Summer is here, and with school being out and the weather being warm, many families are in the midst of planning road trips. If you have kids along for the ride, your trip can take on a whole new feel, be it good or bad. Here, we will discuss some of the ins and outs, tips and tricks for taking the ultimate road trip with your children.
Benefits of Road Trips over Other Kinds of Trips
When you have a family, you are likely looking for the most cost-effective yet fun family vacations. Road trips are the perfect answer! They are quite cost-effective, and very practical for families with children. Why?
- You can travel slowly and stop when you want, not needing to stick to a schedule.
- You can set your own hours for travel and your destinations, changing these up at any time.
- You don’t have to carry your luggage from place to place, as it’s usually in your vehicle.
- Your journey, not just your destinations, becomes part of your trip.
- You are more likely to discover things you never knew about and have never seen.
- Your children have a built-in place to rest, eat and entertain themselves – the vehicle.
Things to Think About When Planning a Road Trip with Kids
Before you hit the open road with your children, think about the following:
- What type of a trip experience do you want your family to have?
- Who will be going on the road trip? How many, what ages?
- What kind of vehicle will you be driving?
- Where do you want to go? Poll your family to get their input.
- Will you be the driver, or will you be switching off with others and if so, who and how many?
- Are you taking a trip to a warmer climate, or a cooler one?
- How long would you like the road trip to be?
- What kind of activities would you like your family to participate in along the way on this road trip?
- How many things will you need to take with you and will you have adequate room for all the people and things? Should you consider renting a larger vehicle for the trip?
Before You Go On Road Trips with Kids
Consider Your Trip Budget
When you are in the planning stages of your road trip, think about how much money you will have available to spend on various things such as:
- Fuel – what is the mileage to the various destinations you wish to see?
- Food – how much will you bring with you, will you be cooking most meals, when will you be eating out and how often?
- Accommodations - pre-book through family-friendly booking sites such as Air B&B and Booking.com for the best deals
- Activities – what kind of things do you want to do with the family along the way?
- Travel insurance – if you are traveling at a time of year in which the weather can be iffy and could prevent your trip (i.e., hurricanes, tornadoes etc.) or if there’s another reason you might need to cancel your trip, you might want to consider buying travel insurance. Various companies, such as RoamRight and Allianz Travel, offer road trip travel insurance.
- Driving – decide who will be the primary driver, and choose a secondary driver so that the two can switch off when one is tired
When you have allocated your money and know how much you can afford to spend each day, divide that amount into your total trip budget. This will give you a better idea of how many days long you can afford to make your road trip.
Packing and Preparing for the Trip
Traveling with children on a road trip requires packing things that will keep young minds active and boredom at bay. Pack a bag specifically to use in the car, full of things like car games, DVDs, CDs, and extra clothing for the kids in case of accidents or spills.
You should also pack pillows and blankets for the car so that kids (and adults) can nap when necessary; food and drink for the car; garbage bags for the trash; paper towels and wipes; and paper maps in case your GPS or your phone loses signal or battery.
Each person should have his or her own suitcase or bag, if possible, to keep clothing and personal items separate. Don’t forget to pack your kids’ favorite stuffed animals that they cannot sleep without, either.
It is also important to remember any medications that family members take on a regular basis and will need during the trip. Weekly pill boxes come in handy. Include other OTC medications that your family uses when necessary, such as Tylenol, ear drops, or allergy meds.
Food and Drinks for the Vehicle
When it comes to packing food and drink for the road trip, think of things that are easy for kids to grab and eat without making too much of a mess
Juice boxes, water bottles, protein bars, and finger fruits like raisins and grapes are all perfect for the car and won’t (usually) leave crumbs like goldfish or crackers (nothing against these snacks, and if they’re favorites of your family, make sure to pack them, but also have a Dustbuster or handheld car vac charged and handy to clean up messes).
Preparing Your Vehicle for the Trip
Before you set off on your road trip adventure, make sure that your vehicle is in good working order. Do the following:
- Fill the car up with gas.
- Check the brake pads and lights, headlights, and blinkers to make sure they work.
- Check tire tread and tire pressure.
- Check your wiper blades and washer fluid.
- Check your engine coolant, topping up if necessary.
- Check your oil level and change the oil if necessary.
- Make sure your vehicle insurance and registration is up to date.
