Road trips help cement the family lore and introduce good travel habits to little ones. Here are 12 tips for family road trips.
12 Tips for Family Road Trips
1. Start early on your road trip. Hate to sound like your grandpa, but there it is. Get up at 6 or 7 a.m., but leave by 7:30 a.m. Pack the night before, and include breakfast sandwiches so you don’t have to stop too early. Kids are on their best behavior in the mornings – and may even snooze – while you’re at your most alert for the drive. You’ll arrive at your destination by noon at the latest, freeing you from the car and ensuring a good lunch.
2. Drive for only two hours at a time. Unlike your grandpa, I’d never drive for more than two hours straight. Stop for 20 minutes at a playground, a coffee shop, a toy store. The break will do the whole family good and free you from GottaGetThereItis. It also allows for the serendipity of the road, discovering a cool stop — a delicious local ice cream shop or a shaded playground — that isn’t in any guidebook.
3. Plan your road trip around the young child’s nap. Plan to be on the road in the afternoon. Don’t expect a very young child (under age 2 or 3) to self-entertain. You may all have a more enjoyable trip if an adult sits in the backseat to sing, read books and chat.
4. Do pre-trip research on the website Roadside America. Find wacky stops along the way. Kids tend to love these weird attractions: giant hats, lumberjacks, teapot gas stations? Yup.
5. Snap to it. Give children a camera to photograph the weird attractions (above), a sibling’s drool while sleeping or odd cars you see on the road.
6. Plan for family car fun. Half the fun is getting there! Print out a list of kid-friendly travel games from FamilyFun.com to resolve emergency freak-outs. I also created a Pinterest board of family car trip activities and game ideas.
7. Sleep over. When planning a road trip, stay for at least two nights in one town. Take it easy, see one attraction or two, make time for naps and know that there will always be a next time (in case you didn’t get to do everything). Tight planning often makes for stressed-out kids and parents.
8. Go car-free. Try to plan a car-free day where you walk everywhere, visit parks and enjoy the outdoors, instead of driving. My kids are used to the intense travel style of a travel-writer mom, so they think anything other than five activities per day is weird. But we still plan car-free days on our trips, and we walk everywhere on those days.
9. Pack snacks. Bring fantastic, new snacks that require little refrigeration – fruit, bars, crackers, hard cheese, trail mix. Avoid melty snacks with chocolate. My sister-in-law recommends a lollipop (it keeps ’em quiet and takes a looong time to eat). I also created a Pinterest board of family travel recipes and snacks.
10. Make clean-up easy. Bring wet wipes, freezer-size Ziploc bags, a towel and several large plastic bags, no matter the age of your children. You will need all of these items at some point.
11. Keep the kids surprised. Keep kids entertained with new books, small surprise toys and pocket-sized magic tricks. You can even pick up a treasure trove’s worth at your local Value Village, Savers or Goodwill. Let the kids open one package or surprise, every hour or two.
12. Just go for the tech solution! The Apple Touch or iPhone is fantastic — just load it up with games and movies and bring headphones (we make the kids share one and use a splitter to connect the headphones). See the Apps4Kids site and the Best Kids Apps sites. My kids don’t get to watch a lot of television at home, so enjoying a movie en route is a total treat. There’s a time and place for tech — and long, dull stretches of I-5 is that time and place.
Road warriors, what are your tips for family road trips? Do you have a favorite game or activity?
Want to read about a truly intense road trip? Check out Amy’s “Pit Stop a Day” road trip from Pit Stops for Kids — she went on a 22-day journey through Oregon, Washington, Montana and down to California. Wow!