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Road trips are amazing ways for families to travel. They give you a ton of value while being very budget-friendly. There are unlimited places they can take you. And the best part is that they can be completely customized to your family, your style, your interests, and your budget. But, road trips can easily turn into miserable experiences with everyone fighting. To keep your vacations full of sweet memories, here are the absolutely best tips for family road trips.
The Benefits of Family Road Trips
There are so many reasons to take family road trips. There are also a lot of benefits of this type of travel. If you have never considered taking a road trip with your kids, you definitely should. For more reasons to take family road trips, see our top 10 reasons and the pros and cons of road trips with kids.
Here are just some of the benefits of road trips:
#1: They are very budget friendly.
Many times, you can take a road trip for a fraction of the cost of airline tickets for your family. Talk about stretching your vacation dollars.
#2: See more along the way.
Unlike flying, when you take a road trip, you get to enjoy the sights between home and your destination. It’s almost like getting a bonus vacation!
#3: You get more family bonding time.
There is nothing like being in a car together for hours to create amazing family bonding time. For me, this is the biggest benefit of family road trips.
#4: Create lots of memories.
Not only do road trips create family bonding time, but they also leave you with lasting memories. Many times, the best memories of your vacations are things that happen in the car driving down the road. You just can’t recreate that on an airplane.
#5: It gives you complete flexibility.
When you are traveling with kids, flexibility is a must. Road trips give you complete flexibility to leave when you want, stop when you want, and take as much luggage as you want.
#6: You have your own transportation.
Sometimes when you fly, transportation at your destination can be inconvenient and difficult. But, road trips allow you to have your own transportation once you arrive. This is especially important when you have little ones who need to be in car seats.
#7: It is more comfortable.
It’s no secret that your own car is much more comfortable than airplane seats. And the more comfortable your family is along the way, the happier they will be and the more fun you will have.
#8: You won’t lose your luggage.
Anytime you fly, there is always a chance the airline will lose your luggage. But, you don’t have to worry about this on road trips.
Time Saving Tips
One of the biggest reasons why people don’t like taking road trips with their families is because they take too long. While they do take longer than flying usually, there are ways to save time on your trip. Here are some of my favorite time-saving tips:
Plan your route and timing strategically.
Instead of just deciding what time you want to leave and going with it, take some time to really think through the actual drive part of your trip. Strategically plan not only your route but the time you leave, so you make the most of your time on the road.
Adjusting your route to avoid bigger cities may save you hours sitting in traffic. If you must go through a bigger city, plan it so you don’t hit it during rush hour. This can be accomplished by leaving an hour earlier than you originally planned.
Drive at night.
One of my favorite tips for saving time on family road trips is to do as much driving at night as you can. This will not only help you to avoid a lot of traffic, but it will sometimes help you to avoid construction as well.
And it has the added benefit of allowing you to drive while your kids are sleeping. This can save you the stress of listening to them whine or fight with each other. And it can help minimize your stops because they won’t be awake to need snacks or bathroom breaks as often.
My husband and I love starting road trips between 2-4 am. It lets us get a jump on the day and get there sooner.
Maximize your stops.
The best way to save time on road trips is to maximize your stops so you don’t have to stop as often. Do as many things as possible during each stop even if it’s not necessary.
For example, when you stop for food, go ahead and top off your gas tank, even if you have over a half a tank still. This will allow you to drive a little longer before needing to stop for gas. Whenever you stop for any reason, make everyone in the car go to the bathroom and get whatever drinks and snacks they may need.
Doing everything in one stop means you won’t be stopping every hour, which will allow you to get to your destination faster.
You can also stop less on your road trips by packing snacks in the car with you for your entire trip.
If you take a small cooler with you, you can pack snacks that need to be kept cool, such as cheese sticks. On the other hand, if you don’t want to mess with a cooler, or don’t have space for one in the car, then just pack snacks that can be kept at room temperature.
If your children tend to argue a lot, consider packing each child their own snack box to prevent fighting over who gets the last cookie.
For ideas on what to pack, see our list of the best snacks for road trips.
Divide and conquer.
