Do you remember being a kid and going on road trips? Here’s what I remember:

  • Being trapped in the back of a car for hours, feeling sweat slide down my forehead and neck.
  • Stopping for 15-minute “cooler lunches” where we each got one slice of bologna between white bread.
  • Asking to make a bathroom stop and being told to “hold it.”
  • Stopping to visit family friends I didn’t know, and having to sit quietly while the adults talked about the old days.

We made the five-day cross-country drive every year to visit relatives, and every year it was the longest five days of my young life.

photo credit: -Snugg- via photopin cc

photo credit: -Snugg- via photopin cc

That’s why I want to make things better for our family and for yours. We’re starting to plan our first big road trip, and here’s what we’re going to do differently:

1. Plan short days and fun nights

With kids, it’s hard to think about spending more than 8 hours in the car per day, and 6 sounds even better. I don’t know how my parents managed their 14-hour drives!

We’re scheduling our trip to include about 3 hours of driving in the morning, then an hour for lunch, then another 4 to 5 hours in the afternoon (prime naptime for the kids, after all). Then evenings doing something fun like swimming at the hotel pool or going for a walk to get ice cream. Even hotel cable TV is a novelty for our little ones!

2. Give out surprises every morning

This is one road-trip technique I’m borrowing from my mother. Every morning, have a surprise waiting for the kids. Maybe it’s a license plate sticker book, a picture book about the state you’re currently visiting or a new DVD for your car’s DVD player.

There are plenty of low-cost options to keep your kids happy as you focus on the road. Try to find items that relate to your travels, like a coloring book or printables about Mount Rushmore (or wherever you happen to be visiting).

3. Always plan ahead, but be willing to change your plans

Never get into the car without knowing how many miles you need to cover and where you’re going to stop. The answer to “when’s lunch?” should never be “I don’t know.”

That aside, there are many unexpected and fun surprises on the open road, so be ready and willing to take advantage of them as they appear. Plan your road trip ahead.

Take, for example, the Little Hollywood Museum in Kanab, Utah. Many films, such as Planet of The Apes and Lassie, were shot in Kanab, and the Little Hollywood Museum is jammed full of bizarre Hollywood treasures. These kind of wonky roadside attractions are worth the stop and the extra time, and they’re the very thing to build lifetime family memories.

If you do find yourself at the end of the day but nowhere near your intended destination, use an online service such as TheLocalBook to find a Kanab motel or lodging in another city. Then start the next morning fresh, with a new vacation story to tell.

4. Choose the right car

The right car needs to have the right features for your family road trip includes three major factors:

  • Safety
  • Space
  • Amenities

Safety is of course the most important factor, and I hope all your cars exceed safety ratings. Make sure your children have secure carseats that they have not outgrown.

Space is the next important factor. You need enough room for your bags and other travel gear; nobody wants half their seat taken up by someone’s backpack or suitcase. Ideally, you have enough room that nobody has to sit in the dreaded middle seat.

The last key factor is amenities. I remember the old days before cars had air conditioning; nobody wants to travel like that! Many families swear by cars with DVD players and even gaming consoles; if it’s important to your trip, make sure you have it on board.


photo credit: cobalt123 via photopin cc

photo credit: cobalt123 via photopin cc

Above all, remember that road trips are supposed to be fun! If you or your kids start getting too uncomfortable, tired or stressed out, pull into a rest stop or play area and take a break. Life is about the journey, not the destination – and road trips are exactly the same.

What do you have in your goodie bag for family road trips? What helps keep everyone sane during the long trips?