A cross-country road trip is the best way to get the family together and experience all the beauty the United States has to offer. Sadly, these trips are infamous due to confined quarters, stress, and boredom experienced by driver and passengers alike. To ensure a better experience than the horror stories all are accustomed to hearing, TrailBlazer collected 45 tips for a successful family road trip!
To bring for the younger crowd:
- TV shows and movies can be helpful for driving later in the day, especially if the younger passengers have not been allowed to use many electronics. Shows and movies can calm the children while creating a quiet environment for the driver.
- Lots of snacks! Children are most irritable, and most irritating, when they are hungry. Make sure you are well supplied with all their favorite things to eat. You won’t have to stop as often because you’ll have all they need, and you’ll be on your way to a harmonious trek.
- Use a cookie sheet as a desk. The edges keep pens, pencils, and other items from rolling off, and they are a nice flat surface to do any activity a child might like to do. They are also easy to clean and store.
- Audio books are great tools to calm passengers. They entertain the kids for hours, and soothe as a parent’s reading does.
- Disposable cameras are a great way for the whole family to feel like they are contributing to the trip. If each person is given a camera at the beginning of the trip, they are able to document the trip any way they like. When you get back, tell each family member, young and old, you will develop a few of their pictures, and put them all into a scrapbook.
- If you are allowing electronics to be a part of your trip, make sure that each has an accessible charger and car adaptor. A dead battery should not be able to kill your trip.
- Have each child pack their own backpack of items they want in the car. You can guide them in their selections, but ultimately, let the child pick what he or she wants to pack.
- Dry-erase boards, magnet boards, and even Wikki-Stix or pipe cleaners can entertain kids for hours. All of them are low mess, and can be used and re-used as many times as the child would like.
- Always have at least one map, even if you have a GPS. No one wants to spend half their trip being lost; always be prepared. Especially important if you forgot to read #6.
- Have art supplies for all ages. Smaller children prefer putty or clay, markers, stickers, and crayons, while the older children prefer sketchbooks and colored pencils. Check with your children before leaving, and purchase their preferred art supplies.
- One activity to bring is Mad Libs. They’re fun for all ages, and everyone can be a part of them.
- Bring action figures and dolls for your children to play with. They can play together or by themselves, but either way, it is entertaining for the child(ren) involved.
- Have a ball, jump rope, or Frisbee in your trunk for rest stops. These activities help your children release energy, while also letting them stretch their legs and have fun.
- Purchase little items from a dollar or convenience store, and before leaving wrap them up. Every day, or every 100 miles, reward your child with a “present” if they have been behaving well.
- Print a scavenger hunt or car bingo sheet off the internet. The kids will spend hours trying to find their items, and the first person to find all the items on the sheet wins.
- Let’s stop the are-we-there-yets before they happen! Prior to your departure, print off a map of the route you will be traveling and draw, circle, or highlight easy to spot or peculiar landmarks along the route. Everyone can follow the map and mark the landmarks as you pass by.
- Don’t know how to start the packing process? Type up a list of all the items your family members need to pack. Tell them they may only pack what you have on the sheet, and have them check off each item as they pack it. Then the clothes they want are packed, and you have less stress.
- Pack for each day, not for each person. Have your suit cases packed with all the clothes for one day. That way, once everyone is dressed, the bags are empty, and you can fill the bag with your dirty clothes!
- If you’re bringing a pet make sure you have a restraint secured in the car. Whether this be a crate, carrier, or harness, these precautions keep your pet, and your family safe.
- If you are staying at a hotel en route to your destination, make sure to pack an overnight bag, filled with all that your family needs for that night and the next morning. Have the bag on top of other luggage, so instead of unloading all the family’s luggage, you can easily access exactly what you need.
- Decide on activities before you leave for your destination, and tell your family what you are planning on doing. You can re-adjust your plan beforehand, and no large arguments will begin over conflicting ideas.
- If you have a fussy baby, prepare them for the long trip. You can either take the baby out in the car more often, or bring his or her car seat into the house, where the baby is comfortable. If you let the baby sit in the seat in a place they like, they will begin to be comfortable in the car seat and more comfortable in the car.
- Hang a car mirror, especially if you have younger children and babies. It will comfort them to be able to see you, and you will be able to keep a better eye on them.
- The night before you leave, load up your car with luggage, tell the kids to sleep in their clothes, and have them go to bed early. Leave before dawn, even as early as three or four a.m. The kids can fall back asleep in the car, and you avoid traffic.