My absolute favorite tip for saving time on road trips is to divide and conquer. We talked above about how you should maximize your stops by going to the bathroom and getting gas and food at each stop. To do all these things more efficiently, split up the tasks between yourself and your spouse so you can knock out two things at once.
We tend to hit a drive thru for meals when we are on road trips. As we get in the drive thru line, my son and I will jump out and go to the bathroom while my husband orders food. By the time he has gotten our food, we are done and back in the car.
Then I will top off our gas tank while my husband goes to the bathroom. This allows us to make the most of our stops so we can get back on the road sooner.
One of the simplest ways to make your family road trip smoother is to pack the car in such a way that you will have everything you need when you need it without having to make a bunch of unnecessary stops. These tips will help make packing for your road trip easier.
Think through your drive.
When you start packing for your trip, take some time to think it through. Think about not just what things you will need at your destination, but also think about what you will need during the drive portion of your vacation.
Will you be stopping for the night before arriving at your final destination? Are you going to pack food to eat in the car? Will you be driving at night or during the day? Are you going to put your kids in the car in their pajamas?
The answers to each of these questions and others will guide you to how you should pack for your road trip.
Pack your bags and your car in such a way that you put the items you need in a place where you can easily get to them when you need them.
Pack an overnight bag if stopping before your final destination.
If you will be stopping for the night before arriving at your final destination, then pack an overnight bag that contains everything your family will need for day 2 of your road trip. This will save you from unloading your entire car when it’s time to stop for that night.
Pack your bags based on use.
Once you have thought through your trip, pack your bags based on when each item will be used. This will prevent you from having to dig through multiple suitcases to find the things you need.
For example, instead of putting all of your son’s things in one suitcase and all of your daughter’s items in another, pack one bag with their entertainment for the car, another bag with everything your family will need for the beach, and a third bag with the things you will need for day 2 of your drive.
Put things in the car within reach of the user.
When you start putting things in the car, don’t just put everything in the cargo compartment of your car. Put them within easy reach of the person who will be using them during your journey.
Place the toy bag next to your child. Put your husband’s wallet, phone, and sunglasses in the console. Store the snack bag near the person who will be handing out the snacks during the drive.
Use packing cubes.
Another way to simplify packing for family vacations is to use packing cubes. These compact cubes will keep your luggage organized. They will also help you easily find what you need when you need it.
They are great for clothes, but you can also use them to pack other things, like toys, shoes, and snacks.
I love packing cubes. I have one set for each person in my family, each in a different color. We use them on every trip we take. I use the Veken brand packing cubes.
Pack a “just in case” bag.
Prevent mishaps from ruining your trip by packing a “just in case” bag. This should include anything you need to clean up messes, take care of illness, and address any other minor disaster that may happen. Keep your bag within easy reach within the car.
Your just in case bag should contain:
- a small first aid kit (pain reliever, band aids, eyedrops)
- paper towels
- trash bags
- wet wipes
- a flashlight
- air freshener
The most important thing when you are on a family road trip is to arrive safely. So, the following tips will help you keep your family safe.
Check the weather before leaving.
Before you start your journey, take some time to check the weather. Check it for your destination. Also check for the entirety of your route. This will give you a heads up on any inclement weather you may encounter along the way.
If it looks like you may run into some bad weather, consider leaving earlier or later in order to avoid it. You may also be able to miss the weather by taking an alternative route.
Pull over in bad weather.
If you do run into bad weather during your journey, pull over in a safe area and wait it out. Your family’s safety is not worth the time you may save by pushing through the storm.
If it’s a dust storm or heavy rain only, you should be ok pulling off the road and waiting a little bit. If, however, you encounter a tornado or severe thunderstorm, find a restaurant or other public building to hunker down in until the storm passes.
And if you are unlucky enough to hit winter weather, consider stopping for the rest of the day. Check your family into a hotel and wait until the next day to start again.
Be aware of cars around you.
As you drive, pay attention to other cars around you. Many times, you can spot a potential problem with another driver and keep your distance. This may allow you to avoid getting involved in an accident.
Always leave plenty of distance between you and other cars so you have room to stop quickly if you need to. And if someone is tailgating you, move over and let them go around.
