for a scenic walk along the Ottawa River and then sitting on a park bench admiring the sunset.

The gardens were in full bloom while we were there, making for some incredible photos. We also indulged in their seasonal outdoor BBQ on the Outside Terrace, which meant we spoiled ourselves with the best in gourmet BBQed meats and corn on the cob as well as local Montebello brewed beer.

BBQ patio at Chateau Montebello

The Chateau Montebello is known for its Sunday brunch, and regardless of where you eat while onsite, your taste buds are in for a royal treat! Everything served up is delicious.

Relaxing at the Chateau Montebello

We can hardly wait for our next visit to the Chateau Montebello. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a visit to Parc Omega and completes a family road trip like no other place can!

Have you stayed at the Chateau Montebello? Share your favourite moments with us!

Gardens at the Chateau Montebello

Disclaimer: Part of our stay at the Chateau Montebello was compensated for the purposes of this review, but all thoughts and opinions are my own... and we will be back!