- Have an idea of what you are going to do, but don’t over plan. Over-planning causes stress, and makes the vacation less fun because each destination or activity is rushed. Enjoy the ride. It’s okay if you don’t hit everything you want to see.
- If traveling with a pet, make sure all locations you are planning on staying or visiting are pet friendly. You wouldn’t want to be stopping en route and be turned away due to your beloved pet.
- Try a little License Plate Bingo. Players may play alone, or it could be a collective effort, but the goal is to find license plates for all 50 states! It is challenging but fun, and can be played throughout the entire trip.
- Lingo! Lingo is played by taking the letters on a license plate and making up words for what they could stand for. As an example: RECD could be “Rabbits Eat Carrots Daily.” Have all members in the vehicle play, and after everyone has gone, the player with the funniest answer wins!
- The Celebrity Game can take up time when children are being especially chatty. The first player says the full name of a character (cartoon or live action) or celebrity. The next player must then take the first letter of the last name or the prior player’s character and make a new character. Example: Player 1 “Will Smith” Player 2 “SpongeBob SquarePants”. Each turn is given a 25 second time limit. Last player standing wins!
- If naming “celebrities” would be too hard for the children in your car, have them pick the category and play the same way. For example, if the child wanted Farm animals for their category, a list could continue as: P1 “sheep” P2 “pig” P3 “goat”, and so on. Same time limit rules may apply.
- The Alphabet Game can be enjoyed by anyone in the vehicle and can be played in a group or alone. To play, begin looking for a word that starts with the letter “A” on a sign or billboard. Continue on through the alphabet until all the letters have been obtained.
- Have your kids play Sweet ‘n’ Sour. In this game the children wave to passing cars, and if they get a wave back, the person in the car is sweet, and if no wave is returned, the passing person is sour. Points may be awarded for sweet people, but the game does not have to be a competition.
- Have your kids make up stories to explain the names on road signs. The stories can be as logical or as silly as the child would like, and it’s a great way for the children to remember the places they have been.
To avoid a meltdown:
- Car DJ is an important role each rider should share. Let a different person choose the station for an hour. Each rider then feels like their opinion matters, and it allows that rider to be more comfortable. There is also less fighting over what to listen to, because the DJ is in control.
- Make sure your children have their security blankets, teddy bears, pacifiers, or anything else they need to be secure and comfortable. These items help during melt-downs, and aid in nap time.
- If you have pets or younger travelers, it is important to make sure to stop often. They use this time to stretch their legs and release energy, as well as using the restroom.
- Have each family member be in charge of making meals. This takes the stress off the main cook in the family, and allows the kids to make what they want to eat. It’s okay if the children’s meals are simple. They will be happy just having participated.
- Each time you stop the car, rotate the seating arrangement, including the passenger seat. This lets each person sit in every seat in the car, and makes everyone sit together. It also causes less fighting; they know where they are going to sit, and if two are arguing, they won’t be sitting with each other after the next stop!
- Give each child a nickel, dime, or quarter every 50 miles as spending money. And take away a coin each time they ask are-we-there-yet. Once they see the trend, they’ll stop asking. This is especially effective with younger kids.
To ensure a happy marriage:
- Decide a budget before you leave for your trip. Choosing activities will be easier, and with a budget, both parties know what can be spent throughout the trip.
- Even on a budget, treat yourselves. Family vacation or not, there is always a need for the adults to get away. Go out for a nice dinner without the kids, or spend a few hours relaxing by yourselves.
- Don’t play navigator and driver; there is too much stress. If your car doesn’t already have one, purchase or rent a GPS. This takes the stress off the navigator, and they are generally easier to read and understand for the driver.
- Even on a family trip, solo time is always needed. It’s okay to do something you want to do alone. Part ways with your family and go off on your own for a few hours. It will refresh you, and give you time to rid yourself of any frustration you have encountered.
- Before leaving talk to your partner about potential issues that could be encountered on your trip. Then, if they do come up, you have a solution ready, less fighting occurs, and you are back on the road sooner.
- Check on your significant other a number of times a day. Ask if they’re comfortable, hungry, or just generally alright. This shows you care and gives the other person a chance to voice their opinion.
Pack up your car or RV and hit the road! With these tips and a little love and patience, it’s sure to be an unforgettable trip, for all the right reasons.