Road Trip Planning Has Never Been Easier and Your Family Will Never Be Closer
Road Trips Were Made for Family Bonding
Planning a road trip with family takes a lot of time and consideration. Having the best experience possible requires keeping everyone happy and occupied along the way.
This may mean planning the trip will take a lot longer than you think. Figuring out the logistics of any trip, let alone one where you plan on driving a long distance, is no easy task.
While some level of planning is necessary for a road trip, it’s also important to stay flexible when possible. You never know what kind of opportunities may present themselves on a day to day basis.
If you’re looking for tips on how to plan a road trip with your family, take these steps into consideration when starting the process.
Figure out Your Destination(s)
If you want to plan a road trip, the first step is to figure out your destination(s). It’s a good idea to brainstorm as a family to gauge everyone’s interests and expectations for the trip.
If you have small children, you might want to choose a handful of possible destinations and summarize the attractions or activities in each area to help them pick a favorite.
When planning a cross-country road trip in particular, there are a lot of options to choose from. Unless you’re staying with friends or family, try to pick places that are known for their family-friendly accommodations, restaurants and attractions.
If possible, choose destinations that are accessible by multiple routes and that are safe and hassle-free regardless of the time of day or weather.
Of course, you could always just pick from among the tried and true or most popular road trip routes in America. After all, there’s a reason why these familiar paths have been traveled by tourists time and time again. Perhaps it’s time to see what they have in store for you.
Although some parts of it have been paved over by other roads and freeways, you could travel along the old Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles for a historic adventure full of plenty of roadside oddities and kitschy motels. Alternatively, to see some of the most beautiful white-sand beaches in the continental U.S., ride down through New Orleans, Gulf Shores and Pensacola and go shelling in Florida.
If stunning seasonal scenery is more your thing, you can’t go wrong with a drive on The Blue Ridge Parkway, which extends from Virginia to North Carolina through national forests and among the Great Smoky Mountains.
Don’t forget: you don’t have to stay in the country. There are plenty of well-traveled road trip routes all over the world.
Essential Road Trip Apps
If you have a smartphone, make sure you load up on these essential apps that will help you make the most of a road trip.
Although road trips are all about the journey and not necessarily about getting to your destination as quickly as possible, you still want the journey to go smoothly. Nothing sours a road trip faster than road closures and traffic jams. To find the best and fastest route on your road trip, check out the crowdsourced traffic app, Waze.
Users can submit data on slow-downs, accidents, speed traps and other traffic hazards you may encounter. Plus it also includes turn-by-turn directions via GPS so you can get to your destinations in the fastest time possible. This app is a must-have, especially when driving through major cities during rush hour.
Want to do a little sightseeing along the way? With the Roadtrippers app, you can find points of interests along your route such as amusement parks, historical landmarks and outdoor attractions, in addition to lodging and food options. You can add all your favorites to a handy list or check out their pre-made trip guides that cover everything from filming locations to haunted places.
No matter how long your drive, at some point you’ll have to stop for gas. But wouldn’t it be nice to know where the cheapest gas is, so you don’t overspend or drive all over an unfamiliar place looking for a deal?
GasBuddy does all the deal-searching for you, using crowdsourcing to report on gas prices at nearby stations. You can see how far the gas stations are from you, when the price was last updated and even reviews about the quality of services offered.
Daytime or Nighttime Driving
Since you’re in charge of getting your family from point A to point B, it’s necessary to make a decision about when to do the majority of the driving. There are pros and cons for both daytime and nighttime driving, which may depend on your unique situation as well as other factors out of your control.
If you have a shorter trip ahead of you, or one that you’ve broken up into multiple stops or destinations, a daytime drive is usually preferable. You can leave in the morning and get to your destination before the sun sets, or traffic starts to get bad.
Kids can look out the windows, enjoying the scenery as you pass it, and play games such as I Spy.
Nighttime driving works well for longer trips when you want to get to your destination(s) in the best time. There’s little to no traffic at night and not a lot of things to distract you.
It’s also the perfect way to get the kids to sleep on a road trip, allowing you to just focus on the driving. The main downside to nighttime driving is there’s nothing to look at and you may get tired, so make sure an older family member is able to stay up with you until your next stop.
Map out Your Route
One of the most essential aspects of any road trip planner is actually plotting out your route. You’ll need to map out your route ahead of time to make the most out of the time your family spends in the car. Bring both a GPS and paper map as a backup in case you lose signal along the way.
Sometimes it’s far easier to go the tried and true road trip route. There are plenty of popular American road trip routes that already have the best sights planned out for you, so you’re sure to have an amazing vacation.
For longer trips, try to pick specific stops or rest areas to break up the driving and keep everyone energized. Choose interesting places such as quirky roadside attractions, famous restaurants, and parks or wildlife reserves to make the journey just as fun as the destination.
Calculate time and mileage between your stops, especially if you have reservations or engagements you’re trying to make it to. Choose a route that runs through everything you want to see without getting too far out of the way.
It’s not always possible to do everything on the way up, but if you’re also driving home from your destination, you can try to hit up different places on the way back. When possible, choose the scenic route if you can spare a little extra time to enjoy the sights.
Create a Budget
Now that you know where you going and how you’re going to get there, it’s time to set a budget for your family. Food and lodging tend to be the most expensive aspects of any trip.
For shorter journeys or those broken up with multiple overnight stays, bring a cooler filled with food and drinks for everyone. If you have to eat at fast food places, try to pick healthier options such as salads and wraps. There’s tons of prep you can do beforehand when it comes to road trip snacks to ensure you always have healthy options on hand.
