Road trips are part of the fabric of American culture. A great, flexible and affordable way to see the country, many people favor long drives over air travel to get around. Of course, whilst road trips are fun and exciting some of the time, spending long hours and days cooped up in a car on the road can have its challenges. When you add the kids into the equation those challenges can amplify. However, with a little preparation and some ‘off-road’ thinking, you can anticipate and negate the problems commonly faced when you take your family on the road and maximize the fun.
Packing and Preparation
Being well prepared is key for any long journey. Gone are the days where you and your partner could just throw a bag in the trunk, jump in the car and GO. With the kids in tow, a much greater degree of preparation is necessary. As you aren’t limited by airline luggage restrictions, packing doesn’t need to be as restrained as you’re used to. Depending on how long you’re going to be on the road you should aim to pack one appropriately sized bag per passenger. That way you can factor in all gear for all types of weather, and various types of footwear to suit any terrain, meaning you can enjoy all the sites and attractions along your way. Make sure you pack at least one or two in-car bags full of snacks, cleaning wipes, extra layers and emergency supplies (more on these later). Also, give your car a good service before you set out.
The key to a successful road trip with children is planning where you will end up each night. It’s important to remember that with kids you need to allow more time for everything – from packing up the car to visiting tourist attractions and stopping for restroom breaks. When choosing your nightly stopovers it may be a good idea to go for places that include breakfast so you can fuel your troops before you start – this will eliminate the need for an early stop and get you on your way more quickly.
And of course, the big question is where you actually want to go – the Coasts are ever-popular choices, packed full of stunning nature, exciting cities and towns and classic destinations. Whether you’re discovering the gems of the East, like Niagra Falls or taking in the splendors of the Sonoma Valley on the West. Choose what you want to see and do, and leave enough time to see and do it – there is no point in rushing through amazing attractions just because you need to keep on schedule. Getting the kids involved in the planning process is a great way for them to feel more involved, and make the days more goal-oriented – much better than being sat in the back seat feeling aimless for hours at a time.
Fun and Games
And talking of long highway journeys, it’s important to remember that children have a much lower boredom threshold than adults. While you may be content to gaze at the passing scenery and listen to the gentle hum of the engine for hours at a time, the little passengers in the back will be getting increasingly restless. Have a selection of car-friendly games and activities planned out. In the mornings the kids are going to have much more energy, so games with lots of interaction are best (‘I spy with my little eye’, or other classic car games are great). In the afternoons the chances are that everyone (except, hopefully, the driver) will be getting a little drowsy, so more relaxed pursuits such as drawing, reading or watching movies on phones or tablets can work well. If you want to add a bit of road trip education into the mix then getting the kids to read the map or the GPS and give directions (probably best to supervise unless you want to end up lost) is a great way to get them involved.
Back to being prepared. Make sure you have a well-stocked first-aid kit – bandages, plasters, gauze, antiseptic, treatments for poison oak or any of nature’s other miseries are all a must – and travel sickness treatment to alleviate everyone’s suffering. Make sure you take all medications for the whole family and keep them somewhere secure where only the adults can access. Keep track of where you are and make sure you have all the appropriate emergency numbers (the local coastguard if you’re by the sea, or the forest rangers if you’re in the wilderness, for example). As with any adventure – hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Snacks and Meals
It’s almost a tradition to hit the junk food when you’re on a road trip. Outlets seem to be placed every few miles along the way, and it’s quick and easy. However, you don’t really want your kids eating fast food constantly, so planning healthy alternatives to munch on for the trip is essential. Choose fruits that aren’t too sticky and messy, such as apples and pears, and make sure you have a selection of nuts to nibble at. Sandwiches will replace burgers and hotdogs easily enough, and are easier on the wallet as well as the waistline.
The key to a successful road trip is, at the end of the day, enjoyment. However, preparation ahead of time, and the ability to quickly address your little troopers’ needs, whether they be appetite, health, boredom related or anything else will mean less on-the-road stress and more road trip fun. For all of you.
About the Author
Bethany Seton is a real estate agent from Melbourne. For the last two years, she decided to leave her office job and follow her passion for writing and traveling. Currently, she travels with her laptop and writes for various blogs, hoping one day she will gather all the experience she gets in one book.