Family road trips are the best — but that doesn’t mean they don’t come with some challenges. We understand how tricky it can be to pack up the kids and hit the open road. That’s why we created this handy guide to help you with everything from preparation to packing. Oh, and it gives you a few tips and tricks to keep you from pulling your hair out — or threatening to “turn this car around” — along the way.
Before You Go
Depending on the age of your kids, it helps to let them in on the planning phase. When children help pick out the destination, the route, or at least some of the stops you make, they are bound to be more excited about the trip. If your kids are too little to include in planning, you can take this time to research your options, so you know all the best kid-friendly stops along the way as well as what to do when you get there.
If your personal vehicle doesn’t fit the whole family comfortably, or you aren’t sure whether it is reliable enough to withstand the road trip miles, renting a vehicle is a great option. You can pick up the car the night before your trip from your nearest location, including nearby airport locations. Family road trips in a rental car are also a great time to even try out that new vehicle model you’ve had your eye on before you commit to buying it.
Tip: When you break up the trip with fun stops, you won’t hear “Are we there yet?” coming from the backseat nearly as much.
The Day/Night Before
Getting a good night’s sleep is critical for you and the kids. Everyone is less grumpy and more into the adventure when they’re well rested. But that’s not all you need to do.
When you’re road tripping with kids, you have to stay one step ahead of those little minds. That means packing smart. Don’t put everything in one suitcase and call it a day. Pack one bag for your destination. Pack another for side trips and on-the-road adventures and a third for use in the car. Some things to include in your car bag:
- An extra set of clothing in case of spills or accidents
- Car games
- DVDs and kid-friendly music
- Pillows and blankets
- Paper towels, wipes, and a garbage bag
- Maps (seriously, if your GPS or phone have no signal, you’ll thank us)
Gather Snacks and Drinks
Refreshments are a fun and necessary part of any road trip. It also gives everybody something to do for a little while. To avoid scrambling at the last minute before you pull out of the driveway, have everything organized the night before in a ready-to-grab spot. Some ideas for snacks and drinks to pack include bottled water, juice boxes, popcorn, protein bars, cereal bars, and easy-to-eat fruits.
Organize, Organize, Organize
Pack everything in the car but last-minute essentials the night before. When you’re in a rush, you’re more likely to forget something. By doing it this way, you can take your time on departure day.
The Big Day
You’re rested, you’re packed, and you’re ready for this. Try to get an early start, but let the kids sleep a little extra while you shower and have a cup of coffee in peace. While they’re getting ready, download any travel apps, maps, and/or games for their tablets. Don’t forget to grab your chargers.
Pile In, Buckle Up
If your kids are old enough, let them carry any of the extras they want to bring like a stuffed animal, pillow, blanket, etc. Avoid potential disagreements by assigning everyone their own personal space — you won’t have to listen to complaints about not having enough room when the boundaries are clear. Assign everyone their own responsibilities like refilling water bottles, passing out snacks, tidying up the personal areas, and taking out trash when you stop.
Like we mentioned in the planning phase, make sure you stop often. In addition to meals and potty breaks, your kids will appreciate the chance to stretch their legs and busy their minds with something other than their car games and toys. Ideas for stops include National Parks, historic sites, and roadside attractions.
If you’re stopping for the night along the way, book a hotel or motel that has an indoor pool. After being in the car all day, the younger kids will love being able to splash around and burn off some energy. You’ll appreciate how refreshed you feel too. Get a good night’s sleep; you’ll be hitting the road and doing it all over again tomorrow.
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