The Family Road Trip: Tips & Tricks


The family road trip.

An American tradition. Pack everyone and everything into the station wagon, er, SUV and hit the open road. Sure, you could take a flight. But getting there is half the fun.

Our family travels frequently. And over the years, we have figured out some hacks to minimize the drama and maximize the fun. Skeptical? Read on… with a dash of preparation and a sprinkle of patience, you, too, can forge some memories.

Family Road Trip - Map

Road Trip Basics

Comfort is Key

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to dress everyone comfortably – think cotton shorts or sweats and a cozy t-shirt. Comfort over style, friends. Comfort over style. Repeat it until you believe it!

Pack a small, lightweight blanket for each member of the family. This will drastically lower the number of competing requests to turn the heat up or down.

Entertainment for Every Age

Ages 0-2: Keep toys and books up front. When a child tires of one item, she can trade it for a new one. Even little ones can do this. This “exchange” keeps kids busy and interested in each toy longer. *Pro tip: If something ends up on the floor, that child must wait five minutes before getting a replacement. Kids learn pretty fast not to make a game of throwing toys on the floor for mom or dad to pick up.

Family Road Trip - Child in Car Seat

Ages 3-6: Buy a car organizer for toys or build your own makeshift toy box. After spending countless hours picking the same toys up over and over, I taped two diaper boxes securely together (bottom to bottom) and wedged them tightly between the middle row seats in our minivan. Voila! Instant, arm-level toy box. Kids can grab a new toy and put the old one back in the box with little parental intervention. *Pro tip: Those Leap Frog books with electronic reading pens are a-m-a-z-i-n-g for this age and you can often find used books in thrift shops.

Ages 7-18: Books, DVD players, tablets and handheld video games take the top spots as kids get older. Need more stuff for a longer road trip? Check out DVDs, books and even tablets from the library. Talk with the librarian — they can usually manually enter a different due date. *Pro tip: If you’re allowing electronics, consider investing in some volume-limiting headphones to protect young ears.

Mom or Dad: Download some great music for the trip. Grab a couple of books or magazines. Think of some games you would enjoy playing with the kids along the way. We love “camping stories.” One person starts “Once upon a time…” and adds a few sentences, then we circle around the car with every person making up a few more sentences until the story becomes so absurd that we start a new one. *Pro tip: Choose a book series the whole family might like and play it over the car stereo system.

Make Every Stop Count

Rather than filling up at the gas station, then pausing down the road at a rest area, fill up at a truck stop, use the restroom, stretch your legs and grab a snack or lunch. Or stop at a fast food restaurant with a play area and let the kids play while you eat. Grab their food on the way out. They can eat in the car — it’ll give them something to do to pass the time.

Road Trip Nap Time

This may sound counterintuitive, but veteran parents will agree with me on this one. When you want them to sleep on a road trip, try making noise. Stream your favorite music (not your kids’), turn it up and sing. Many kids are lulled to sleep not by silence, but by a constant hum.

General Travel Tips

Start traveling with your kids when they’re young. The younger they are, the quicker they’ll learn the routine. I won’t lie — it’s exhausting the first couple of years. But the long-term payoff is huge!

Family Road Trip - Suitcase

If you’re staying at a hotel along the way to your final destination, pack a small bag with just enough to get by for a night. A portable Pack-n-Play crib, kid-sized cot or blow-up air mattress can help make bedtime familiar during travel. Solid sleep is the ticket to happiness on a road trip.

A week out, make a checklist and cross off items off as you pack. Pack a power strip to charge cell phones, tablets and other electronics each night. And pack a few portable chargers for the road — you never know when you’ll see a herd of bison crossing the road and need extra battery power for your camera.

Realize that no vacation will be perfect, but family road trips can build memories that last a lifetime. Take a few back roads. Stop for some photos. Make it an adventure. It’s worth every winding mile.

Do you travel with your children? Give us your best tips!