Don’t engage in road rage.
This may sound obvious, but don’t engage in road rage when you are on family road trips. Nothing good ever comes from road rage.
Don’t let other drivers ruin your family time. Just ignore their bad behavior, and let them go on their way. If you can’t avoid them, then drive to a police station, call 911, or wave down a police officer you see on the road.
Stop only in well lit locations.
After dark, lessen your odds of becoming a victim of crime by only stopping at locations that have well lit parking lots. While this won’t completely eliminate your odds, but it will help. Criminals tend to shy away from places that are bright and well lit.
Don’t leave kids alone in the car.
Please do not leave your kids alone in the car while you go into a store. I know this may sound tempting when they are sleeping soundly in their car seats, but don’t do it. You would hate for someone to steal your car with your kids in the backseat. And this happens quite often, believe it or not.
It’s just not worth the risk of losing your kids to get a little more sleep out of them.
Be aware of your surroundings.
Speaking of crime, always be aware of your surroundings when you are traveling. This is especially true at night.
Before getting out of your car, take a quick look around and behind you to make sure there is no one waiting to ambush you. Keep an eye out for anyone that looks suspicious.
And pay attention to your gut. If you feel uneasy about a given situation, listen to your inner voice and leave the situation.
Don’t ignore minor car problems.
The last thing you want on your family road trips is car problems. So, don’t ignore minor car problems when they pop up. Have your car checked out before you leave. But, if something seems off while you are on your trip, take the time to have it checked before it turns into a major problem.
If you don’t trust your car, rent one.
If your car just isn’t in good enough shape to handle a road trip, then rent one. You don’t want to spend the whole time worried that your car will break down while you are on vacation. Rental cars are not super expensive. It’s worth the money to give yourself peace of mind while traveling.
Always wear seat belts and use car seats properly.
This next safety tip may sound obvious, but when on family road trips, always wear your seat belts. And strap your little ones into their car seats properly. This should be one of those non-negotiable things in your family. If your kids know that the car won’t move until they are buckled up, they will quickly get in the habit of it. Then you won’t have to fight them on it.
It has been proven over and over again that seat belts and car seats can protect your family in the event of a car accident. So use them and use them correctly.
Install car seats properly.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 59% of car seats are not installed correctly. And an improperly installed car seat won’t protect your precious little one if you are in a wreck. So, before starting your road trip, make sure yours is correctly locked in.
If you need help installing your car seat, or want to make sure you did it correctly, stop at a local fire station or children’s hospital and ask for help.
Know your limits.
While I am a big advocate of driving at night while your children sleep, it’s critically important that you know your limits.
If you are driving, know when you are too tired to keep going. When you reach this point, either switch drivers or stop for rest. Also know your limits when it comes to stress, patience, and anger. If you’ve had all you can take, then it’s time for a break.
Depending on the situation, you may want to let someone else drive for a while or simply stop and stretch your legs and get a cup of coffee. Whatever you need to do to regain your composure, do it. Taking care of yourself when you reach the end of your rope will make the trip more pleasant for your whole family.
Don’t drink and drive.
Of course, my biggest safety tip of all when it comes to family road trips is don’t drink and drive. This is one of the most dangerous things you can do. There’s no reason to put your family’s lives at risk. And the surest way to ruin the vacation is to end up in jail.
So, wait until you arrive at your destination to relax with a drink. It will be much more satisfying then!
Tips for Road Trips With Kids
Some people are intimidated by the idea of taking a road trip with kids. They feel that their kids can’t handle being in the car for more than an hour or two. But, it is possible to have a successful road trip with kids. These tips can help. Also check out our tips for road trips with babies and toddlers if you have little ones.
Let them burn off some energy.
Kids have unlimited amounts of energy. This can cause misery for everyone if you are in the car with them for many hours. So, whenever you stop, let your kids get out and burn off some energy. This will make it easier for them to settle into the car for a few hours of driving.
Where you stop will dictate how you let them move around. If you are in a busy parking lot, then let them walk into the store with you. If you can find a small patch of grass, take advantage of it by letting them jump around and turn in circles. If you are at a rest stop or somewhere with a lot of space, give them a few minutes to run freely.
