Holidays mean spending time with family both near and far. For some of us, the far part can mean that it’s time for a road trip. With four kids, plane tickets for a trip to visit our families can be a bit pricey, so we have become expert road trippers.
Over the past eight years, we have driven as far north as Canada, as far east as Maine, as far south as Texas, and as far west as California. It’s been too many miles to count and lots of fun family time in the car. (Well, sometimes it’s fun family time, and other times it’s “drive Mom crazy” time.) Throughout all of my experiences as a family of six frequent travelers, I’ve collected some tips for a successful road trip. If you and your family will be traveling this holiday season, take notes!
Road Trip Tips
Plan and Prepare
This sounds pretty basic and should go without saying. When I say ‘plan’ I mean that you should find the best route for you. Are you in a hurry to get to your final destination or can you take your time and make some fun stops for your kids to explore along the way? One of my road trips with my kids was from Iowa to Arizona. Along the way we stopped to see friends to break up the drive. We also stopped at the Oklahoma City Zoo, the Petrified National Forest in Northern Arizona, and the Meteor Crater in Winslow, Arizona.
These stops have allowed my kids to learn about and experience different parts of the United States in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
Do you know how long your trip is going to take? If it’s a long trip, I suggest finding where you plan to stop along the way so that you can, 1) have a goal of where to get to along the trip, and 2) have a place where you know you will be stopping to rest. There are some great apps to put on your phone for when you need to take a break for the night during your trip. Hotel Tonight is very easy to use and helps you to find the cheapest room close to you. I used it in Albuquerque during a road trip because I knew I had driven as far as I could and needed a break for the night.
I travel with a small army, so I bring enough food along to feed that army. Road trips mean special treats for the kids (but only in very limited amounts). It also means a high chance for needing fast food. To avoid hitting up the drive-thru for every meal, I stock up on Lunchables and things to make peanut butter sandwiches. Soft-sided coolers can fit perfectly in the backseat to put drinks and food in. I also have a big bag full of easy-to-grab (and throw into the backseat) snacks. Pre-bag fish crackers, pretzels, and apples so they are easy to get while driving. There is also a large selection of fruit snacks and easy-to-open things like string cheese.
Just like a plane flight promises “in-flight entertainment,” I have to provide my demanding passengers some entertainment. We have portable dvd players that attach to the head rests, and I try to bring a good selection of movie choices. A road trip playlist is another must, and I also recommend books on tape (my kids love Harry Potter books).
I pack each kid a bag that holds coloring books, work books, legos, stickers, travel journals (more on that in a minute), craft projects, window clings, and anything to keep little fingers busy.
I make the travel journals beforehand. My nine-year-old gets a journal that requires more detail. She has to research each state we drive through (we have state flash cards that come in really handy for that) and tell me different things each trip, like state capitals, what the state looks like, what the state flag looks like, what the license plate looks like, what is the state population, what year it became a state, etc.
My 6 year old has a less detailed journal. I ask him to draw me pictures of what he sees out the window and practice writing the state name. He can trace the way we drove through the state and make lists of things he sees around him. I like to make traveling a learning experience.
If you plan to break your trip up over a few days, I suggest making an overnight bag that is easy to get to. It is so much easier to get on the road faster if you don’t have to unload and reload the entire car every time you stop.
Limit the amount of sugar you let your kids consume. There are a couple of reasons for this. One: too much sugar means upset stomachs. If you have ever cleaned barf out of a car or car seat, you know that the smell never fully disappears, and you really don’t want to deal with that for the rest of your trip. Reason number two: kids plus sugar means hyper little people confined to a small place. I make my kids a little sample baggie for the trip, and once their bag is empty, they are done with sugar. They can decide how they are going to eat it.
Carry extra baggies in the car of all sizes. Gallon size ones are good for dirty clothes or to use as car sick bags. Sandwich and Snack size bags are good to put snacks in and to put crayons and legos in when the boxes break or get lost.
Don’t let your gas tank go below ¼ of a tank. You never know when the next gas station is going to come up and you do not want to find yourself waiting for AAA or walking along the highway with a gas can.
Make sure you have car chargers and back up car chargers. On our most recent drive to Arizona, my car charger went out halfway through the drive. We would have been up a creek without our GPS so thank goodness we had an extra charger.
No matter how well you plan, remember the kids tend to have their own ideas of how things should go so don’t be surprised if you have to take more breaks thank you originally planned or if your stops take longer than you had originally thought.
I have come to really love road trips with my family and look forward to our next adventure. There is nothing like being in a car together for several hours to promote family bonding. I hope that some of these ideas will help you in planning your journey.
Have you ever been on a family road trip? What was your favorite place to visit?