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Road trips are a fun and more affordable way to travel as a family. Most of the time, you already own a vehicle to take you there, which saves you money when it comes to transportation.
“When you have young children travelling by car gives you freedom, flexibility and lots of space,” shares Kirsty of World For A Girl, who has done some epic road trips in the last five years including driving the ring road around Iceland with a baby, driving around Cyprus with a toddler and this week, we’re driving the entire length of Taiwan by car.
As part of Planning Your Next Vacation series, our panel of family travel experts share their tried and tested tips when it comes to road trips with family and kids.
How to Manage Kids During a Long Road Trip
Are We There Yet?
Regina of Full Time Field Trip shares an ingenious tactic for this common road trip nuisance.
“Sick to death of the endless ‘when will we be there’ and ‘how much longer’ questions kids naturally ask? Buy or print a map of the area you’ll be traveling. Next, draw on it each leg of your trip. Pin it on the ceiling of your car for all to see. Or place it on a clipboard to be passed around. On a clipboard, I assign kids to be in charge of this sacred item for an hour or two. A responsibility they look forward to. Not only is this educational and makes a nice keepsake; it truly reduces that ever-so-annoying question.”
Break Up the Drive
Road trips are money saving alternatives to flying the whole family to your vacation destination. However, usually it means getting there longer.
It can be tempting to keep pushing forward when you shouldn’t. You may have a plan that you want to stick to, but you need to listen to your body. If you are tired, resist the urge to keep pushing, and stay well rested and hydrated. Keep caffeinated beverages to a minimum, and follow the same advice for alcohol. A jittery or hung-over driver can be just as dangerous as an intoxicated one.
Plan for breaks by stopping over for sceneries, checking in a hotel or motel in your route, or doing day trips in a town you’re driving through.
“We traveled around Australia for 12 months when our kids were very little,” recounts Kris of Gadsventure. “The best road trips tips we have gained from this is to only drive short distances, and have plenty of time in between travel times. We find the kids are perfect for the first 4 hours or so, and then things will start to go pear shaped.”
“Try to plan each segment of a long drive to last around 2 hours (about the length of a kids movie!). Use Google Maps to locate local parks where you can pull over and play,” Kirsty of World For A Girl adds.
Kirsty suggests that picnics are a wonderful way to experience the outdoors with young children. “They are also a great way to break up long drives. Even busy motorways can have attractive rest areas. Plan ahead, bring a cool bag and enjoy some memorable lunches.”
“When we first started traveling full-time, we would drive five or six hours at a time,” according to Sarah of State by State, a full-time RV traveling wife and mother of three. “This made for some really long days. We all felt tired and cranky by the time we arrived at our destination. Now our travel days are only two or three hours. This means we are all in a better mood when we get to our destination and we have time to enjoy it too.”
“Shorter trips are not always possible for family’s on vacation,” Sarah continues to share. “You may need to get to your destination in one day. If this is the case, you can still use this tip. Make sure you stop every two or three hours and let the kids out. When you stop for gas or a bathroom break, let the kids run around for a few minutes. It might make the trip longer, but it will be better for everyone to get out and stretch their legs.”
“As with all things, know your audience (in this case, the people who’ll be in your car),” adds Sarah of Dandelion Seeds. “Younger kids often, although not always, need a lot of movement. It may seem counterintuitive, but I plan to reach our destination as quickly as possible–and that might mean less movement in a single day. It might mean a single uncomfortable day, but then it’s over. If you plan too many stops to ‘get wiggles out,’ it can become increasingly difficult to get back into the car every time. Drive the maximum amount you can handle before that mandatory wiggle time.”
Sarah adds, “Alternatively, and what works especially well with older kids, is to make the journey part of the adventure. There might not be much between Albuquerque and Las Vegas, for example, but spending half a day to walk around Meteor Crater would be a really memorable adventure for the whole family!”
Travel When Kids Are Asleep
“We also love to leave super early in the morning if we know we have a long haul drive ahead of us, for example a 10 hour trip to see the grandparents,” says Kris of Gadsventure. “If we can leave at 3am, then we get the first half of the drive under our belts before the kids even wake from their slumbers! Driving with sleeping kids is a fantastic way to do it!”
Melissa of Disabled Disney recommends family roadtrippers to bring comfy stuff like pillows and blankets. “Kids and adults sometimes like to snuggle and take naps on long car rides.”
Entertainment for the Long Drive
“Start by thinking back to when you were a child and there were no electronics. How did your parents entertain you? Some of those tried and true games really work,” according to Tiffany of Mommy And Me Travels.
The family travelers share some examples of their go-to road trip entertainment.
Look Out the Window
Deb of World Wise Kid, a California-based environmental educator, polyglot and mother of two adventurous kids, shares one of her favorite road trip past times. “We love a very loose agenda when road tripping – with time and freedom to stop in an interesting looking shop or cafe, or run across a field. We often take breaks in small towns to get coffee and snacks, interact with the locals, learn about their town culture and history and to download another audio track!”
