Road trips are a rite of passage, something almost inevitable that parents do at least once in their lifetime with the idea of spending quality family time together while exploring the fantastic landscapes that the US or any other country or region has to offer. The truth is that, this seductive holiday package comes along with the unavoidable chant "Are we there yet?" coming from the back seat and children reaching their breaking point: their tantrum point.
However, such driving experiences don't need to be stressing and a recipe for disaster. With the right planning, none of these need to be part of your driving scenario. Before hitting the road, sit comfortably and learn the best tips that will guarantee you the best family road trip experience ever!
Include the Kids
You'll find it easier to get the children excited about the road trip idea and more helpful in the process as a whole if you include them right from the start. Discuss with your partner a couple of destinations you'd like to explore and discover and present them to them. They won't come up with crazy ideas and whatever they decide, it's something you'll be comfortable with. As you move forward with the planning, let them have a say in where you stop, the places you'll see and the activities you'll do. When children feel that the road trip is a family project and not something imposed by their parents they are definitely more collaborative!
Choose Your Destination
All the family talking will make this step fairly easy. Decide where you'll go and start enjoying the idea of a family road trip. Share your idea with a friend or relative. They may have been there before and they might give you interesting hints and tips for the journey or your stay there that you may not find in travel guides!
This is the best moment to decide on your must-sees, especially if you plan to do some sightseeing along the way. Grab a map and look for those spots that you've ever wanted to see and explore. It will be easier to plan stops around them and they will be desirable places and highlights to expect along the road and make the whole driving experience seem shorter!
Learn About Your Destination
As mentioned before, getting your kids involved is crucial and a good way to do so is to make them learn about the different countries, states, cities and highlights you'll see during the road trip. Tourism boards are great sources of useful information! Don't miss them!
Ask them to find information and cool things on the Internet, Geography books, Atlas... etc! The older they are, the more complex tasks they'll be able to handle.
Plan Your Route
Take your time to plan your route as you'll have plenty of things to consider: your departure and arrival points, how many driving hours you'll make per day, which routes you'll take, where you'll find rest stops, fuel and gas, where you can spend the night and where you can take a break, etc.
Don't worry if you don't have a perfect plan. Road trips are adventurous per se and there are plenty of unexpected things that can make the trip longer. The idea is not for the plan to be perfect and settled on stone but to provide a rough guide and driving plan to make sure that everything is covered. You don't want to plan a road trip and discover, on the road, that the route you've chosen has only a few gas stations scattered here or there or that there's nowhere more or less decent where to spend the night.
Talking about the route itself, try to strike a balance between highways and backroads. Highways may be fast but you'll miss a lot as backroads usually have the best scenic views. If you are able to combine both types of roads wisely, you'll be able to get stunning views and plenty of roadside services during your road trip!
It's also important that you make sure you're down with the rules of the road of the country or state you're visiting. If you're driving within the US, bear in mind that each state has its own driving laws and speed limits and you must be familiar with them.
Which car you'll drive?
No matter how much planning you invest in your road trip nor how much your kids are involved in this family project: if they'll be cramped for hours in a small car squeezed between bags, coolers and luggage they'll be fuzzy, cranky and more prone to fighting.
That said, if your car is not big enough for a comfortable road trip, the best and wisest way to go is to rent a larger vehicle as an suv. Everybody will be more comfortable, your own car will stay safe at home and the road trip experience will be a pleasant one for all members of the family.
Whether you'll be driving your own car or a rented one, make sure you have all the documents you need and a clean record. You need to travel with a valid driver's license, registration and insurance in your glove box. It's a great idea to clear up any old parking or traffic tickets before you go.
Those opting for a car rental should also seriously consider investing in a car rental insurance. Despite your existing auto insurance policy may offer some coverages for your car rental, most likely the coverage you'll get is not as thorough as you'd expect and most likely it won't include Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI); and if it does, it will be pricey.
SLI covers you for injuries to other drivers and their cars and its mandatory to carry one on your rental car in some states such as New York, Nevada, California or Florida. Check with your insurance agent and the rental agency about the pricing and availability of SLI or do your own market research and look for different alternatives such as the one offered by Bonzah's car rental SLI.
If you'll take your car to the road, make sure it visits the car mechanic's first. The professional should give it a thorough look and check that your breaks, tyres, battery, belts, air conditioner and fluids are working perfectly. It's a good idea to ask him to check that your children's boost seat or booster are correctly adjusted to the seat. You may be surprised but 8 out of 10 aren't! If you don't know how to do it yet, this is the right time to learn how to change a tyre. You never know when it will come handy!
Set a Realistic Driving Schedule
What makes road trips so magic is that the journey itself is as important and magical as reaching the destination. That said, setting a realistic driving schedule that works for you and your family is important. Look at your route and when you'll be travelling through major cities and attractions. You don't want to be stuck in the rush hour or miss a major highlight in your route because it's late at night and everybody is sleeping.
