By Margot Black
More people are taking road trips than ever before, despite the fact that bundling your family into a car and driving for hours on end might sound more like your worst nightmare than a fun vacation. I’m living proof that it can be fabulous — but you have to approach the idea intelligently.
The beauty of a family road trip is that you can be the master of your own destiny. Driving is easy and often cheap in comparison to airline tickets, and it can give you a lovely sense of freedom. But not with the kids whining because they’re hungry, bored or need the restroom or because you haven’t packed a favorite toy, sweater or snack.
I recently enjoyed (not endured, please note) a road trip around California with my husband and son. We all had a good time and learned a lot. The trick is to bring plenty to do in the car, and when you get out to try and insert as much physical activity as possible. Beyond that, here are my top 10 family road-trip travel tips for your next adventure:
No. 1: If you’re making multiple stops during one road trip, take only one large duffel-type suitcase (with wheels!) for all of you. It makes sense to only drag one case around, and it also avoids clutter in the car. We use Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes, which are colored travel packets. Each family member has his or her own color, and it’s easy to keep track of in the one suitcase.
No. 2: Learn ahead of time about your destination. Knowing where we were heading made us a more efficient unit. As we travel around, we usually task one family member per day with organizing the maps, tickets and reservations so you know what to do and in what order. If you plot a route ahead of time you will also save money on fuel and cut down on arguments.
No. 3: Allow every family member to plan half a day of activities. This tactic means that everybody is invested in the trip and the day ahead and nobody feels left out. Our son loves to tell us what we’re doing that morning or afternoon, and his suggestions are always a lot of fun. We lay out a few choice activities while in the planning stage and each family member claims one to research and lead.
No. 4: Eat locally whenever you can. We try to splurge on a treat dinner at least once on every trip and look for restaurants that serve delicious seasonal food. That being said, if the uncertainty or constant change is too much for your kids, a Denny’s or an IHOP might make them feel safer and better. Be open to that, too.
No. 5: Plan for lots of stops. We stop often and buy lots of snacks at lots of different stops. Diets begone. We have a snack budget, and everyone gets to choose what they want to eat and what they want to share. Gas stations and rest stops can be the best fun. We always try a new jerky, and my son loves Slurpees. My guilty pleasure is my favorite fountain Diet Coke.
No. 6: Sleeping does happen in the back of the car, so bring a cozy blanket for everyone. To reinvigorate the family, take breaks in local parks, playgrounds and on beaches. Keep a jump rope, soccer ball, Frisbee, volleyball and kite in the car. They’re all high-energy runaround pastimes and are easy to replace and cheap to maintain.
No. 7: For long journeys with little kids — or merely connecting trips between destinations — come prepared with games that your children have never seen. Something new to unpack goes a long way during a car ride. Or go for a round of something simple like Backseat Bingo. We also like to count car colors up to 100. (Yellow lasts the longest in my experience.)
No. 8: Book a hotel with a pool. It will really help the activity level for kids and is a perfect way to unwind after sitting in traffic for too many hours. I’ve been known to join my kid at 50 or 60 degrees just to shake off the journey. Extra points for hotels with hot tubs.
No. 9: Stock up on audiobooks at the library or download your favorites. We love listening to stories that all of us can get immersed in. Our latest selections have included the “Harry Potter” books and the “Ranger’s Apprentice” and “Percy Jackson” series.
No. 10: Embrace the absurd, the silly and the ridiculous. We drive to places that amuse us for different reasons. We have seen the largest Paul Bunyan statue, the largest potato chip and even driven through the world’s largest tree (it was an eight-minute destination, but it was memorable). We’ve stopped to feed goats, turtles and llamas at one time or another. The bed-and-breakfast we stayed at during one road trip turned out to also be a Poke Stop. Our kid was thrilled.
We’ve also visited some ridiculous local museums during our explorations and bought many silly mementos that we love. Who doesn’t want to dig into a box of chocolate candy shaped like bear droppings? That’s the stuff family travel memories are made of.
WHEN YOU GO
One more tip: Be open to the idea of renting a well-equipped van or motor home if it will make your family road trip more comfortable.
Frequent stops and new adventures break the monotony of a family car trip. Photo courtesy of Margot Black.
A hotel with a swimming pool goes a long way toward relaxing everyone during the course of a family road trip. Photo courtesy of Margot Black.
One large duffel bag with packing cubes for each family member is an efficient plan for a road trip.
Margot Black is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.