Audiobooks and Podcasts
“We love to connect where we’re going and what we’re doing to what we’re studying in our homeschool,” says Regina of Full Time Field Trip. According to her, audiobooks make for both great learning tools and road trip entertainment. “In addition to audible.com, we like the kid-specific tales3go.com and our local library as resources.”
“Listening to audio tracks is entertaining and educational,” adds Deb of World Wise Kid. “While road tripping through the Peloponnese region in southern Greece, we listened to interviews of Rick Steve’s free audio guides on the Eastern Mediterranean. While exploring Hawaii, we tune into hula music on the radio or a CD. When we toured Florida, we listened to Hoot, Flush, Chomp and Scat by Carl Hiaasen – youth fiction that takes place in the Everglades and Keys. We download Podcasts to listen together: KidsNuz, StarTalk and RadioLab. We sync to the car speakers with Bluetooth or an audio cable so everyone can hear clearly,” Deb shares.
Rock on tunes
“Choose music your whole family likes to sing along to,” suggests Melissa of Disabled Disney. “With us, it’s a good bet that Disney songs, 80’s or metal will be chosen.”
A good road trip playlist can set the tone of your family vacation. Music has a great away to affect moods. So, this is a perfect time to whip out those audio stream subscriptions like Amazon Music. Sing your heart out to your family’s favorite tunes.
Play Games During a Road Trip
Everyone loves games especially kids. When it comes to keeping them entertained and occupied, you can add these game ideas to your road trip checklist.
Nikki of Yorkshire Wonders likes to play the ABC game in the car. “So, we choose a topic, it could be animals, countries or capital cities for example,” she explains. “Then we take it in turns, so the first person names a country beginning with A, the second person names one beginning with B and so on. It can be as silly or as educational as you like! When the children were younger we used categories like ‘girl’s names’ and ‘boy’s names’. You can target it to their age group.”
Tiffany of Mommy And Me Travels also plays another alphabet game with her kids. “To entertain my 6 year old, our favorite is the alphabet game. For this game, all you need are your eyes and signs or licenses plates. To play, everyone starts at A and whoever finds all the letters A to Z in order, wins. It’s a race and you can’t use the same ‘a,b,c…’ as someone else,” she explains.
“For my toddler, his favorite game is trying to get the semi-trucks to honk their horns. You play this game by moving your arm up and down as if you were pulling the string for their horn. He gets a big kick out of it and also is focused on finding ‘another big truck’,” shares Tiffany.
“Coloring pages, small toys, word searches are all great for when they need a break from electronics,” suggests Annette of Tips From A Typical Mom.
Melissa of Disabled Disney takes good old favorites like the license plate game and gives them a twist. “Make up rules just for your family. Like, the first person who spots three different states gets to choose the music for the next (fill in time parameter). Or the next vanity plate or even choose a letter or number and the person who spots the most of that wins!”
“Put everything away and play games together,” says Annette. She invites everyone to read her 15 Road Trip Games For Kids article on her blog. “Save the web page on your phone and open in when you need a break,” she says.
“Kids of all ages can normally be pacified with a snack,” recommends Melissa of Disabled Disney. “Snacks don’t have to be sugary and sweet. You can bring popcorn, nuts (depending on food allergies), cheese (if you bring a cooler), pretzels or whatever your kiddo likes! I have even brought snap peas and baby carrots,” she continues.
“You can never go wrong with extra snacks. When you can’t find a restaurant or you’re stuck in traffic it will be snacks to your rescue every time,” explains Regina of Full Time Field Trip. “We skip anything sugary or messy and always have wet wipes and a towel within reach.”
Related: Saving Money on Food While Traveling
Annette suggests that everyone pack one backpack with everything they need. “Most of the time these fit right under their seat or under their feet. This leaves the trunk open for coolers to bring along food to help save you money.”
Things to Consider When Planning a Road Trip
“Road tripping internationally only comes with one tip…Know before you go,” reminds Shannan of Captivating Compass. She shares some of the things you need to consider if you’re planning an international road trip:
- Will you need a special license, permit or insurance?
- What will it cost? Parking, tolls, and petrol are costs you will need to consider above the cost of the car, van or camper rental.
- Distance vs. actual drive time. The cultural dynamics of driving in a different country are so varied. Knowing that it will likely take 45 to 60 minutes to drive 30 miles in Scotland is incredibly important if you don’t want to spend your entire trip driving. Give yourself ample time to get from point A to point B when you are in an unfamiliar place. It will almost always take longer than expected.
- Become familiar with local road signs and what they mean before your trip. Some are funny, some are confusing. You may even find familiar signs or street markings mean something completely different than what you thought.
- Have a co-pilot, if possible. It’s less stressful if you have a co-pilot to help navigate, read road signs, and manage the phone, snacks and music selection.
- Have a good mapping app or offline map that you can use without incurring international data charges.
“These simple, plan-ahead tips will help ensure a more enjoyable road trip through most international countries,” says Shannan.