A good old fashioned family road trip is a rite of passage in one’s lifetime.
Not only are you able to spend quality time with your kids, but you’re able to see the beautiful countryside in ways that we often overlook nowadays.
Before you hit the road with your kids, however, keep these top tips for planning a family road trip in mind to keep everyone, including you, happy.
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Top 10 Tips for Planning a Family Road Trip
1. Pack plenty of mess-free snacks and drinks in individual portions.
In my opinion, snacks are the No. 1 way to keep kids happy on a family road trip.
Snacks are also a great way to help cut costs associated with buying food on the road.
I suggest assembling a snack tub filled with fun and appetizing snacks that you know your kids will love.
Look for clear packing tubs that are large enough to hold a wide variety and amount of snacks.
Any of these 16-quart storage tubs from Sterilite are a perfect size, price, and durability!
Make sure that the kids can easily access the snacks. This prevents someone from having to constantly bend over the back seat or stop to open the trunk every time hunger or boredom hits.
In addition, pack a combination of healthy and sugary snacks to alternate eating throughout the trip.
Healthy, mess-free snacks include granola or protein bars, whole grain crackers, apple slices, carrots, nuts, grapes, and individually sliced cheeses.
Alternate with snack-size chocolate bars, candy, homemade cookies or muffins, and individual bags of chips.
Leave sticky and crumbly foods at home.
Finally, throw in a couple of otherwise forbidden snacks for a whopper of a distraction.
Additional family road trip tip: Don’t forget to pack a selection of snacks for both the way “there” and the way “back”.
In other words, plan for and purchase enough snacks for 2 different snack bins.
2. Make each child their own family road trip activity bag.
One of the most essential family road trip tips is that each child has their own backpack or duffel bag that serves as an activity bag to keep at their feet.
- Let the kids assist in the travel preparation process by allowing them to choose books, workbooks, games, trinkets, and coloring supplies to include in their bag.
- Do not pack toys or games with small parts that will become lost easily.
- Be sure to plan age-specific road trip activities for toddlers ages 1-4, as their interests and abilities are different.
- Remind kids that whatever they pack they will eventually have to ‘put away’ upon your return. This will help decrease the amount of clutter that they try to bring along.
- For extra long road trips, I love making each child a three-prong folder filled with fun printable travel journals, road trip games, and other road trip printables. This is a huge highlight for kids as it is unique to ‘road tripping’.
Last, and perhaps my favorite road trip activity, is to give each child their own paper, hand-held atlas.
Before departure, use a highlighter to mark the route of your travels throughout the various cities and/or states.
Seeing the travel path mapped out on paper provides a visual of how far you’ve gone as well as a countdown to what’s left.
3. Leave bright and early for your family road trip.
For family road-trips lasting longer than 10 hours, consider an early-morning wake-up call versus traveling throughout the night.
Get going at 5:00 AM or a time that will not completely throw your body off and cause exhaustion (or illness!) a few days later.
4. Plan your stretch breaks ahead of time and take turns driving.
Don’t be too ambitious about your family road trip tips that you forget to plan for pit stops and potty breaks along the way.
Do research about your route ahead of time. Find great roadside attractions like historic sites, charming towns, state parks, and waterfalls that will make for a fun place to stop and take a break.
If nothing else, find a playground and let the kids run and get fresh air for 15-20 minutes. At this time, parents can stretch their legs and switch drivers.
5. Make a CD or playlist for your family road trip ahead of time.
Compile your family’s favorite songs onto a family road trip CD or playlist before departing.
Get the whole family involved in choosing their favorite songs so that everyone can be excited about what song may come next.
Likewise, use the playlist to engage in conversation and learn more about each other’s musical interests.
Once the songs on the radio begin to repeat themselves, pop in your playlist and rock out together as a family.
Additional family road trip tip: Need a break from the loud music, consider bringing along some of the best audiobooks for a family road trip!
6. Don’t overload on electronics.
While road tripping does require some screen time leniency, the beauty of a road trip is the opportunity for conversation and seeing miles of beautiful countryside.
This simply will not take place if you, or your kids, are constantly looking down at a screen.
Consider alternating 1 hour of screen time with 2 hours of a non-screen activity in order to maximize this quality time together as a family.
Additional family road trip tip: I like to have a separate bag or duffel bag (that I am in charge of), that contains all of the family electronics.
By putting all of the I pads, chargers, portable DVD player, and movies into their own space, they are less likely to get misplaced.
This way I can also more easily manage the amount of time that the kids are on their devices.
7. Find alternatives to fast food.
My blog is all about Traveling With a Plan, and this is another area where I suggest doing so in the form of packing road trip meals ahead of time.
Even though fast foods are quick and easy to find when on a family road trip, the cost and lack of healthy choices are less than admirable.
Keep a small cooler with picnic provisions like sandwiches, fruit, meat, cheeses, and yogurt. This provides for healthy and inexpensive alternatives to fast food.
Another idea for eating healthier on the road is to stop at grocery stores instead of food chains where you can easily pick up fruits, veggies, and healthy snacks.
Find a great scenic pull-off or rest area to stop at, eat, and stretch your legs.
If mealtime does not align with a scheduled stop, eat in the car together and use your meal as a way to pass time while continuing to cruise along.
Additional family road trip tip: Be sure to have a garbage can or container on hand to contain the mess from food and drink wrappers.
We use this small trash container from the Dollar Store and store additional liners at the bottom. (Don’t forget to empty the trash can at each rest stop.)
8. Pack a small overnight bag for overnight stops en route.
Consider a packing strategy that doesn’t involve unpacking the entire car at every new hotel during your road trip.
If you have an overnight stop(s) en route to your final destination, pack a small overnight bag. Include just the clothes and toiletries that are needed for that stop alone.
9. Be prepared for car sickness and roadside emergencies.
Make sure that your vehicle is up-to-date on oil changes, tire rotations, and tune-ups.
Make sure the vehicle’s spare tire is accessible and intact.
Bring along a roadside emergency kit that includes booster cables, a flashlight, blanket, and extra food and water.
Finally, have a list of emergency contact numbers that includes roadside assistance
Add car sickness to your list of things to plan for your road trip as it can happen any time, at any age.
Be prepared for car sickness by having saltine crackers and motion sickness medicine on hand.
If someone gets sick, have Ziplock bags readily available. In addition, pack paper towels to wipe their mouth, and a plastic grocery bag to tie up and dispose of everything in.
After the mess is cleaned up, wipe the surroundings down with antibacterial wipes. The fresh scent will be a welcomed bonus.
Additional family road trip tip: Keep a narrow basket between the two front seats of your vehicle.
Place ‘urgent’ items such as K
10. Keep some surprises up your sleeve.
Despite all of your best intentions, the kids will eventually get restless.
The perfect solution to keep boredom at bay in your school-aged kids is to give them secrete goodies bags that you have prepared ahead of time.
Gift them out in well-executed intervals when the “Are we there yet?” questions are looming.
Don’t shower them with every surprise at once, however, and be sure to save some extras for the road trip home.
Read my entire post on making activity bags to help keep the kids excited and entertained during your next family road trip: 18 Amazing “Are We There Yet? Road Trip Activity Bags.
Additional family road trip tip: From packing, to travel gear, to products and activities, get these amazing tips and tricks for taking a road trip with a baby.
Tips for Planning a Family Road Trip – Conclusion
A family road trip can either be a joyous adventure or a total disaster.
With a lot of patience and a little bit of planning, you will, however, be able to ward off common annoyances.
As long as you are prepared, and willing to expect the unexpected, you’ll surely be off to a great start!
What are your best road trip tips that I may have missed?Jen
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