I promise this time will be well worth it when it’s time to start driving again!
Dress for comfort.
We all hate to be uncomfortable. Kids are no different. So, to have pleasant road trips with kids, dress them comfortably in the car. If you want them to look cute when you get to your destination, you can always change their clothes when you arrive.
Consider letting them ride in the car in their pajamas at least part of the time, especially if you will be driving at night. If you have babies and/or toddlers, let them make the entire trip in their pajamas.
Let baby tell you when to stop.
Whenever you are road tripping with babies and toddlers, let them tell you when it’s time to stop. When your little one begins to get fussy, stop. Get them out of their car seats and let them stretch. Give them a diaper change and then feed them. Once they’ve had a little break, they will be good to go for a while longer.
Just remember to make the most of these stops so you don’t have to stop again shortly. Go ahead and top off your gas tank, go to the bathroom and get yourself and everyone else in the car some food, or at least snacks, when you stop for baby.
Find the reason for the meltdown.
Some parents believe they can’t take road trips until their children are older simply because their little ones hate the car seat. But, in my experience, it’s not so much the car seat itself that causes the meltdowns. So, to get past this with your little one, find the reason behind the meltdown.
Discover what is really upsetting them and solve that problem. You just might find that they don’t have a problem with the car seat after all. It may be that the straps are too tight or that your child gets scared if she can’t see you.
There could be a hundred different things that cause your child to “hate the car seat.” Do a little detective work and try to uncover the actual source of the problem.
When my son was little, he would scream and cry when in the car seat after dark. He was fine during the day, but hated it at night. Turns out, he was just scared of the dark. Putting a reading light on his car seat and having one of us in the back with him at night made all the difference.
My niece, on the other hand, hates wearing her shoes in the car. By taking them off as soon as she is buckled into the car seat, my sister can eliminate the meltdown before she ever starts the car.
Work with their personalities.
When sanding a piece of wood, you always want to go with the grain and not against it. The same is true when traveling with your kids. Work with their personalities and not against them.
If you have a child that is hyper and can’t sit still in the car for more than 2 hours, plan to stop every 2 hours on your trip and let him run around a bit. If your daughter gets car sick when she looks at screens, plan only screen free activities for her. Have two kids that fight all the time? Put them as far apart as possible in the car.
Does your kid lose all control when they get hungry? Make sure you have plenty of snacks on hand or stop for food before they get to that point.
You know your kids better than anyone. So, work with what you know about them and tailor your trip so you get the best version of them while on vacation.
Make space for everyone.
Everyone feels better when they have their own space to get comfortable in. So, make sure before you start out on your family road trips that everyone has their own space in the car. Don’t cram so many people in that you are all sitting on top of each other.
If you don’t have enough space in your vehicle for everyone to have a little space to themselves, consider renting a large car for your trip. You will all be happy to have the extra space to spread out a little.
My last tip for successful road trips with kids is to pack some surprises for them. They don’t have to be anything extravagant. Go to the dollar store and pick up a few little toys, a new coloring book, or even some special snacks.
For older kids, you can get creative and give them surprises themed towards whatever state you are in at the time or plan them around the activities of your vacation.
Give your kids a surprise either whenever you hit a road trip milestone, such as crossing state lines, or at predetermined times, such as once per hour or every 200 miles. You could also give them out randomly as they start to get cranky.
Consider wrapping them up for an extra bit of fun.
How to Entertain the Family While on the Road
Of course, you can’t spend hours in the car with kids and not have some type of entertainment to keep them occupied. Here’s some ideas, including some screen free activities that are great for road trips.
Movies and a portable DVD player are great for kids while on family road trips. They will hold their attention for hours and make the miles fly by for them. Just remember to bring headphones so you don’t have to listen to their favorite movie four times in a row!
Another great source of entertainment for kids on road trips is video games. This could be in the form of portable game devices or on tablets, phones or laptops. Whatever device your kids use for their games, just make sure each kid has their own so they don’t fight over them. And pack extra batteries and/or chargers to keep them alive the whole time.
