Road trips are fun and exciting while also being exhausting and long. Bringing the kids along might mean even more pit stops, but it can also be a time to get excited about where you’re going and what you’ll be doing. Make getting there, just as fun as being there. After almost three years of driving around the U.S., I feel like I have some experience in this area and with the help of many other expert traveler writers, we bring you this list of nine ways to make road trips a breeze.
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Break Up Long Drives
“Try to plan each segment of a long drive to last around two hours,” says Kirsty at World For A Girl. This is something I definitely agree with for several reasons. Firstly, everyone is in a better mood if we arrive at our destination early. Secondly, giving everyone even just a few minutes out of the car always seems to lift our travel spirits. Lastly, there are so many interesting places on the way, why not check them out? The following are some great ideas from fellow travel writers on how to break up those long road trips.
Picnics Are For Road Trips
“Picnics are a wonderful way to experience the outdoors with young children. They are also a great way to break up long drives,” Kirsty explains. “Even busy motorways can have attractive rest areas. Plan ahead, bring a cool bag, and enjoy some memorable picnic lunches,” instructs Kirsty. We have enjoyed our lunches at some really cool parks and playgrounds on our travels. For example, we once stopped just off the highway, right next to Lake Michigan, at a picnic area. It was a beautiful place we never would have found if we hadn’t been hungry at just the right moment.
Try a New Cafe
“We love a very loose agenda when road tripping – with time and freedom to stop in an interesting looking shop or cafe, or run across a field. We often take breaks in small towns to get coffee and snacks, interact with the locals, learn about their town culture and history, and to download another audio track!” says Deb. Some of the best, most family-friendly, and cheapest restaurants we’ve eaten in have been in small towns.
Four Hour Limit
Kris is a totally fun-loving Australian on an international gap year with her husband, Brian, and their four kids. They are world schooling and documenting every step on their blog Gadsventure. She explains her best way to make road trips a breeze. “We traveled around Australia for 12 months when our kids were very little. The best road trips tips we have gained from this is to only drive short distances and have plenty of time in between travel times. We find the kids are perfect for the first four hours or so, and then things will start to go pear shaped.” Likewise, our family has found this to also be true. We try to keep our travel days to around three hours, but never more than four if we can avoid doing so.
“It can be tempting to keep pushing forward when you shouldn’t,” says Yamy at Gofamgo. “You may have a plan that you want to stick to, but you need to listen to your body. If you’re tired, resist the urge to keep pushing and stay well rested and hydrated. Keep caffeinated beverages to a minimum, follow the same advice for alcohol.” Because, explains Yamy, “a jittery or hung-over driver can be just as dangerous as an intoxicated one.” Staying safe on the road is good for everyone, certainly.
Annette writes the blog, Tips From a Typical Mom where she shares family friendly recipes, travel tips, parenting tips and product reviews. She recommends to “only bring water. Do not bring flavored drinks. If you do, your kids will chug them and you will be stopping to use the restroom every 30 minutes.” Water not only helps the kids stay hydrated, it’s also healthier. Bring some refillable water bottles that are big enough to keep them from getting thirsty, but not so big they have to go too often. Adults need to remember to drink plenty of water too.
Kris at Gadsventure says that they “love to leave super early in the morning if we know we have a long drive ahead of us.” I think we’d all agree with Kris that “driving with sleeping kids is a fantastic way to do it!” Kris tells us “for example, on a 10 hour trip to see the grandparents, if we leave at 3 a.m., then we get the first half of the drive under our belts before the kids even wake from their slumbers!!” We have definitely done this a few times.
Playing games during road trips is a great way to help pass the time. There are so many options and variations available on car games, that the possibilities are endless. It seems like just about everyone knows some version of the license plate game or similarly, the ABC game. Let me share some of these awesome road trip game ideas form some expert travelers.
Use a Map
“Sick to death of the endless “when will we be there” and “how much longer” questions kids naturally ask? Buy or print a map of the area you’ll be traveling,” suggests Regina. Regina Kay is a world-schooling mother of five, full-time global explorer, and travel writer at fulltimefieldtrip.com. “Next, draw on it each leg of your trip. Pin it on the ceiling of your car for all to see. Or place it on a clipboard to be passed around. On a clipboard, I assign kids to be in charge of this sacred item for an hour or two,” says Regina. She also tells us this is “a responsibility they look forward to. Not only is this educational and makes a nice keepsake; it truly reduces that ever-so-annoying question.”
The ABC Game
Nikki at Yorkshire Wonders suggest playing the ABC game to pass some time and miles. “We like to play the ABC game in the car. First, we choose a topic. It could be animals, countries, or capital cities for example. Then we take it in turns, so the first person names a country beginning with A, the second person names one beginning with B and so on,” shares Nikki. “It can be as silly or as educational as you like! When the children were younger we used categories like ‘girl’s names’ and ‘boy’s names’. You can target it to their age group.” I love that you can tailor it to the kids ages Nikki!
