By on November 25, 2016

2015 Honda Odyssey EX PEI Cottage – Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

Just when I think to myself, Do we really need a minivan?, we plan a week-long road trip to Prince Edward Island. We didn’t need to add mileage to the lease on GCBC’s long-term 2015 Honda Odyssey EX. We had the option of driving a 2017 Ford Escape Titanium EcoBoost 2.0 from the press fleet instead.

But numbers matter. Indeed, the numbers pertaining to the cargo volume available behind the second rows of each vehicle matter greatly. 34.3 cubic feet vs. 93.1 cubic feet: nearly triple the amount of space for our stuff.

Yeah, we’ll take the van.

So for the first time with a three-year-old and a five-week-old — and a five-year-old canine companion — we set off on a properly long drive.

Did we remember everything? Almost. Was the familial tension level elevated by the time we set off? Slightly. But we persevered because of strict adherence to the four-pronged Cain Family Road Trip Code. Opinions regarding road trip preparation may differ, but not in our household.

2015 Honda Odyssey cargo area - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

So cold and clinical. So premeditated and deliberate.


But the assumptions we once held — that we could remember what we needed to remember — have long since flown out the window.

Turn the heat down, don’t forget all of our chargers, remember one kid’s probiotics and rubber boots and the other’s snowsuit, grab toques and gloves and 15 other things. Even with a list, we forgot the dog’s weekly medication and the power cord for my Mac Mini. How much worse would it have been if we hadn’t pre-planned? Forget impulsivity, remember to make a list.

I’m lanky, but I’m not a particularly large fella. Mrs. Cain is downright petite. But we grow big babies.

Big boys are hungry boys. One is still young enough that he simply requires his mother to have eaten plenty in advance. The other enjoys meal-sized snacks.

But who are we kidding: on a road trip, snacks aren’t just for hunger. Snacks are intended to solve problems. Every problem. Bored? Have some peanuts. Sad? Here’s some dehydrated mango. Hyper? Here’s a muffin.

“Are we there yet?”

No, we’re not even close, but here’s a rice cake. You’ve watched enough Bob The Builder, but I bet I distract you with one all dressed Ruffles chip out of the bag from which I’ve been surreptitiously partaking over the last two hours.

If he needs a bathroom now, the bladder won’t become less full by telling him to hold it until the next exit, 10 miles up the road. You’ve got a plan, of course, and it’s a good plan. It’s a noble plan. It’s a plan that, if executed to perfection, will have you at the grandmothers’ in record time. But in order to fulfill every aspect of your plan, you’re going to need to make your occupants unhappy.

The dog is whining. She wants to run around a soccer field she has never seen before. That’s a good chance for the infant to be nursed and the three-year-old to pee behind some trees.

You’re 15 minutes behind schedule now, but they’re happy. And you already know your happiness depends on their happiness, so enjoy the journey and de-prioritize the ETA.

Besides the fact that, by simply elevating two pieces of furniture that were hidden in the floor, we used all three rows of our 2015 Honda Odyssey all last week and will do so again next week, a minivan truly shines as a long-distance five-seater.

Ninety-three cubic feet of cargo capacity is an otherworldly figure, particularly given the expansive nature of the forward cabin. (Mrs. Cain migrates between the front and the middle seat in the second row and has spread across the outboard floor tons of stuff to entertain the little ones.) In addition to plenty of space left over for the 70-pound dog, there’s a Baby Jogger Summit X3 folded with its wheels on, one large suitcase per person, a vast Costco bag full of groceries, a gigantic body pillow, a small crate for the dog’s food and accessories, and a bunch of other items strewn about. And we have not even considered the available height of the cargo area.

Real world highway fuel efficiency of 31 miles per gallon, plenty of power to overtake on New Brunswick’s seemingly never-ending Route 16 towards the Confederation Bridge, vast windows and upright seating positions so the kids can see their surroundings, “good” scores in every IIHS crash test, a five-star NHTSA rating, and enough space to bring everything you could possibly want or need while you’re away. That’s what a minivan can do.

That’s what the 2017 Ford Escape couldn’t have done.

You can make a list, bring some food, and set reasonable goals. But if you’re a young family road-tripping without a minivan, you’re doing it wrong.

[Images: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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33 Comments on “TTAC How To: Four Must-Haves For The Young Family’s First Road Trip...”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    A fine example of why the mini-van is still the most practical family vehicle.