- Having roadside assistance is also invaluable during a road trip like this. You can often get assistance through your vehicle insurance company, or through the American Automobile Association (AAA), which offers services for both members and non-members.
Organizing the Vehicle
It’s always a good idea to pack up your vehicle the night before you depart on your family road trip so that nothing is forgotten. Save any last-minute essentials, like food, drink, phone and device chargers, and medications, to pack on trip day.
Be sure to include an emergency kit in your vehicle, with a hazard triangle, battery charger, spare tire and tools with which to change it, a flashlight, blankets, and extra bottles of water. A small first aid kit can come in handy, too.
Prepare Your Home for Your Departure
Don’t forget to safeguard your house, as you will be leaving it unattended during the duration of your road trip:
- Make sure that your bills will be paid automatically while you are gone.
- Stop your mail with the postal service, or have someone collect it for you. Mail piling up outside your home is a dead giveaway to would-be criminals that your home is empty.
- Clean out your fridge and get rid of things that could spoil while you’re away.
- Make sure that you have someone to care for pets, and if you have a person coming in to care for them or water plants, etc. ensure that they have a key.
- Also, don’t advertise on social media that you and the family are leaving for a road trip. Photos are nice, but they also let everyone know that your home is unattended and ripe for breaking and entering. Instead, post photos and information about your trip once you have returned home.
The Day of Departure
Get a good night’s sleep the night before you are scheduled to leave. Nothing is worse than trying to drive when you’re bone tired and your kids are jabbering away in the back seat.
On the day you and the family set off for your road trip, try to let the kids sleep in a bit while you get showered and dressed and download any maps, apps or games necessary for the trip. Finish any last-minute packing details before you leave.
Buckle Up, Get Comfortable
When it’s time to go, make sure kids are secure in their car or booster seats, adults have their seatbelts buckled, and that your kids have their necessary items like pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, games, devices, and media.
Ensure that everyone has adequate leg room before taking off. Give one person the responsibility to pass out drinks and snacks when they are requested, and another person the job of throwing out the accumulated garbage when you stop to stretch your legs.
Have Toll Money Ready
If you know that your route will include tolls (which you should already know if you’ve planned your route meticulously as we have suggested), keep that money handy and nearby.
Make Many Stops
When you are traveling with kids, it is very important to make frequent stops. Kids are known to have smaller bladders than adults, and no matter whether they “go” before leaving the house, they will undoubtedly have to go again fairly soon.
Stretching your legs is also important to staying comfortable while driving. Plan your stops ahead of time, trying to coincide with rest areas, parks, historic sites, roadside attractions, and other things that the family might want to see along the way. Allow time for photos at each stop too.
Stay Overnight Outside of the Vehicle
Some families with kids make the mistake of thinking that they can sleep in the vehicle. Fortunately, they usually only make such a mistake once.
After spending all day in the vehicle, kids (and adults) need to get out of the car, stretch their legs, and stay in a hotel or motel, preferably with amenities like a pool where they can get some exercise. In this way, everyone (including the driver) can get a good night’s sleep and be well-rested for the next day’s journey.
Plan for the Unexpected
Even if you have your road trip itinerary planned out to the letter, unexpected things can and will happen. Don’t be inflexible, and don’t feel that you must stick to a strict schedule.
Be willing to take side trips off the beaten path to see attractions that are memorable or that others want to see. Take many photos and consider having each kid journal about their experiences during the trip.
Free Things to Do On Your Road Trip with Kids
Remember, you don’t have to spend money at every destination on your family’s road trip. There are many free or low-cost attractions to see, such as:
- Parks (great for hiking, walking, stretching your legs, and having a picnic lunch along the way)
- City walks and tours (self-guided ones are usually free!)
- Museums on free or discounted days (do some planning before your trip)
- Local flea and farmers’ markets
- Bike rides
- Free/low-cost roadside attraction (check out this list of weird roadside attractions within each state that should not be missed during a road trip)
By following the above advice, you can be sure that everyone in your family, kids included, will thoroughly enjoy your next road trip!
If you're planning on other activities with kids, check out the following relevant articles:
- Family Friendly Backyard Camping Ideas: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Camping with Kids
- Things to know before you go fishing with kids: The Ultimate Guide to Fishing with Kids