Nothing says summer quite like a road trip with the family. Whether you’re travelling to see somewhere new, visit extended family, or go on a camping trip, it can be great to get out and explore some of the world with your spouse and kids. Driving gives you the chance to stop off and see different attractions en-route, and it’s sometimes cheaper than flying, especially if you’ve got a big family. Plus, it means you’ll have a car with you at your final destination.
That said, there are some obvious challenges that come along with road trips, especially if you’re travelling with kids. Here are some tips that should help:
Depending on how far you’re going, you might want to look into renting a car. Obviously this can get expensive, but it means you won’t have to worry about putting all those miles on your own car, and it can help get your kids excited about the upcoming trip—what kid doesn’t like the idea of a “new” car? Plus, renting a car might allow you to get a car with features that your normal car doesn’t have, such as a DVD player, working air conditioning, or more trunk space for bags.
Even if you’re familiar with the route, you may want to carry a GPS. If you input your destination, a GPS will often be able to tell you when you will arrive, which can be useful in planning how long you can stop for, or if you need to find a different destination for the night. It can also help you find restaurants, attractions, and more.
One of the best ways to keep kids occupied on a car trip is to create some activity boxes or busy bags. Fill these with puzzle books like word-searches or Sudoku, mini board games like Chess or Shoots & Ladders, comic books, crayons and paper, new books, and whatever else you can think of. These aren’t just for small children either; for teenagers, include more difficult puzzles and longer books. Don’t forget to include the ubiquitous License Plate Game sheets—one for every traveler!
The key thing about the activity boxes is to keep the contents a secret until your departure time—this will get the kids excited about going, and they’ll spend at least the first part of the trip happily exploring the contents of the box. If you start the trip off on a great note, everything becomes easier from there.
Of course, books, puzzles, and board games aren’t always going to occupy your kids for the whole ride. If you’ve got a car with a DVD player, rent some new movies to take along with you—these will occupy hours at a time. Or, if you’ve got a tablet, smartphone, or any sort of video-capable device, you can download some movies or travel shows prior to your trip—just make sure you’re protected with a VPN before downloading any torrents.
You’ll want to be careful, though: some kids have a tendency to get carsick if they’re watching movies inside a moving vehicle, and nothing makes for a more unpleasant ride than having a sick kid in the back! If this might be an issue, try grabbing some audiobooks instead.
Choosing the Music
If you’re driving long distances, the commercial-heavy radio might get annoying, and you might pass through places where radio options are limited. There are plenty of options for playing MP3s in cars these days—in fact, most newer cars have an MP3 jack that allows you to just plug in your MP3 player and go. You might also try out satellite radio.
With MP3s, you’ve got two choices. Option A is to create a playlist with some music for everyone—maybe have each person pick a certain number of songs that they enjoy and throw them all in together. Option B is to allow each person to create a different playlist and listen to one person’s music at a time. Option A can be useful because it means you don’t have to choose who goes next and you don’t get stuck listening to your kid’s favorite pre-teen boy bands for an hour or more at a time, but it can also get annoying switching around from genre to genre of music with each new song. Figure out what works best for you.
Obviously you’re going to have to eat on the road, but eating out for every meal can add up. If you’re staying at hotels, you’ll often have breakfast covered in the cost of your room. A continental breakfast may not seem like much, but if you get creative with snacks, you’ll find it can go a long way for cheap. Try grabbing a tackle box for each kid and filling the sections with small snacks—some trail mix in one space, gummy bears in another, a granola bar in one of the longer spaces, etc.
Allow kids to snack when they’re hungry, but remind them that the snacks are meant to last a certain amount of time—maybe pack a day at a time, so it’s easy for them to ration. Make sure to steer clear of chocolate and other things that shouldn’t be left for too long in a hot car!
Another way to cut down on food costs is to have family picnics for lunches. Many national parks and rest areas have picnic tables and benches all ready and waiting for you. Grab some peanut butter and jelly, chips, water, Kool-Aid, plastic cutlery, paper plates and cups, and paper towels, and you’ll be all set to go. Although your kids might love a good pb&j, you might cringe at the idea of having it for lunch every day, but this simple sandwich somehow manages to taste fantastic in the outdoors! You could also grab a cooler and throw in some lunch meats, cheese, or vegetables if you’d prefer. Pinterest has a wealth of ideas for Road Trip Food.
Although preparing for a road trip with kids may seem like a daunting task, it’s definitely something you should do—seize the opportunity to build lifelong memories with your family and to see more of the country! There’s so much to see, from national parks to attractions to cities, and you miss all of it by flying. The key is to not worry too much: with a little planning and patience, you’ll be all set for a fantastic trip.