10 Tips for a Successful Family Road Trip
The drive shouldn't be hard, even if you have a few littles in tow.
We put together some helpful ideas to make family road trips a bit less stressful. Perhaps the road trip will be as enjoyable as the destination!
By Collin Morgan & J-F Wright
Tue, Jun 23, 2020 12:45 PM PST
Parents typically dread the drive to-and-from a fun destination. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1 hour or 12, kids will find a way to induce headaches. Whether your philosophy is ‘sight-see along the way’ or ‘we get there without stopping’, we’ve put together some helpful tips that will make your family road trip a success.
Yeah, kids don't need a screen as soon as they get in a car!
Whatever happened to looking out the window? Nowadays, it seems like kids are always buried in their screens. Sometimes the road trip can produce memories as great as the destination. Crack the windows open so the smells of the outdoors match the sights. Encourage games with each other and give their imaginations a little stretching.
The Alphabet Game
This was a game I played with my family growing up and it's a classic. Everyone starts at the letter ‘A’ and works up the alphabet. Find letters in signs, billboards and license plates. Shout out the letter you’re on followed by the word you found and move immediately to the next. It’s like a race. The first one who finds a word with ‘Z’ in it wins. Players can’t reuse words that have already been used by others.
For added difficulty, limit to words that start with the letter you’re on. If someone gets ahead, don’t worry; ‘Q’ and ‘Z’ are the great equalizers.
Map or Destination Diagram
Any amount of ‘are we there yet’ is a recipe for a murderous glare in the rear-view mirror. A map is a fantastic way for kids to follow along on the road trip. They can follow landmarks, intersections, exit numbers, towns, and a rough judgement of how far they’ve come. Maps on your phone can be helpful because they show your current position and estimated time of arrival, but they’re almost too easy.
There’s nothing like a massive paper map for your kids to figure out. While unfolding (and re-folding) can be a challenge for them, it can be a good laugh for the adults. Highlight the route you plan on taking and ask the kids ‘Where are we?’. After a few minutes of paper shuffling and some vocal um’s and uh’s, see if they can figure it out. Point out upcoming towns or exit signs, and let their brains do the work. Throw in a ‘Which highway are we on?’ and a ‘Which state are we in?’ to add some variety.
A more basic version of this is what I call a Destination Diagram. Take a piece of string and tape each end to the seatbacks. On one end, put a paper cut-out of a house. On the other end, stick a paper cut-out of the destination. Cut out a car shape and punch a hole in the top. Put the string through the hole and periodically move the car closer and closer to the destination side. This can help the kids visualize ‘are we there yet’ more coherently as opposed to saying '4 hours'.
Car Window Sun Shades
These car window sun shades on Amazon are perfect for keeping the sun out of your little one’s eyes. They magnetically fasten to metal around the window with a few different kid-friendly designs. The sun shades also protect from UV rays, sunlight, and heat. The more comfortable your kids are, the more likely they are to nap. And that’s a recipe for a smooth road trip.
Rear-Facing Baby Mirror
If your child is in a rear-facing car seat, baby mirrors can give parents invaluable peace of mind. This rear-facing baby mirror on Amazon is perfect for keeping an eye on your little ones. The baby mirror bounces the reflection back to easily view in the rear-view mirror. If your child is eating something, a baby mirror is a must-have to make sure they don’t choke on their food.
One of the best ways to get kids to stop making noise is food. If they’re chewing, they’re less likely to incessantly scream like usual, right? Yummy snacks are even better. One obstacle of eating during a road trip is how to avoid messes. We really like these no-mess snack containers for toddlers, and your car will too. The soft lid makes grabbing the snacks easy, while preventing any spills.
For kids who are older and prefer a variety of snacks, we like these Bento-Box containers. These containers can be folded down when empty and even come with a spork.
While sugary snacks sound like a no-brainer, don’t forget that sugar means sugar rush. Try and find something your kids will like that won’t make them double crazy in 15 minutes. Granola bars, small fruits, almonds, raisins, a snack-size of their favorite candy bar, and fruit snacks are all good options. If you want to make that joyous eating-silence last longer, stage the snacks out in sessions.
Water is super important for extended car rides. The beginning stages of dehydration can cause kids to get cranky and irritating, two things you don’t want. Cold water always tastes better than room-temp, so make sure to get a 12V cooler that plugs right into the cigarette lighter in your car. Make sure to get this cigarette lighter socket to wall socket adapter to get your cooler nice and cold before you get in the car.
We recommend having multiple smaller water bottles that fit in the cooler. This way, it gives everyone their assigned bottles without the ‘his lips touched it!’ screeches. It might be a good idea to get a large bottle of water to refill the smaller personal bottles.
If you’re going for the ‘we get there without stopping’ approach, make sure to pass around waters in stages for a few chugs at a time. This will avoid the frequent bathroom breaks.
If you can spare the room, encourage the kids to bring their own pillows. Having something that reminds them of their bed can help with getting them to nap. And again, naps are a road-trip savior. Let them get comfy with their pillow and a stuffed animal, and you’re on your way to a nice quiet road trip.
Tips with Screens
If all else fails and the kids are driving you nuts, go to Plan B: electronics. While this might be the easy way out, sometimes that just doesn’t matter. At this point, you just want them to be busy and silent. But remember, when they've gotten screen-time in the car once, they know how much (or little) they needed to beg/scream/whatever for you to give it to them... Them little ones are smart.
Phones, Music Players, or Portable Gaming Systems
These devices can be lifesavers. Get your kids playing their favorite games, listening to their favorite music or Snapchatting their way along the trip. Make sure you have chargers for each device before you leave!
While this obviously disconnects everyone in the car, sometimes if they’re bickering, it has to be done. Now, whatever they do on their electronics will produce sound. Annoying, blaring sound. Which brings me to the next point…
Headphones go hand in hand with your kids’ electronics. The last thing you wanna hear are those obnoxious noises that grab their attention. We like this Bluetooth Splitter that can be great if your kid to device ratio is high. Plug the splitter into an iPod or laptop and connect two Bluetooth headphones simultaneously. Remember the old days when each person got a single earbud and had to sit uncomfortably close to each other? Technology advances quickly.
About The Authors
Collin Morgan is a Grand Rapids, Michigan based writer and enjoys the unique and unusual aspects of the automotive industry. He has experienced the worldwide car culture firsthand and has visited the automotive shrines of Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Pagani in Central Italy, tackled the Autobahn, and toured Wales with a rally club. Back in the States, he frequents car events in Detroit and Chicago and is convinced Michigan is the most underrated state for picturesque drives. He owns a 1999 Miata and has happily allowed many good hair days to be ruined by the open road turbulence.
John-Fredrik Wright was born in Sweden, but raised on both sides of the Atlantic. His experience in the automotive industry starts with a summer-job as a host at Volkswagen’s premier showroom in Stockholm. Later, he worked as an instructor at Swedish Active Driving, teaching safe driving (among other things the renowned "elk-avoidance maneuver") and advanced driving techniques.