Summer is nearly here and if the idea of visiting another amusement park or sitting on a beach doesn’t motivate you to make vacation plans, consider a good, old-fashioned road trip. With the open road in front of you and time built into your itinerary to explore some small-town attractions along the way, your family can truly experience America and learn about its history (and the kids won’t even realize they are learning!).
Having driven from New Jersey to Chicago, Florida, and California with my family of four, I know how to plan, pack, stay safe, and make sure everyone has fun. Here’s what I’ve learned to make your next family road trip your best yet.
Planning a Road Trip: Apps, Maps & Games
The first step in “voting for road trip travel” is to pick a destination! Start with a detailed map of your target area and look for cities, parks, museums, monuments, and anything else you happen to notice that looks fun. I recommend getting real, paper maps (order online or get free from AAA if you are a member), but you could also use Google maps or a cool site called RoadTrippers.com. This site lets you enter your destination and see various points of interest located along your route. Intuitive and easy to use, the site lets you search for attractions, accommodations, food, history, nature, shopping, scenic drives, and more.
I recommend getting real, paper maps (order online or get free from AAA if you are a member), but you could also use Google maps or a cool site called RoadTrippers.com. This site lets you enter your destination and see various points of interest located along your route. Intuitive and easy to use, the site lets you search for attractions, accommodations, food, history, nature, shopping, scenic drives, and more.
There are lots of great road trip apps that will make your trip easier. Some of my favorites are:
- AroundMe: Tells you the restaurants, coffee shops, bars, banks, gas stations, hospitals, hotels, pharmacies, movie theaters, supermarkets, parking, and even weather around you.
- iExit: Have you ever exited the highway and then had to drive miles to find gas or food? This handy app will tell you what’s off the exit and how far you’ll need to go.
- Gas Guru: Locates the lowest pump prices in your vicinity, with easy-to-read maps to help you zero in on the savings.
- Roadside America: Created by America’s foremost experts in roadside attractions and oddities, this app will find those unique, “biggest ball of twine”-type stops that are a must on any road trip!
Road trip games are a necessity to help pass the time and keep the kids engaged in conversation. We do allow screen time in the car, but I make an effort to spend at least half the time playing games like these:
- Travel Scavenger Hunt Card Game: Each person is dealt cards depicting things you might find on the road. There are the usual items, such as stop signs and hotels, but there are also some fun ones, like a “person with orange hair,” and a “really dirty car.” The first person to find 10 items wins.
- Magnetic Travel Bingo: Bingo is always a classic, and this magnetic version makes it easy to play in the car with all ages.
- Miles of Smiles: This book is full of fun facts, trivia, and games that will keep kids and adults talking and laughing. One of our favorites is called “What Am I Counting?” One person starts counting something out loud and the rest of the passengers have to figure out what they are counting. It’s a tough game! Is he counting traffic lights? Trucks? Surveillance cameras?
Be Prepared and Flexible
It may be tempting to bring everything when you can pack your own car, but packing smart and light will make your trip easier.
- Bring half of what you think you need. You can re-wear clothes and will usually have an opportunity to do laundry.
- Bring fewer toiletries and makeup. Those bottles don’t pack and squish well, so get some trial sizes for the road and buy what you need at your destination.
- Convince the kids they really won’t die without Fuzzy Bear, Mr. Unicorn, and every video game they own.
- One thing to splurge on? Pillows. Never underestimate the value of a good pillow in the car or at a rental home!
Once you’ve planned your trip and packed your family, be sure your car is ready! Get your oil changed, tires rotated and fluids filled the week before you leave.
Buy a plastic bin for your trunk and fill it with safety items such as water, snacks, a towel and/or blanket, whistle, lighter/matches, flashlight, jumper cables, safety flares, and a Leatherman or other type of all-purpose tool set.
One Final Tip
The last tip for road trip travel is to be flexible and don’t over-book. After you’ve listed the places you think you want to see, cut them in half. Seriously. You will always do better planning for less and allowing yourself more time to account for traffic, detours, fueling, eating, sleeping, and times when the kids want to spend way more time at an attraction than you anticipated. It’s no fun to rush the family away from something they are truly enjoying just to get to the next waypoint on time. Build in extra time, all the time, and you’ll enjoy your road trip travel that much more!
Shannon Entin is a New Jersey-based travel writer closing in on 50, but adventuring like she’s 20. A homeschooling mom who loves skiing, running, hiking, and road trips, Shannon shares her family’s travels and adventures at 100RoutesAcrossAmerica.com.
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