This year, many families across the United States are embarking on road trips – both long and short. Road trips can be a great way to save money on your vacation (no airfare or car rental fees!) and have some extra flexibility with when you leave. It’s much easier to plan a road trip at the last minute too – which may be important given the current environment.
However, if you want to plan a road trip with kids, it’s also important that you prepare ahead of time. While they can be done at the last minute, that are some things you should consider when you start planning.
During your family road trip, you’ll likely have a lot of hours in your car and won’t want your kids to get bored. You’ll also want to have your car prepared. Wondering how to plan a road trip? Here are my essential road trip tips.
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Plan a Road Trip With Kids
How to Plan a Road Trip
First, you’ll want to plan your destinations. If this is your first time to plan a road trip with kids, it’s best to start with a relatively quick trip. Road trips can be a long, multi-day trip with numerous stops, or a drive between two destinations – it’s really your choice.
Living in Massachusetts, we have so many options for where to road trip with kids in New England. There are lots of options in other parts of the country as well. A single-destination road trip is the simplest option for your first road trip.
Find a place that’s within 4-5 hours, and travel in good weather. Once you’ve done that and feel good about your experience, you can venture out further and further on the open road – even considering a multi-day drive.
Once you have your destinations and a general idea of when you want to travel, it’s time to choose your specific dates. If you have flexibility in your dates, try to avoid busy times and rush hour. For instance, if I was planning a Cape Cod vacation, I would try to avoid leaving on Friday and returning on Sunday, when the traffic is at its worst.
What to Bring on A Road Trip
Although road trips typically are cheaper family vacations than trips where you fly, you’ll still need to buy some important items for your trip. Be sure to bring along some car safety items, just in case your case breaks down, or you get a flat tire while on the road.
I prefer to just purchase a safety kit that will have everything that you need, rather than put together items individually. This kit includes road safety items, as well as a first aid kit. It’s a good idea to keep this in your car all the time – not just for travel!
You’ll also want to have some fun road trip games for the kids to play. I generally allow extra screen time on road trips, but it’s good to mix in some old-school games too, especially if you have kids that are prone to car sickness.
If you do let your kids use their electronic devices, remember that they are likely to run out of power on your trip. Bring along a fully-charged extra portable power charger. Alternatively, there are some chargers that can plug right into the cigarette lighter of your vehicle.
Make sure that your kids take eye breaks, whether they are on their electronics or looking down at a book. It can be easy to get car sick if you aren’t looking up on occasion. Don’t forget to take those eye breaks yourself too, if you are a passenger.
It’s also a good idea to pack some snacks for your journey, as well as water. We also bring a small bag to use for trash, otherwise, the kids just throw it on the floor of the car, making it a lot more work to clean up.
Apps to Use For Your Road Trip
Smartphone apps can tremendously helpful for road trips. From finding hotels, gas stations, and restaurants, to getting the best directions, you’ll want to load up your smartphone before you go. Again, if you are relying on your phone, you’ll want to make sure that you have a fully-charged device as well as a portable charger.
It’s also a good idea to use some sort of navigation app as well. Google maps and Waze are the most popular and can help you make sure that you don’t get lost. If you are going into a remote area, it may be helpful to print out paper directions as a back up in case you lose a signal.
Road Trip Planning Tips
Finally, you’ll want to do all of your road trip planning in advance. Here’s what you should do:
Know where you are going: Although Waze may provide the best real-time directions, you’ll still want a general idea of which route you are taking. Be ready for tolls and other things you may encounter.
I usually pull up the directions on my computer before we leave and research the general route that we are going to take. If you’ll be using electronic tolls, make sure that your account is up to date and that the credit card on the account hasn’t expired.
Plan road trip stops along the way: Depending on the type of road trip you are taking, you may want to make roadside attractions stops along the way. I recommend researching these in advance when possible, so you know when they are open and what fees you may have to pay.
While it may be tempting to just drive straight through to your destination, part of the fun of a long road trip is exploring new places. If you are traveling with young kids, you’ll want to get out of your car and stretch your legs anyway.
Plan your arrival times at these attractions to coordinate with the opening times, and buy tickets in advance if necessary.
Bathroom breaks become absolutely essential. I always remind my kids to “go when they can” when we travel. There won’t always be a restroom when you need one.
I also love using the Yelp app to find unique and fun restaurants on the way, rather than eat at chain fast food restaurants. We’ve found so many fantastic restaurants that way.
If you can’t find a good restaurant to stop at, you may consider visiting a grocery store. Usually, they will have sandwiches and other prepared foods, and they are a good spot to take a restroom break.
For longer road trips, you may need to stop at a hotel or motel during your journey. Some travelers prefer to stop whenever they get tired. For a family road trip, I’d recommend planning your hotel stops along the way so you are certain of availability.
Get your car ready: Getting a tune-up on your car in advance of a road trip is important. If there are any issues with your vehicle, you’d rather deal with them at home – before your trip. I remember a family road trip when I was a child – our car overheated and we had the get the radiator repaired in an unfamiliar city.
We ended up leaving the car with the nearest mechanic and rented a car for the rest of our journey. We picked up the car on the way back from our trip but lost lots of hours, and it cost a good amount of our vacation budget to rent the car.
You’ll also want to get your tires ready – making sure they are properly inflated. Be sure you have your spare tire in case of an emergency.
If your car isn’t completely reliable, it may be a better idea to rent a car so you don’t have to worry about breaking down. Because we both drive small cars, we’ve rented SUVs in the past to have more space on a road trip.
What are your plans for a family road trip?