If you don’t have a set schedule for reaching a particular destination, you may not want to make lodging reservations ahead of time. Although you will get the best prices at well-known chains if you do, there are often smaller boutique hotels available same day that are affordable.
Don’t forget to add in costs for gas, attractions, and entrance and parking fees, in addition to souvenirs for the kids. Planning a road trip sometimes presents unique obstacles and unforeseen circumstances, so having some kind of contingency fund is also a good idea.
Consider Renting a Car
Seeing as road trips are usually pretty long journeys that put a lot of wear and tear on a car, it might be a good idea to consider renting one, especially if you have an older vehicle with high mileage. A cross-country trip could clock in at around 3,000 miles one way, which is a lot considering Americans drive an average of 13,000 miles per year.
Renting a car also tends to be cheaper overall, since you’re only responsible for gas along the way, and most rental cars are generally pretty fuel-efficient vehicles. However, costs can vary widely for daily or weekly rentals, depending on the size of the car, the rental company and location you rent from (airports are always more expensive).
You should also consider a rental if the terrain or weather will be different from what you’re used to or what your own car is equipped for. Driving through the snow? Get a rental that has all-weather or snow tires. Plan to do some off-roading? Rent a Jeep, truck or SUV with 4WD.
Lastly, sometimes it’s just nice to rent a different type of car, whether it’s for practical reasons like more trunk space or seats, or just because it has a better sound system or cool built-in tech. Plus, comfort is a big factor on a road trip since you’ll spend so many hours driving, so if your personal car is lacking on that front, a rental is the way to go.
Road Trip Games and Activities
Whether your road trip lasts for one hour or 24 hours, if you’re traveling with kids, you’ll need a way to keep them entertained. Older kids and teenagers will likely just plug into their phone or other electronics, but younger children might need a bit more stimulation. Try out some of these games and activities on your next road trip.
Take turns thinking up a person, place or thing. Make sure it’s something the other players are aware of. Then, everyone takes turns asking questions that reveal a different element or quality that describes that person, place or thing. The trick is, they can only be yes or no questions, and you only get 20 questions to figure out what it is.
The License Plate Game
Print a map of the U.S. and have your kids color in states as they spot license plates from them. See if you can color in the whole country on a single road trip.
Alternatively, you can call out the letters on a plate and see who can come up with the most creative phrase using the letters as an acronym. For example, EGI could be “everyone goes insane” or “eat gross items.” To make the game even more memorable, record the date and time you saw the plates, and save the map for a trip scrapbook.
Car Travel Bingo
You can either purchase premade cards, create your own or find printables online for this travel-themed spin on Bingo. Typically, cards will feature things you might spot while driving in a car, especially on highways and freeways, such as a sports car, a horse, a rest area, a semi-truck, etc. Whoever gets a full row filled in first wins. Don’t forget to scream out, BINGO! That’s half the fun!
Tech to Bring
Obviously, you’ll need a GPS of some kind on a road trip. Car rental companies will often rent them at a daily rate, or some newer cars have built-in GPS as well. It’s always good to have one of these on hand in addition to your cell phone, since cell phones rely on nearby towers for connectivity and service might be spotty if you’re in the middle of nowhere.
But in addition to a GPS, here are a few other tech items you might need on a road trip.
Car Phone Charger
It might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget one of these, especially when you’re not taking your own car. You’ll definitely need to keep your phone charged up to use it as a GPS, play your ultimate road trip playlist, check apps, or play games on if you’re not the one driving.
Air Vent Mount
Another essential road trip tech item that’s handy for cell phones is an air vent mount. This gadget is especially helpful if you’ll be using the GPS on your cell phone.
You can find air vent mounts at any tech store like Best Buy, or sometimes even at dollar stores if you’re lucky. They typically have a piece on the back that allows the mount to slide onto the slats of the air vents in your car, mounting it close to the steering wheel for easy access. Some versions also have a magnet that attaches to your phone, making it even more secure while driving.
Compact Jump Starter and Portable Charger
Not only does this baby have a power bank for charging all your devices on the go, but it can also jump start your car if you leave your lights on or your car battery dies for any other reason. Just clamp on the included jumper cables and rev your engine to get your car started without having to wait for roadside assistance or a good Samaritan. It also has a built-in flashlight in case the unthinkable happens at night on a road without adequate street lights.
Prep Your Car
Unless you intend on renting a car for your journey, you’ll need to make sure your vehicle is in tip-top condition before planning a cross-country road trip. Get all scheduled maintenance done before you leave, including oil changes, tune ups and tire rotations.
Make sure to check fluid levels, air pressure, filters and all signal lights to avoid any mishaps on the road. It’s also a good idea to have a gas can, extra bottles of fluid, water and an emergency kit with a jack, tire wrench and jumper cables.
Put together or buy a first aid kit, taking care to include things like essential medications, painkillers and ointments, in addition to adhesive bandages and gauze in case of an emergency.
It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared when it comes to the safety of your family.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to prep your car with certain travel essentials ahead of time. Keep a pillow and blanket for every family member in the car in addition to easily accessible extra changes of clothes, especially during cold or wet weather.
Pack things like suntan lotion, bug spray and aloe vera gel during the summer, or petroleum jelly, lip balm and hand lotion during the winter.
And don’t forget the entertainment! Remind kids to bring their headphones to listen to music on their phones or iPods, bring a portable DVD player, or make mix CDs or playlists with songs the whole family can enjoy and sing along with.
Above all else, ensure everyone enters the car with a good attitude, ready to have fun and make lifelong memories they’ll cherish forever.
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