American families set to hit the road

A whole bunch of American families are expected to travel this year—great news for us family travel bloggers and just about everyone else.

The stat comes from a recent survey report from AAA, which suggested that roughly 35 percent of American families will travel more than 50 miles away from home with at least two other family members in 2017.

The report was released earlier this week and included replies from 1,006 respondents. It also comprised a number of data points on the kind of trips family travelers plan to take. 

Leading the charge: the old-fashioned road trip (79 percent of respondents), national parks (51 percent), and theme parks (40 percent). Trips to international destinations (33 percent), guided or escorted tours (22 percent), and ocean cruises (20 percent) also made the list.

Drilling deeper, road trip numbers were 10 percent higher than last year—a curious finding, considering that gas prices are more than 50 cents higher than they were in February 2016. 

I wrote about the survey for AFAR, and a press release that hit wires Tuesday quoted an AAA executive as saying that Americans preferred the “structure and convenience” of group tours over the flexibility of a road trip. 

“Many tours are specially designed for multi-generational groups, plus there’s no better way to learn about a destination than from a knowledgeable, local guide,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA’s senior vice president of travel and publishing. 

Overall, survey data indicated that while the vast majority (70 percent) of respondents said they were planning to take one or two vacations this year, 28 percent of respondents said they would take three or more. AAA did not offer any explanations for this data, but it did note the number of frequent family travelers rose 13 percentage points over last year. That’s music to this dad’s ears.A

Lessons in Family Travel Preparedness

Our recent family road trip along the western side of Oahu certainly was filled with surprises.

Some of them were pleasant—on the way from Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa to Ka’ena Point State Park, we spotted a pod of dolphins frolicking in the surf and pulled over to watch them for a while.

Others , however, were not. Like the archaeological site that was closed due to vandalism. (Remember, Powerwoman is an archaeologist; ruins are regular stops on our vacations.)

And the flat tire that we picked up outside of Waianae.

Spotting dolphins, before the flat.

Spotting dolphins, before the flat.

I’ll spare you the details of how we got the flat (to be frank, none of us really knows). The important stuff: The rear driver’s side tire on our rented Chevrolet Equinox croaked, we called AAA, and the four of us spent three hours at a roadside McDonald’s waiting for a tow truck to come and pop on the spare.

(At this point, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t just fix the flat myself. Let’s just say that I’ve learned the hard way that rental car companies don’t trust you to fix stuff that goes wrong with their cars, and if they find out that you did anything outside of you contract to the vehicle—anything at all—they will charge you. Exhorbitantly.)

(Oh, also, the rental car company could have come to fix the tire. But they estimated a six-hour wait.)

Ultimately, the encounter was nothing but a hiccup in an otherwise fun and fruitful trip. Still, the experience offered lessons in preparedness for family vacation road trips. Here’s a sampling:

  • If you’re planning on doing any major driving with the kids while you’re away, be sure to sign up for AAA Plus or Premier Service (or an equivalent) before you go. No, the three-hour wait time wasn’t ideal, but they did come and fix the flat for free. Had the damage been worse, they would have towed us back to Honolulu for free as well. When traveling with the kiddos (or solo, for that matter), It’s nice to know that you won’t get stranded.
  • Since space isn’t an issue, take the time to pack extra arts and crafts for the kids, just in case. If your children like sports, toss a ball in the vehicle as well. If you find yourself with a few extra hours to kill, these sorts of additional diversions certainly can’t hurt.
  • Triple up on healthy snacks so you’ve got enough to go around in case you end up staying out longer than expected. (We could have ordered just about anything from the McDonald’s at which we were stranded, but, quite frankly, Powerwoman and I don’t like our girls to eat that crap. We gave them blueberries and grain crackers instead.)

Also, if things go wrong, remember to keep your cool in front of the kids. Especially if they’re little (read: under five), the only reason they’ll get stressed by the situation is if they think you’re stressed. This means no panicking. It also means no snipping at your partner, and no yelling at deceitful customer service representatives (unless, of course, you can do so in a private spot).

Years from now, we’ll all be joking about the flat tire on that crazy day in Waianae. Hopefully, if you ever encounter similarly bad luck on the road with the family, you’ll be able to laugh about it someday, too.

What is the most unexpectedly stressful travel situation you’ve endured with your kids?

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