Good old-fashioned family road trips rule when the alternative is shelling out for plane tickets for your entire brood. And, frankly, logging highway miles instead of bonus miles can make you feel more present in your travels, anyway.
How to Actually Enjoy Family Road Trips
Whether road tripping with kids is something you want to do or something you have to do, these tips can quiet the choruses of, “Are we there yet?” and maybe even help family road trips become your favorite adventures.
Besides, if you don’t strap your kids into the car and take off for parts unknown at least once, you’re definitely missing out.
1. Maintain Your Chill
There’s major traffic. The hotel lost your reservation. And you left your favorite sunglasses at the rest stop. Roll with it. Staying calm shows kids that cruising the country is worth the trouble.
Jessica Kane, a mom who took her two kids on a month-long family road trip from Boston to Fargo and plans to drive to the Grand Canyon next, says it wasn’t always smooth sailing, but, “We saw so much of the country up close instead of just guessing what it looked like from 30,000 feet. The changes in landscape alone were awesome.”
2. Forget Making Great Time
One twentysomething can drive from Manhattan to Miami in a day, but the same trip with kids in the car should be about seeing more and doing more—not breaking any land-speed records. On a family road trip, never pass up a chance to pull over to check out the World’s Largest… whatever.
“That flexibility is exactly what makes for a great trip,” adds Kane. “You’ll have no regrets.”
3. Make Strategic Seating Decisions
“An adult squished between two car seats may feel secure, but they’re actually completely mobile,” says Dr. Alisa Baer of TheCarSeatLady.com. “One unrestrained rider in the back makes everyone in the car up to three times more likely to die in a crash.”
Give grownups room to buckle up by putting toddlers in rear facing seats, shifting car seats around, or investing in slimmer models. Bigger kids stay comfier (and safer) in high-backed boosters with headrests that keep them upright while napping.
4. Keep Things Clean
Everyone will stay calmer in a clutter-free car, so toss trash at every stop and tackle messes ASAP with travel packs of baby wipes and plastic bags stashed in every door. Don’t neglect personal hygiene on family road trips, either. Pack dry shampoo and lipstick or a travel razor so you’re inspired to be in family photos, not just take them.
5. Assume There Will Be Barf
Even iron-stomached kiddos can feel the effects of long, winding roads. Pass out pre-opened gallon zipper bags and explain what they’re for. If you know your kid is a champion puker, have them nibble dry snacks and fruit to make the eventual upchuck less potent.
6. Keep Kids and Cargo Separate
On long family road trips, put heavy luggage that can’t go in the trunk on the floor, as far back as possible, against a seat back. “People put a child in the third row and fold down the opposite seat for more storage, but that’s essentially putting that kid in what’s now the trunk with the luggage,” says Dr. Baer. “Every row with a passenger should be up.”
Why? Because in a 30 mph crash, most things will weigh about 20 to 25 times more because of the G-forces—so even light luggage becomes dangerous.
7. Stop Every Three Hours
Spending a few minutes apart is sometimes the key to maintaining harmony while road tripping with kids. Pull over on a regular schedule even if no one needs a potty. Some organizations, like AAA, advocate stopping even more frequently on family road trips—every two hours or 100 miles—but if the kids are quiet, push for three.
8. Really Stretch Those Legs
Bathroom breaks offer a chance for kids to crawl, run, and bounce off cabin fever. Have jump ropes, Nerf balls, and bubbles ready in the trunk, or referee a high stakes game of tag with prizes to get little ones moving. To make family road trips fun, challenge older kids to a photo scavenger hunt.
9. Double Check Car Seats
Never assume someone else strapped in your little ones—double check for yourself before you hit the road. A lot of kids (along with all babies) will sit unstrapped for miles without alerting an adult. “Have every grownup in the car confirm children are safely strapped in before you get on the road,” recommends Dr. Baer.
10. Don’t Rely on Electronics
Screens offer up short-term thrills just like any other amusement, but they key phrase here is “short-term.” Pack drawing tablets, comic books, travel games, and other low tech stuff on family road trips—even for pre-teens and teens—because the novelty of unlimited screen time is, well, limited.
11. Be Okay with…