A family road trip can be a mixed blessing. Families do not ordinarily spend hours on end in the same area, so it can be an opportunity for everyone to reconnect through bonding, if done correctly. If the trip is poorly planned and executed, however, the time spent in the car can be more like detention.
1. Do a preliminary look at your planned route
Google maps or a GPS are great tools for determining how long a trip is going to take. If traveling on a weekday, you can plan your route to try to avoid driving through an urban area during rush hour. You can also determine where on your route your family will get hungry to decided on your dining food options (fast food? picnic?).
2. Prepare for your family’s basic needs
Are you traveling with a baby who needs a diaper change, or a toddler who does not understand the term ‘really have to go’? You may want to add a couple hours to your route or prepare a make-shift diaper change area. Can everybody last six hours between meals, or should you pack snacks? Can the kids sit in the car for a long time or will they squirm and get troublesome after an hour?
3. Pack a cooler of road snacks before you go.
A couple cookies can improve a child’s mood and stave off hunger when a meal is not ideal. The best snacks are finger foods that do not crumble like pre-cut veggies, and individually-packaged drinks that are hard to spill.
4. Pack your kids entertainment, or let them pack their own
For my family’s 12-hour move, I was five and was delighted and surprised when my mom opened a bucket of toys in the backseat. They kept my sister and I entertained for hours. Older kids can pack their own entertainment: small toys, books (if they can read in a moving vehicle), or a video player or mp3 player.
5. Plan for family activities and alone time
Yes, car games can be a great way to bond and pass the time, but can get tiresome after a while. Don’t let the family get sick of each other. Plan some game time, but then make sure everyone has individual entertainment: videos or music with headphones for the kids mean parents can talk in peace for a little while.
6. Pack for comfort
If your car is crowded, life will not be fun, so try to plan out where the family’s suitcases, bags, and cooler will be. Should you pack less? Should you put things on the roof? Or should you just rent a bigger car for a while? If you’re spending many consecutive hours in a car, it may be worth it.
7. Prepare the family for the trip before hand
A day or so before the trip, brief everyone on the trip’s expectations. When will you leave? When will everyone wake up? How long will you be in the car? If everyone knows that they’ll be spending eight hours in the car, and approximate times of rest stops, older children can be more patient with the trip (young children may not understand space-time concepts quite yet).
8. Keep the car clean
Of course you’ll want to clean the car inside and out before and after the trip, but you should try to keep it clean in the meantime. A multi-day road trip can become disgusting as various food waste and trash accumulate in the car, so carry several trash bags and have everyone do a small clean-up 2 minutes before every rest stop, and for 20 minutes before you finish driving for the day.
9. Keep everyone excited
When you’re in the car, have the driver give the rest of the car passenger reports. Make announcements such as “We are now in New Jersey”, or, “We have driven 300 miles”, or “We have 1 hour left for today”. They provide a sense of accomplishment.
10. Budget extra time and be patient
Vacations are supposed to be relaxing. Road rage can become dangerous when drivers are too tense. If you add an extra hour of buffer, you will not mind the huge unexpected traffic jam, or the extra-long toilet stop as much. What’s your hurry?