Old School Games
Eventually, most kids will tire of video games and movies. When this happens (or if you prefer less screen time), then break out the old school games from our childhoods. Games such as I Spy, 20 Questions, the License Plate Game, and the Alphabet Game are unheard of by most kids today. But, they are just as effective to pass the time as they were twenty years ago.
Scavenger Hunt/Backseat Bingo
One of my favorite things to entertain kids on road trips is a scavenger hunt. This will get them to focus on looking out the window at their surroundings. And the beauty of these is that they can be played by any age.
You can either make up your own scavenger hunt lists before leaving home or buy one such as Rubberneckers or Auto Bingo. You can find a wide selection of them at Amazon.
Road Trip Karaoke
If your kids like music, try playing road trip karaoke during your family road trips. You can either take turns or have everyone sing along together. Turn up the radio or put on your favorite playlist and belt it out!
For some extra fun, make it competitive and see who can sing the most without missing a word. Or try theming your songs to your destination. For instance, if you are heading to Disney World, sing only Disney songs. If you are going to the beach, put on some Beach Boys.
If you and your kids love reading, find the audio versions of your favorite books or one you’ve been wanting to read. Then spend your trip in the car listening to them. Alternatively, find some family friendly podcasts you can all listen to together during your drive.
Another fun idea is to quiz each other with trivia cards or flashcards while in the car. You can either get some trivia cards or flashcards to use or you can grab a deck out of your favorite trivia board game to take with you.
My son loves doing this during our road trips.
Discuss Your Trip
Lastly, entertain your kids during your road trip by discussing your trip. If you are heading to your destination, talk to them about what things you will be doing. Or ask them what things they would like to do during your trip.
If you are headed home, talk about what they liked and disliked about the trip. Ask them what they would like to do the next time you visit this location or where they would like to go on the next family road trip. Use this information in planning your next vacation.
Creative Ideas for Family Road Trips
If you are looking for some new and creative ideas for your family road trips, try some of these:
Spontaneous Road Trip
Why not take a road trip without any plans? Just jump in the car and start driving. See where the road takes you! This is one of my favorite types of road trip. It can be a lot of fun and very freeing to not have to make any plans or be on a schedule of any kind.
Historical Road Trip
If you have some history buffs in your family, take a historical road trip. Visit some of the Civil War battlegrounds. Check out some of the places that were significant to the founding of the country. Trace the gold rush through the West.
Take your favorite part of history and use it as a guide to craft a historical road trip you family will love.
Friends and Family Trip
If you have friends and family that live other places, take a friends and family trip to see them. If you have loved ones in several different locations, hop from one to the other during your trip.
National Parks Trip
Love the national parks? Take a family road trip to visit several of them. You could travel to Utah and hit up the Mighty 5 or visit Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Take a trip to New Mexico and Arizona and visit Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands, and the Grand Canyon.
If your family are big sports fans, take a road trip based around your love of sports. Go see your favorite team play an away game. Take a trip to visit the hall of fame of your favorite sport. Introduce your kids to a new sport by going to watch a game. Go tour various famous stadiums.
There are lots of ways to take family road trips based around sports.
Route 66 Trip
If you have a fondness for Americana, take a family road trip down Route 66. You can either drive the whole thing from Chicago to California or just do a portion of the historical route that has inspired so many road trips before.
If you have younger kids, you can get them excited about this trip by referring to it as the “Cars” road trip!
Animal Lover’s Road Trip
If your kids are big animal lovers, why not take a road trip based around animals? Go visit several zoos and aquariums across the country. For added interest, look for wildlife parks and animal refuges to add to the mix. You may even be able to surprise your kids with a special encounter with their favorite animal while on the trip.
Road trips are a wonderful way to travel and experience the world together. They allow you to make memories with your family in a very affordable way. I hope this ultimate guide to family road trips help you to start taking road trips with your kids.
Be sure to check out my tips for planning your multi-city road trips!
P.S. Need help finding the best places to go on your family vacations? My Ultimate USA Bucket List for Families will instantly give you 60 of the best vacation destinations for families in the United States! Get it for FREE in the box below and start planning your next trip today! Plus, as a bonus, you will receive my weekly email newsletter full of family trip tips and inspiration!