Road trips can be a rewarding way to travel as a family, thanks to the flexibility of travel times, the ability to stop when needed, and kids being familiar with the family car. However, sometimes long hours on the road make for cranky kids and parents.
In order to make your family’s first road trip a success, take some time to anticipate the unexpected and properly prepare for your time in the car with these seven tips.
Prep your vehicle
Scheduling an appointment with an automotive service technician to check your brakes, air conditioner, tire pressure and windshield wiper blades helps ensure your car is in the best possible condition and help prevent any breakdowns or mishaps from occurring while on the road. If you have a child in an infant or convertible car seat, check to make sure that it is installed correctly. Take an inventory of the items in your car to be sure you have jumper cables, flares, tools, a flashlight, and any other emergency supplies you may need in case you get into trouble on the road. Other items that you’ll want to be sure to have on hand include:
- Antibacterial wipes
- A small first aid kit
- Cozy blankets for trips in cold weather
- Charging cables and USB plugs for each device you’re bringing
With the myriad of apps available to make your road trip easier, you can pack lighter and leave the travel books at home. Download apps that will provide real time traffic information, help you find the best places to eat so you can say you ate like a local, find the least expensive gas, know where to find your next caffeine fix, and more!
Stock up on car-friendly activities
In addition to favorite movies, apps and music, have your kids help choose a few items to keep within arms reach that can keep them occupied in the car. Crafts, books, auto bingo, journals, washable crayons and card games are portable and quiet activities that can keep them busy during your travels.
Pack snacks and liquids to stay hydrated
Nothing causes cranky passengers faster than low blood sugar or being too hot and thirsty. Packing your own snacks ensures you have your child’s favorite items when hunger strikes and can help your family eat healthier when on the road.
Here are some items we like to bring when we hit the road:
- Durable fruits and vegetables – Apples, oranges, carrots, grapes, cucumbers and strawberries packed in a cooler kept in the back seat provide necessary fruits and vegetables to snack on as kids get hungry between meals.
- Frozen water bottles – Filling reusable bottles halfway with water and freezing them the night before provides ice cold water for the ride and keeps cooler contents colder.
- Healthy versions of favorites – If bringing along snack items like crackers or chips, opt for multi-grain varieties since they tend to be healthier.
Secure your home
Before you leave for your road trip, take precautions to secure your home to discourage thieves. Arrange lawn care, connect interior lights to timers, leave exterior lights on, hold your mail and newspapers, and have a neighbor monitor your front door for any unexpected packages that may arrive to make it appear as if you’re home. Additional tips for home security include:
Hire an elementary school-aged neighbor to check your front door daily. Not only does this teach responsibility, but the added incentive of a minimal amount of money per day provides great budgeting and money management skills.
Turn your video baby monitor into a home security system. If your baby monitor publishes feeds you can access through a web client, you can keep an eye on your home too.
Build background knowledge about where you’re going
While it’s hard to eliminate the “are we there yet?” questions, it is helpful to provide kids with an idea of where you’re going. Younger kids who don’t have a good understanding of elapsed time would benefit from knowing landmarks along the route to their destination to better understand the proximity to your destination.
Turn your road trip into a geography lesson by pulling out an atlas for older kids. A road can be used to show them where you live in relation to where you’re heading. Point out major roads you might be taking, things you might be stopping to see along the way, look at some photos of the area, and if possible, read some books about where you’re going so they know what to expect when you get there, especially if you haven’t visited your destination before.
As you learn about where you’re going, you can also work together to develop a list of “musts” on your vacation along with wish list items you hope to see or do while away.
Do some research about where you’re staying
Whether staying with friends or relatives, renting a house or condo, or occupying a hotel room during your trip, it’s helpful to know where you’re staying and what kinds of things are at your destination to know what to pack in the car. If you’re renting a house or a condo, get in touch with the property owner or rental management company to see what items will be provided. Even though laundry machines, a dishwasher, and a stove may be provided, you may need to bring laundry detergent and dish soap or pick some up when you arrive.
Hotels will furnish linens but rental properties may ask you to bring your own sheets and towels. Be sure to ask what size the beds are so you can bring the right size sheets from home. If staying with friends and relatives, bring a gift to thank them for their hospitality and be sure to send a nice note when you return home.
Family road trips can be a fun way to experience the country thanks to different scenery and interesting stops along the way. Even though your first car trip may seem daunting, by keeping an open mind, exercising patience, being flexible, and preparing, you can ensure it is a success for every family member.