Many of us are old enough to recall going on family road trips—either to a specific destination or to nowhere at all. We would sing folk songs and the day’s popular hits, play word games, and have a grand old time, albeit one occasionally punctured by the dreaded (by parents) question: Are we there yet? Today’s road trips are a little easier to manage, given the proliferation of electronic devices and onboard and phone navigation apps. However, that doesn’t mean you can simply pile the kids in and take off on a whim. Some preparation is always necessary, so follow these road trip tips for family fun.
While it may seem exciting to just get in a car and randomly drive, if you don’t have some idea of where you’re headed, you may find yourself going in circles or without a final destination. Engage your kids’ interest ahead of your trip by doing some research together online and mapping out a route. Suss out whether there are any interesting museums or attractions where you’re headed. The United States is home to more than 35,000 museums. They range from typical science, art, natural history, and children’s museums to those dedicated to the unusual, including potatoes, pickles, barbed wire, and salt and pepper shakers, to name just a few. Most important, know where the rest areas are so you and your family can get out of the car every few hours to stretch and use the facilities. Your kids will also welcome the opportunity to run around and burn off some energy.
Before you hit the road, make sure your car is prepped for the drive. If you haven’t taken your car in for a service lately, now is a good time to bring your car and have the tires, fluids, and belts checked. Make sure the gas tank is full, of course. If you don’t already have both a roadside emergency kit and a first aid kit in the trunk of your vehicle, pick them up at the store or order them online. If you’re traveling at higher altitudes where there might be snow, include a blanket or two; also check to see if you’ll need snow chains for your tires. Even if you’re just planning a long one-day trip, also throw a carry-on bag with a change of clothes for everyone, a spare towel, and a package of baby wipes into the trunk. It’s better to be prepared for an emergency and not have one than to have an emergency you’re not able to manage.
Whether you use your smartphone or tablet for navigating, listening to music, or anything else, make sure your device is fully charged before you leave on your road trip. Also, check that any portable chargers are ready to go, and remember to pack any charging cables, as well as a wall plug and, depending on your vehicle, a car power outlet. Keep in mind that chargers and phones do not necessarily use the same cords, so be sure you have what you need. Even if you plan on minimizing phone use during the trip, you want to have the right accessories available. One safety note, though: Never assume you will have car service throughout your trip. Be sure to either download any maps you might need or purchase a paper map in case you hit a cellular dead spot just when you’re in need of navigation assistance.
Other than having to make a bathroom stop not 10 minutes after leaving a rest area, nothing is more annoying than having a family member, whether adult or child, whining that they’re hungry when it’s not yet mealtime. Have each person choose a certain number of snacks from the pantry and put them in their personalized backpacks. Encourage your children to choose a variety of snacks for balance, including more filling options such as granola bars and trail mix.
Although everyone will have their own water bottle, be sure to bring extra water. Not only will it come in handy for drinking, but you never know if you might need to wash mud off someone or fill an overheating car radiator. To keep the water cool, toss a couple of bottles into a lunch box or two, along with a frozen juice box. If space allows, throw in a few cheese sticks; the protein will help stave off hunger.
Wearing the wrong clothes for a road trip can quickly put a damper on things. No one wants to find that their jeans are cutting into their stomach or their shirt is too tight. Encourage everyone to dress in comfy casual clothes. Remind everyone, though, that clothing still has to be acceptable for wearing in a restaurant.
Remember to also pack outerwear for both the season and the weather at your destination. That may mean anything from lightweight sweaters to hoodies to snow parkas. One solution is to bring packable jackets with you. They won’t take up much room and can fit into backpacks so they’re easily reachable.
There’s something relaxing about a car’s motion as it rolls down a highway that makes many people sleepy. At some point, then, your kids will likely take a nap. The not-so-great part? Waking up with a stiff neck from contorting the body into a small space. To alleviate the risk of a stiff neck, give each person their own travel pillow. Travel pillows support the neck while still being small enough to tuck in a backpack when not in use.
To keep your kids from getting bored—and from spending the entire trip playing games on their phones—purchase and pack a few travel games, along with a deck of cards. A road trip can easily turn into an experience never to be repeated. However, by following these road trip tips for family fun, everyone will have an enjoyable time.