Customized For Road Trips
Melissa at Disabled Disney has some fun suggestions for putting a twist on old favorites like the license plate game, for example. She says to “make up rules just for your family.” Melissa suggest things “like the first person who spots three different states gets to choose the music for the next X time period. Try variations, such as the next vanity plate or even choose a letter or number and the person who spots the most of that…wins!” We have made up our own variation where we try to spot the state farthest away from the state we are in.
“For my toddler, a favorite game is trying to get the semi-trucks to honk their horns,” shares Tiffany at Mommy And Me Travels. “You play this game by moving your arm up and down as if you were pulling the string for their horn. My toddler gets a big kick out of it. In addition, he also is focused on finding “another big truck”,” explains Tiffany. Furthermore, I believe the truck drivers enjoy it too, otherwise, they wouldn’t do it, right?
Listen to Audio Books
Listening to audio books on road trips is a perfect way to pass the time. The hours pass quickly when you can listen to a good book. Not to mention that it makes a family bonding opportunity because now, you’ve all read the same book! Deb, a California-based environmental educator, polyglot and mother of two adventurous kids, writes her family travel blog www.worldwisekid.com. It inspires educational discussions around the globe. Deb relates that “listening to audio tracks is entertaining and educational.”
Deb is great at including an educational component to her travels. “While road tripping through the Peloponnese region in southern Greece, we listened to interviews of Rick Steve’s free audio guides on the Eastern Mediterranean. While exploring Hawaii, we tune into hula music on the radio or a CD. When we toured Florida, we listened to Hoot, Flush, Chomp, and Scat by Carl Hiaasen – youth fiction that takes place in the Everglades and Keys.” Those are great choices for Florida Deb!
In addition to audio books Deb also recommends podcasts. “We download Podcasts to listen to together,” she says. Her favorites include KidsNuz, StarTalk and RadioLab. “We sync to the car speakers with Bluetooth or an audio cable so everyone can hear clearly,” says Deb.
Roads Trips Internationally
“Road tripping internationally only comes with one tip…know before you go,” says Shannan. Shannan writes about learning on location using the world as your textbook on her website Captivating Compass. She says that if you’re planning to take road trips internationally you should consider the following:
- Will you need a special license, permit or insurance?
- What will it cost? Parking, tolls, and petrol are costs you will need to consider in addition to the cost of the car, van, or camper rental.
- Distance vs. actual drive time. The cultural dynamics of driving in a different country are so varied. Knowing that it will likely take 45 to 60 minutes to drive 30 miles in Scotland is incredibly important if you don’t want to spend your entire trip driving. Give yourself ample time to get from point A to point B when you are in an unfamiliar place. It will almost always take longer than expected.
- Become familiar with local road signs and what they mean before your trip. Some are funny, some are confusing. You may even find familiar signs or street markings mean something completely different than what you thought.
- Have a co-pilot, if possible. It’s less stressful if you have a co-pilot to help navigate, read road signs, and manage the phone, snacks, and music selection.
- Have a good mapping app or offline map that you can use without incurring international data charges.
These are some great ways to make road trips a breeze when you’re traveling in another country. To conclude Shannan tells us “these simple, plan-ahead tips will help ensure a more enjoyable road trip through most international countries.”
Pack a Backpack
“Have everyone pack one backpack with everything they need,” instructs Annette. “Most of the time these fit right under their seat or under their feet. This leaves the trunk open for coolers to bring along food to help save you money.” Great tip Annette. We like to have a variety of things for the kids to do in the car. A backpack works great for kids to keep their stuff organized in the car.
Snacks Are Great For Road Trips
While you may not be burning many calories during those long road trips, someone’s bound to get hungry along the way. Melissa says her “first tip is to bring snacks! Kids of all ages can normally be pacified with a snack.” She tells us that “snacks don’t have to be sugary and sweet. For example, you can bring popcorn, nuts, cheese, pretzels, or whatever your family likes! I have even brought snap peas and baby carrots.” Healthy snacks give everyone something to munch on, but without all the unnecessary calories.
Regina at Full-Time Field Trip agrees that snacks are important if you want to make road trips a breeze. “You can never go wrong with extra snacks. When you can’t find a restaurant or you’re stuck in traffic, it will be snacks to your rescue every time. We skip anything sugary or messy and always have wet wipes and a towel within reach,” Regina says. Our snack bag usually contains things like granola bars, fresh fruit, crackers, and similar items. So, in conclusion, bring food, you won’t regret it.
A Unique Stop
Sarah at Dandelion Seeds says that “what works especially well with older kids, is to make the journey part of the adventure. There might not be much between Albuquerque and Las Vegas, for example, but spending half a day to walk around Meteor Crater would be a really memorable adventure for the whole family!” These kinds of things are what make for great memories when you’re on a family vacation. Regardless of how far you have to go, try to make time for stops to get out and do something unique. It will be something you can always remember doing together. Even if it doesn’t go exactly according to plan.
Whether it’s planning for your next road trip or you’re flying to another country, read all of the articles in our Planning a Family Vacation series to help you do it right. If you need help selecting a destination, finding accommodations, saving on food or transportation, we’ve go you covered. We even included some packing tips to keep you organized while you’re away. Share your favorite road trip memories with us in the comments.