    Still miss mine. Now when we venture on long trips, I rent one. It cost about 3 times what a ‘large’ sedan costs to rent but is well worth it.

  • avatar
    Point Given

    Wow does this ring true. I work for a Nissan dealer, constantly having demo’d vehicles to drive(Canada doesn’t have the quest anymore)…. and we still wind up taking the 2011 Quest on the road trips. Float down the road while the kid binge watch’s Paw Patrol, third row down flat for the never yielding pile of stuff that accompanies a toddler and a overprotective mother. Never thought I’d say I’m a fan of the minivan.

    Must admit though getting one feature laden rather than the plan zipper caravan certainly helped.

  • avatar

    Yep, +1 the minivan is the best family road trip car. I’ve got a 2-year-old boy and 11-month-old-girl and the sliding doors and massive cargo hold in our 2010 Odyssey LX (coincidentally, dark blue like Mr. Cain’s) make it perfect for our family. Add to that the fact that we can cart around a set of grandparents in the third row as needed and it really wins the award.

  • avatar

    Mini-van is a great road trip vehicle. This summer we went on a camping trip and picked up my wife’s cousin and son. 3 adults and 3 teens as big as adults was tight. We had to use the cargo rack once we picked up her cousin. We thought about using the truck but the one getting stuck riding “bitch” would have been miserable since the middle of the front seat isn’t too comfortable for long distances. The ability to fold and unfold seats is a huge advantage.

    I’ve never felt the need for lists. I can’t remember names or numbers but I do have an affinity for remembering gear.

    Little kids need a ton of stuff especially in this day and age of “legal” car seats. As a kid we’d cram a family of 4 into a standard cab bench seat pickup.

  • avatar

    My epic minivan road trip in late ’84 utilized an ’81 Volkswagen Vanagon. My then-wife and five children (one was only 4 months old) packed into the van for a trip to the ex’s family in El Cajon, Michoacan, Mexico, from our place in Murphy Canyon Navy Housing in San Diego. Toolbox full of metrics wrenches, screwdrivers, etc. as well as two cases of soy infant formula behind the cardboard facia under the rear seat; clothing in plastic trash bags stuffed under the center seat; suitcases and stuff in boxes over the engine compartment behind the rear seat; extra cash hidden by strapping it to the shift lever low under the rubber boot. Children playing “musical seats” between the middle and rear bench. 1600 miles and a couple of days from Pemex station to Pemex station. Quickly learned what topes were after ignoring the warning sign the first time. Hit one of them babies with a loaded Vanagon at 65 sometime. A couple days down and a couple days back, mostly uneventful (except for that time attempting to pass a Los Tres Estrellas de Oro highway bus on a blind hill). Enough room for everything – kids had plenty of space to move around and away from which ever two were feuding at that particular moment. Interesting at the time; won’t do it again in this life.

  • avatar

    Strangely enough, I drove the MIL’s ~2015 T&C to take some stuff to the dump today. It was a lot better than I thought it would be. I doubt a CUV in my price range would be a lot better. I’m becoming more and more open to it.

  • avatar

    “You can make a list, bring some food, and set reasonable goals. But if you’re a young family road-tripping without a minivan, you’re doing it wrong.”

    Last summer, with my 6 year old daughter, 2500 miles in my Mustang. I may have been doing it wrong, but it felt oh so right.

  • avatar

    They are great but I would us eat 3 times a year tops so the wife pilot does the job for those three days a year that all 5 of us are in the car, but thank the lord for three rows, we give up a ton of cargo room vs the mini van but we really do not haul that much gear w us so it works.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Here in Australia mini vans or as we call them people movers are not the prefered long distance family hauler. Mini vans here are a very urban appliance generally with a fish emblem on the rear door.

    Long distance family trips generally requires a vehicle with a bull/roo bar and driving lights.

    Landcruisers, Patrols are the better family hauler. Next down the list are Pradoes, Pajeroes, essentially all mid size off road vehicles. 4×4 dual cabs are very popular, they carry more stuff than family can ever use with the added bonus of 30mpg + FE.

  • avatar

    Imagine when mini vans did not exist folks still did road trips, had kids, dogs, and all sorts of other stuff, and had to do pit stops for the kids. You have to wonder how they managed?

    Easy full size sedan or a station wagon with either the trunk or the cargo area of the wagon was sufficient. The more space that is available the more stuff one tends to bring along.

    After several road trips the kids and the dog know the routine of a road trip.