In the same way, don't plan to drive at night if it's something you're not familiar or comfortable with or to drive for long hours on end: adjust your driving schedule to what is best for your family. There are not perfect recipes for this one!
Plan Multiple Stops and Take Great Advantage Of Them!
Stops are an important part of any road trip. In fact, you're not driving for hours on end just to see the highway or to shout "We've arrived!" as soon as you reach the final destination. Road trips are all about seeing and enjoying as many attractions and interesting things as possible. You've already written down the places and monuments you'd like to visit in fact. But there's another reason why stops are important and why you should plan them carefully: they allow the driver and passengers to blow off steam, stretch their legs and get their body moving after being seated for so many hours.
There's no perfect amount of stops you'll need to make; it will all depend on where you're going, the age of your kids and how many things you want to see. What adults should bear in mind when they map out the breaks is that they are not only to refuel the vehicle, refill the snack box and water bottles or go to the toilet; most importantly, they are also for stretching your legs and moving your body.
This is why they should be long enough to allow especially the children to run after a frisbee, chase birds, play with a ball... mainly shake their extra energy away! Remember that the more active they are outside the car, the more likely they are to fall asleep when they get back! To take even more advantage of these pit stops, try to plan them near a playground; your children will have lots of fun playing around and you'll be able to enjoy some well deserved peaceful me time.
Take Care of the Driver
While keeping the children happy is convenient, keeping the driver focused and well rested is even more important. Whoever will be in charge of the driving should have a long and comforting night sleep to make sure that they are ready to hit the road on the next day.
If possible, there should be another adult to take care of the kids, reply to their requests, keep them under control and make sure they behave as best as possible.
Another great tip for a successful road trip is for the adults to split their time between driving and looking after the children. It's an easy way to rotate responsibilities and make sure that none of the adults is stuck either with the children or behind the wheel for the whole road trip.
Having a packing strategy will make your life easier during the whole road trip experience. Bring too much stuff and you'll be miserably cluttered; don't bring enough and your kids will let you know how bored and angry they are. Yes, striking the right balance can be very difficult.
If you'll go on a multi-stop road trip, the least thing you want is having to unpack the entire car at every new overnight stay. You'll travel more comfortably by using overnight bags or even putting pajamas, clean underwear and individual outfits in a ziplock bag so that everybody can grab one or two along with a toiletry bag and be ready for single overnight stays. ing cubes; you'll have everything at hand and stay organized! You can have one per family member so it's easier for everybody to find what they need.That said, bring super comfy clothes that you can wear for hours on end and that they don't wrinkle easily. Soft textures, loose clothes and comfy shoes will definitely work wonders!
Don't forget to pack a first aid kit. Nobody wants to think of accidents or about bad things happening but the truth is that accidents happen and it's better to be safe than sorry. Also, have a list of contact numbers at hand including pediatricians, relatives and the roadside assistance you've hired.
Pack Tons of Healthy (And Not So Healthy) Snacks
Having tons of snacks for the trip is another of our road trip tips. We'd love to tell you to include only peeled and sliced vegetables, fresh and dry fruit, breakfast cereals, homemade cookies and bread and cheese but we all know that most children also expect sweets, lollipops, French fries and food that parents don't usually consider healthy.
Skimping on snacks is not the best idea when you're on a road trip. It's an easy way to keep children busy and entertained in the car. Include a nice balance of healthy food and snacks in individual portions so that each child can help themselves as they want. if you include a cooler, you'll be able to keep juice, water and sodas fresh, yoghurt, cheese and ham for a more varied assortment of treats and a roadside picnic as well. Try to avoid syrups, sticky things and cookies that make too many crumbs as they only contribute to creating a mess in the car! Keep snacks simple and healthy and your children will have their mouths and hands full.
Don't Forget About Entertainment!
Even parents with a strict standing against children and screen time agree on the fact that family road trips are easier when children are fully entertained and that, whether we want it or not, that includes having a screen at hand.
That said, striking a balance is key between screens and other forms of entertainment. Nobody wants their children to look like zombies staring at a screen while stunning scenery can be admired through the car window! Providing each child with a backpack full of varied activities to keep them busy is helpful and essential.
From traditional car games such as counting how many (red) cars you can count, games with license plate numbers or states, I spy, singing out loud or listening to audio books there are plenty of things that adults and children can do together. A small breakfast tray can help children keep small Lego pieces, pencils and markers safe and prevent them from rolling over the car seat and getting lost.
Give your kids a paper map. Trace the roads you'll be driving and let them figure out where you are, what cities or attractions are coming next, etc. It's a great way to keep older children busy and engaged.
As regards screens, avoid fights over whose turn it is to use the device or what they'll do with it by providing a tablet or mobile phone for each kid. And, for your own sanity, please give a headphone each!
Having screens and electronic devices on board implies having enough chargers for all of them. Remember that! And, to save data, download movies, series, maps, music... everything you can at home.