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How to plan a road trip the whole family will love

Any season is a wonderful time to take off on a family road trip, but there is something about summertime that just cries out for it. Planning a road trip for the whole family is a great idea, but there are essentials to keep in mind to help make the vacation stress-free. After all, you don’t want to end up like the Griswolds. So, let’s get down to the components of how to plan a family road trip for your next getaway that will be fun and fabulous.

Pick a destination

Being cooped up in the car for hours on end doesn’t sound appealing to kids, especially teens. If you want to have the whole family on board with the road trip, get the kiddos involved from the planning stage. Here’s how to do it:

  • Have a few parent-approved locations in mind before asking the kids to help decide on a destination. Take into account the ages of your kids. It will be harder for younger kids to stay stuck in a car seat for a cross-country trip.
  • When you’re Googling places, get everyone’s input. A national park? Amusement park? Beach?
  • Decide where you’re going to stop and what activities you want to do. Allow each child to choose an activity during the trip.
  • Make any necessary reservations.

Don’t wing it

Being spontaneous and hopping in the car for a road trip is definitely something to do before you have kids in the mix. Planning a family road trip from start to finish will make it more fun for everyone instead of doing it on the fly. Be sure to make reservations at places to spend the night along the route — on the way there and home. Don’t think you’ll find a spot along the route — you may end up sleeping in the car at a rest stop or somewhere that’s not clean and kid-friendly.

Avoid overpacking

The kids don’t want to be smashed in between suitcases and backpacks with boogie boards under their feet. Pack smart and try not to overdo it on stuff. If you’re staying at an Airbnb or a hotel, try to choose one with a washer and dryer, which helps cut down on the amount of clothing you pack.

Family posing for a selfie on a road trip
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Plan on stops

Kids cannot drive straight through from New Jersey to Disney World (or anywhere that’s longer than an hour). Plan on stopping at rest stops or scenic overlooks where everyone can get out, stretch their legs, and use the bathroom. A place where kids can run around is a definite plus.

Bring snacks

Snacks are a must to avoid those impulse buys at rest stops. Try to pack healthy snacks so kids aren’t revved up on sugar in the backseat. Choose water bottles over sugary juice boxes. Place the goodies in a small cooler, and be sure to pack a couple of trash bags for the backseat for quick cleanup.

Tween girl watching a movie in a car

Download movies

As parents, you want to limit screen time, but when you are driving from point A to point B, it is not the time. Download some fun family movies for the kids to watch along the way.

Make the backseat cozy

Kids are going to nod off from time to time on the ride. Have travel pillows and blankets on hand to let kids and teens get comfortable if they want to nap. Stuffed animals and favorite travel buddies are essential for younger kids.

Sightsee along the way

Part of the fun of a road trip is checking out the sights on the ride. When planning your route, the scenic way is the best way. The ride is more enjoyable for the passengers and the driver when the scenery is engaging. Since you’re mapping out your route beforehand, schedule stops at any cool landmarks or towns on the road.

Play ball

Since you’ll be stopping at picnic areas to stretch your legs, pack a soccer ball, Frisbee, or ball and gloves for catching. This will allow everyone to have some activity during rest stops.

Play road trip games

Having kids watch movies on tablets and smartphones is awesome, but playing old-fashioned car games is a fun distraction, too. Try these car games when the batteries start to run low.

  • I spy: Other people in the car have to guess what the person sees with his or her “little eye.”
  • License plate game: Players keep track of license plates from states other than theirs. You can include other countries, too. The person with the most license plates wins.
  • Would you rather?: A person is to give a choice between two things. For example, players must pick one even if the choice is “would you rather eat ants or spiders?”
  • Punch buggy: Keep your eyes peeled for Volkswagen Beetles, classic or new. You’re supposed to lightly tap the shoulder of the person sitting next to you when you see one. You can also keep track of punch buggies like the license plate game to avoid arguments over how hard someone was tapped.

A family road trip is an adventure. It is a different kind of vacation, but it can be just as much fun as flying to a resort. What’s more, getting to your destination is as much a part of the experience as what you do when you arrive. Family road trips are a great way to bond and spend quality time together.


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Dawn Miller
Dawn Miller began her professional life as an elementary school teacher before returning to her first love, writing. In…
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