    Sometime ago,

    Travelling east bound on the 401 an OPP from the west bound side crosses over to the east bound side (when they cross over they are very motivated). The fellow in the wagon takes an exit, by now the OPP is right behind the wagon. “I thought you wanted to evade me” reply “Did not see you, took the exit since I though the dog wanted to pee” while letting the dog out of the back of the wagon.

    OPP “I clocked you once at XXX and again at XXX that will be xxx and points” Then the kids are in the OPP car he turns on the lights, siren a show on the side of the exit.

    The kids were entertained, the dog peed, and the fellow got a speeding ticket.

    Road trips with the family and dog(s)often turn into an adventure.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Wrote about this before but it probably scarred me for life.

      Family road trip. From the GTA to Disney World. The Old Man, our mother and 3 teenage boys. All in The Old Man’s Mark IV.

      If you have never been in a Mark IV it was the ultimate mid 70’s PLC. Great in the front. Small back window, small ‘opera’ style windows on the side, big transmission ‘hump’ in the middle of the floor and very hard to see out the front window from the back seat, particularly with all 6’2″ and 265lbs at the time Old Man in the front with his seat set back.

      Crammed in the back, for hours at a time the 3 of us naturally created havoc. So whenever he could not take it anymore, The Old Man would just swing back with his right arm and connect with whoever was in the way. Which of course led to more yelling from whoever got hit and from Mom.

      Fast forward 20 years. Took my family, Mom and The Old Man on a vacation in our new Grand Caravan (of course he insisted on driving). 3 rows. Lots of headroom. Lots of window space. Comparative heaven.

      Later spent years driving throughout Southern Ontario, New York and Michigan for hockey tournaments. Always used a mini-van. No AWD/4wd required. Again lots of room, even better a built in DVD in some. Room for 4 plus all the required equipment and accoutrements . Travel bliss. Those in their SUV’s invariably had the back filled to capacity, couldn’t see out the back window and often had to ask for us to transport their hockey sticks.

    • 0 avatar

      AGR – those were the days where car seats and seat belts were an afterthought. As a kid we went everywhere (dad, mom, brother and I) as well as a dog and pet rabbit all crammed into a regular cab bench seat pickup with manual transmission. We couldn’t safely put the dog and rabbit in the back because that is where the diesel fuel tank, parts, and cases of oil went. Our car saw duty for to and from school and trips to see family “down south” where the trip was confined to paved highways.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        If kids are now more restrained they require less space. Kids are now kept in capsules, seats, etc.

        Most families have movies, games, etc available to help keep the kids occupied. Kids now have drink holders and nooks and crannies for manage their on board activities and snacks. We never had these features available.

        Cars now are also climate controlled. I remember when AC was not common. As a kid heat was a huge distraction.

        Kids have never had it so good, even if a trip is done in a Focus compared to a land barge of yore..

        • 0 avatar

          “If kids are now more restrained they require less space.”

          That is creepy on multiple levels.

          • 0 avatar

            Yeah, the battery people in Matrix didn’t require much space. I think that’s where we’re going with these bloated, diabetic phone zombies.

            What they cost in volume is more than made up for with immobility.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz


            You sound like some creep. Are you okay? Or, you may have missed tour meds.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            Shove it Al and read the whole thing you windbag

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            Big Al from Algeria,
            I’m not the one who connects a kid’s safety with weirdo sh!t.

            I’m also not involved with the Boy Scouts like the person who made a creepy comparison.

            You may condone this, but I find his line of thought repulsive.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            BAFO You are the one who talked about restrained kids. You made the creepy comment. My only regret as an American is that when we let Skylab fall from the heavens and land in Australia the remnants didn’t knock you upside your head and knock some sense into you. Good Day SIR!

          • 0 avatar

            @BAFO – your words not mine.

          • 0 avatar

            “If kids are now more restrained they require less space.”

            Yeah, I guess it was just another innocent 1/2 wit comment rationalizing the need for small trucks when full sized ones are available for basically the same price.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “But if you’re a young family road-tripping without a minivan, you’re doing it wrong.”

    I’ve rented enough minivans while on family vacations to know I’d rather have my Tahoe. A lot nicer to drive and sit in. Plus they don’t tow like a ‘Hoe!…..LOL

  • avatar

    Any of my swimmers strong enough to slip past three layers of birth control to infiltrate the iron uterus of whatever Eastern European stripper I’m with at the time will be fine riding in a sedan for the weekend visit.

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