Finding the Fun in a Family Road Trip
Make family road trips fun again.
When you set out on the 560-mile road trip from home in Healdsburg, California, to San Diego in July, your game plan should be carefully crafted; especially when you’re traveling with three kids under age 10. Learned over the years that careful planning is often the difference between a fun family trip and a more, shall we say, Griswoldian adventure. Or how about the upcoming 25th Anniversary road trip – The Mother Road Ride/Rally from Chicago to Santa Monica, California – Route 66! What a great family road trip! Won’t you join us? The whole trip is planned with scheduled stops and overnights. And if you don’t want to drive yourself – ride in luxurious motorcoach comfort – and let someone else do the driving…cool, huh?
The key is to plan ahead and know your limitations well enough to know how you will manage each. Being in the car for an extended period of time; then work around that to come up with a travel itinerary that maximizes fun and minimizes stress. Also, planning gets the kids involved in everything! They’re invested in it because they made the decision. If you know you’re going to a museum, ask them what they want to see.
According to a recent survey, 64 percent of Americans plan to travel 50 miles or more by car this summer. We talked to family travel and parenting experts about how to navigate the challenges of traveling with kids. Here are their suggestions.
Remember those days when you could motor for 10 hours with only a couple of quick pit stops and log 700 or more miles in a stretch? Car traveling with kids means you need to adjust your expectations and stop more frequently for longer breaks. However, this can help with driver fatigue as well. Stopping at least every couple of hours or so is good and that goes for everyone, not just families traveling with kids. Build in extra time for the journey when possible, making a pleasant ride more worthwhile.
There is a website or app such as Road Food; find cool non-chain eateries along your route, then opt for sit-down meals instead of a drive-through. Try to pair those stops with a quick trip to a nearby playground, park, or rest area. Taking the time to identify an interesting spot and plan a break that ventures beyond a highway rest stop can go a long way while you’re making tracks. With children, the more opportunities you give them to reset their perspective, the more patience they will have. It is also more pleasant for everyone if they stop overnight to regroup en route to more far-flung destinations.
The old standby car games, including license plate bingo and the alphabet scavenger hunt, can keep everyone busy. Play games based on what they were listening to on the radio. For example, hearing a lot of country music; then create a game where everyone chose a word (girlfriend, truck, etc.). The person whose word cropped up first in a song was the winner, or they would do points for the words mentioned most frequently. Bringing along books and maps that relate to your destination to help educate children and get them excited about the trip. Pack a new toy or game that you can surprise kids with when they get antsy. Podcasts or audio books are other ways to occupy time. Have everyone listen to the same story or podcast en route so they can discuss it later.
Even with an arsenal of diversions and the most carefully planned breaks, all children contained in cramped quarters will reach their limit at some point. Resist the urge to yell. Instead play a road-trip game or watch a video.
It’s great to stop and stretch your legs at a restaurant or a park when it’s mealtime, but if parents stopped every time one of the kids gets hungry or needs to use the restroom, a reasonable road trip could turn into an epic journey. So pack plenty of healthy and fun snacks. Pack a cooler of snacks but label each container with the contents or child’s name. Involve the children in choosing the snacks; the more likely they’ll be consumed. That goes for everything food-related to traveling.