Road tripping with kids is an excellent bonding experience for the family, or in the fastlane side on a highway trek down the open road through Hell. Most parents have experienced both, and commonly on the same trip. Sometimes within the same hour. But I love road trips and all the opportunities that a family road trip can produce.
Usually, I travel with all four of my kids, but on a recent road trip to stay in a treehouse at the Mohicans near Mohican State Forest in Ohio, I drove only my 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. For over 9 hours, we laughed, learned, sang, and played games. Chevrolet provided us with a new Traverse for our expedition and was more space than we required. In fact, it would have been more than enough room even if I had brought the whole family. With three rows and enough seating for 7 people, the 3 of us had a plethora of room to stretch out, and the luxurious seats made certain our bums enjoyed the ride. Since my seat had climate control, my butt was in a constant state of comfort.
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I’m used to packing lightly, which is my number one rule when I plan a road trip, so we didn’t get to use all the space within the Traverse. But with outlets aplenty, we could keep my smartphone charged and my kids’ video game systems operating at max capacity (My number eight suggestion).
Okay, I’ve alluded to them and I know you’re begging to know my roadtripping suggestions. When I plan for a road trip, I start with these 15 trip planning rules. These suggestions have helped me become a successful roadtripper and now I’ll bestow them upon you.
How to Pack for a Family Road Trip
1. Pack lightly. Even with a spacious Traverse, I’m thankful I stuck to my normal practices of packing lightly. I give each person a little bag to be placed into a suitcase and they can only bring what fits in that bag. If it’s a long road trip, we pack with specific days in mind. That way, we only bring in one suitcase to stay in the hotel. So, we could have everyone’s belongings in one case for a day or two. Obviously for day trips, we only pack what fits into a backpack.
Prepping a Car for a Road Trip
2. Get the oil changed at a place like Jiffy Lube where they change the oil and fill all the liquids. Just refuse when they try to up-sell you on getting that air filter replaced. Do that one on your own. Youtube is your friend.
3. Know where your jumper cables are. Often, I bring in everything from the car after a trip. Sometimes, random stuff gets brought into the basement, including the cables and I forget about them. I haven’t yet needed jumper cables on a road trip, but the fear is there for me to make sure I know where they are in advance. Also, don’t put heavy suitcases on top of them or you’ll be digging around if the need arises. The same goes for the emergency kit.
4. Double check the spare tire. Another thing I haven’t needed to do was change a tire, but one summer back in high school I went through 7 tires because someone kept slashing them. Not only did I become an expert at changing tires, but it instilled anxiety of coming out to a car with a flat. If you’re using a rental, always make sure you know where the spare is ahead of time and know how to get it out. Sometimes they are locked.
5. Visit Gas Buddy or something similar ahead of the trip and find out where the cheapest gas stations are located.
6. Bring an old-fashioned paper map. Remember those days of following along a line and finding out where you’ve been and where you need to go? Map reading is a fleeting art form. Bringing along a map helps kids learn distances and when they ask, “Are we there yet?” You can pull out the map and show them.
7. Make a copy of your driver’s license and credit card and put them in the glove compartment. That way, you’ll at least have a copy in case you lose your wallet.
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Car Games and Board Games are Fun for Everyone
8. Charge those video games systems. The Traverse had many outlets to keep my kids entertained, but not all vehicles do. Charge them the night before and take a portable charger along.
9. I always pack board games for when we arrive at our destination, but packing games for the car ride is a good idea. The Travel Channel has printable car bingo games we love. I also put together a list of alphabet games and license plate games. Also packed with the games are new coloring books and sketchbooks.
Podcasts and Audiobooks are Essential
10. Download language podcasts. Driving long stretches of the road are perfect for learning new languages. There are some great podcasts for learning Spanish such as Spanish Pod 101, Coffee Break Spanish, and Duolingo.
11. Audiobooks are the best way to spend time on the road. We’re big fans of the audio version of Harry Potter. We are not limited to Harry Potter and download books and we check out books on CD from the library. Don’t tell my kids’ teachers, but sometimes, we get their school books on audio and listen as a family.
12. Every trip needs a playlist. Ask your kids to come up with songs for the trip and put them together on Spotify or whatever streaming music service you use. They’ll complain when your songs come on, but will be excited when their chosen songs come over the speaker.
Other Road Trip Essential Tips
13. Instead of stopping for fast food, have picnics at rest stops. Not only does this keep the cost of the trip down, but it gives kids more opportunities to stretch out their legs. I even let them stand to eat, which is something I never do at restaurants or at home. We usually add extra time for playing tag and hide and seek.
14. Before the trip, check Google Maps to see if there are any interesting sideshow attractions along the way. I am very much a fan of making the long road trip a key part of the vacation. So many small museums and interesting roadside attractions are passed by. So, pick spots along the road and enlarge the map to see if there’s a place worth stopping. This is also extra time to release pent-up energy.
15. Take along a mobile hotspot. A few years ago, I wrote a sponsored post for NETGEAR in promoting their mobile hotspot. Since then, I have taken along a mobile hotspot along my trips. The Traverse included a hotspot with OnStar, and that was helpful along our journey. But we don’t always have hotspots on our other trips. A product like NETGEAR makes is a good idea in case you travel back-roads and areas without cell service. You never know when you’ll need roadside assistance and a mobile device could be a lifesaver.
Family road trips don’t have to be a means of getting to a destination, but can be part of the vacation. It just takes preparation and a relaxed attitude. It doesn’t matter if you’re headed to a National Park, state park, or to grandma’s house, these are a great start for a perfect road trip. What are your travel tips for a successful road trip?
— Jason Greene
Disclaimer: The author received a Chevy Traverse to use while on the road trip. The words are his own.