When you hear “family road trip” do you instantly think of Clark Griswold from National Lampoon’s Vacation? Or maybe you think of the misadventures in the more recent Diary of A Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul? Let’s be honest, being trapped in a car with kids of any age for an extended period of time may not sound desirable. It may even sound downright illogical. However, with a little forethought and some preplanning, a family road trip can be something that becomes a cherished memory for everyone.
So, let’s do this thing…
7 Suggestions for Organizing an Enjoyable Family Road Trip
1. Pick The Best Time To Leave & Plan Your Breaks
Whether you leave very early in the morning to avoid traffic or late at night so that your passengers can sleep will depend on personal preference and the age of your children. If you have a toddler who fights his car seat, leaving at bedtime might make sense for you. If you have older kids however, waking up at the crack of dawn to leave on a trip might be exciting and create a sense of adventure.
Map your route and note rest stops and roadside attractions along the way. It helps to plan around naps and mealtimes. Rest stops give everyone the chance to stretch their legs, use the restroom, and burn off some pent-up energy. Roadside attractions can be a fun way to break up the trip into sections, provide great photo-ops, and allow for shared experiences that everyone will remember with fondness.
2. Keep Everyone Comfortable
In order to ensure a pleasant car ride, give your passengers what they need to be comfortable. Start with space. Does everyone have a little elbow room? Being crammed between people in a car is a bit oppressive, especially on a longer drive. For parents, this will be particularly helpful as a way to avoid hearing, “She touched me!” all the way to your destination. If you have a small car, you might look into renting a more spacious vehicle that can let everyone spread out. In most cases, this is still a cheaper option than airfare!
If possible, consider having an adult sit in the back seat with infants or small children in order to be able to easily reach and keep them entertained. Sorry Mom and Dad…the adult conversation may have to wait until later! Be sure to bring personal items that will comfort little ones – pacifier, stuffed animal, special blanket – so that you can prevent unnecessary meltdowns. Speaking of meltdowns, don’t neglect your driver. Make sure the person actually in charge of getting you where you’re going is rested, content, and able to focus on the road. Think sunglasses, easily accessible snacks, and a favorite drink at the ready (save the grown up drinks for later…you’ll probably need them!).
3. Keep Your Car Organized
Clutter in your car can create a sense of chaos. When traveling with children of any age, there is already chaos in abundance – why contribute? Begin with clearing out your car so that you can start with a clean slate. Then look for car organization solutions that will work for your vehicle. Consider a backseat organizer, a driver storage netting pouch, and maybe a glove box organizer. If you have a child in diapers, a collapsible diaper changing station can be used in the car and carried in with you at stopping points along the way. And remember what we said about keeping the driver happy? Help contain personal items with a nifty car visor organizer.
Multiple people in a car more than likely means multiple devices, and a plethora of cords. If you want something stylish to organize your cords, try a travel cable organizer bag. If you’d prefer to save your money for souvenirs, you can use a small toiletry bag or eye glass case to keep track of chargers, power cords, air pods, etc. for each passenger. You’re going to want to keep track of these cords or otherwise risk the hysterics that might ensue at the discovery of a lost charger.
4. Don’t Forget the Snacks
Pack some snacks. Then pack some more snacks. Choose healthy, non-messy(is) snacks. Consider buying things you wouldn’t normally purchase in order to make the trip seem that much more special (“Remember the road trip when Mom let us have Fruit Loops for a snack?”). Just be careful – you don’t want upset tummies when on the road!
Here are some ideas to get your brain moving in the right direction:
- Beef jerky
- String cheese
- Grapes (cut small for little ones)
- Sliced apples (sprinkle with a bit of lemon juice to prevent browning)
- Granola or protein bars
- Nuts or trail mix
- Snack crackers or Chex Mix
- Healthy versions of all the above
Perhaps the only thing more important than the snacks themselves is a convenient and tidy place for trash. Contain smells and debris with a car trash can with lid. Or just bring trash, grocery, or Ziplock bags for wrappers and dispose of liquids at rest stops. This will not only keep your car from getting stinky, but it will also keep your floor boards – where kids might tend to toss trash – orderly and wrapper-free.
5. Think Beyond Electronics for Entertainment
During a long road trip, there will be time to both engage as a family, as well as have some quieter, personal time. During family time, play fun road trip games like the Alphabet Game or “I’m Packing for Paris.” Want to really entertain your kids or at least encourage some serious eye rolls? Make a playlist of top hits from your era and teach them what real music is. Even if they protest, that music will become, in their minds, the soundtrack of the trip.
When everyone just needs a bit of personal space, devices will be a welcome diversion. You might consider downloading a movie that no one has seen before, thereby increasing the likelihood that they’ll actually watch it. And speaking of new things…pack a bag for each child with new toys. Nothing expensive – we’re talking dollar store finds that are new to them. Or who says you can’t learn while you’re on the road? Try a Word Building Activity Travel Kit or alphabet Pictionary printables with a new box of crayons for smaller children and maybe a travel scavenger hunt for tweens and teens.
6. Plan for Emergencies
While we don’t want to think of a roadside emergency throwing a wrench into the works, we all know a flat tire or car trouble is always a possibility. Before you leave, have your car checked and serviced. The last place you want to discover that you’re out of oil is halfway between home and your vacation spot. Make sure that you have everything you need in your car to change a flat tire. Do you have roadside assistance? Is your insurance up-to-date?Another emergency that could potentially turn your road trip upside down is unexpected illness. Use a plastic tub to create a car first aid kit. Add things like:
- Medicine (for fever, headaches, allergies, cold/flu, stomach upset)
- First aid/wound care (antibiotic cream, Band aids, gauze, alcohol wipes)
- Hand sanitizer
- Disinfecting wipes
- Vomit bags for car (or just extra grocery or trash bags)
There is a chance that you may not even have to open this kit. But it is far better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it!
7. Relax and Enjoy
Finally, in order to have a successful family road trip, don’t over-think or over-plan. While structure is necessary with children, be willing to go off the beaten path for the sake of a unique and unplanned experience. Be flexible, know that things may not go exactly the way you anticipated – such is life.
Be sure to take photos and capture the trip – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And most importantly, take it in. Your kids won’t be the same age next summer. You won’t get this time back. Cherish the moments, breathe through the temper tantrums (yours or theirs), and be willing to continually recalculate your route.
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