Whenever possible, I try to make any family vacation into a family road trip. Typically, the threshold of cost versus time savings I use usually equates to roughly 12 to 14 hours of driving time. Anything longer than that, I look hard into flying or even taking the train.
I make some exceptions to that rule. For example, my family will be taking a one-week vacation to Myrtle Beach over the summer. The drive itself will be close to 20 hours; however, the cost savings of renting a car and driving from Kansas City rather than flying made me look hard at the possibility of driving.
We have prepared ourselves for a road trip of this length. We have traveled from Kansas City to Denver which is nine hours and “survived.” Not that having kids in tow didn’t make it difficult at times. Children have unexpected bathroom needs. They get bored looking out the window. They don’t like your choice in music. And they constantly ask, “Are we there yet?”
Whether it’s been one hour or nine, here are some tips that have helped us get by and make the most of the time on the road together.
Plan your breaks for your family road trip
The first two tips for surviving your family road trip go hand in hand. Before heading out the door, have an idea of where you will be stopping along the way. Plan your big breaks, such as lunch and dinner, along with some of the sites that you want to see before reaching your ultimate destination. This allows you to be able to tell your family how far from a specific stop you are. It can also help avoid many of the small bathroom breaks when you can tell your kids that you will be stopping in 15 or 30 minutes.
Expect to stop more often than planned
Going into a family road trip with a plan of where to stop is always ideal. However, understand there likely will be unplanned, and often necessary, breaks. Acknowledging this will ease your stress level when it happens. It will also make it easier to accept you won’t beat the original ETA your GPS gave you when you left the house.
Bring many snacks, drinks
Bringing a cooler of favorite snacks will help your kids survive the family road trip. Make sure to pack some healthy items so they aren’t eating junk food the entire time. Bring your own water bottles and fill them up whenever you do stop to save on the cost of drinks.
As the main driver for many of our trips, I like to sneak a few of my favorites under my seat. Whether it is Australian licorice, a bag of beef jerky or some cracked pepper sunflower seeds, I’m ready when hunger hits.
Forget screen time limits
The family road trip is one time when screen time becomes almost unlimited. It may appear that the motive behind this is only so we aren’t being constantly bothered by a bored child. Yes, it helps the time pass for them but it also helps us as a family stay on the road longer and get to our destination sooner with minimal breaks.
There is a caveat though. We do make them take breaks every couple of hours from the screens. There is nothing worse than a kid getting car sick from playing video games the entire time on the road. I speak from experience.
Make a game out of your family road trip
When the kids are not on their screens, play some old-school games on your family road trip. Try “I spy,” which can always be interesting when you are playing with younger kids. Make bingo cards ahead of time with various states so you can play the license plate game. Get creative!
Good headphones for the passengers
When we leave on any family road trip, the one thing we will turn around for is headphones. There is nothing more distracting than hearing one of your kids playing on their Nintendo Switch in the back seat while you are listening to a baseball game or a podcast on the radio. Their electronic devices are a way to keep them occupied but, as the driver, the only thing keeping you entertained is the car radio. Make sure that you can hear it and listen to what you want.