I’ve traveled more than 16,000 miles in the past 3 years on road trips with my family. Here are some of my favorite family road trip survival tips for surviving hundreds of miles in the car with kids, husband, and a trunk full of suitcases!
Table of contents
How Popular is the Family Road Trip?
If you love a road trip, you’re not alone. Consider these statistics:
- Car trips make up 97% of summer travel in the U.S. Road trips are the most popular choice.
- In any given summer, an average of 200 million Americans will go roadtripping. Of those, 18% are traveling 500+ miles.
- Summer months are the most popular season for road trips, especially over the 4th of July.
Given their popularity, let’s talk about family road trip survival.
13 Tips to Simplify Your Next Family Road Trip
- Write out a packing list for each family member. Include one for any pets you’ll be taking. Once kids are around 8 years old, maybe even younger, they can use the list to pack their own suitcases. Be sure to go through the suitcases once they’re finished packing — you never know what else they might have managed to squeeze in there!
- Use these lists for re-packing at the end of your vacation, too, so nothing gets left behind. Bathing suits and phone chargers are at the top of my list of things that get left behind. I’ve started carrying a high-powered battery pack, with me on trips, specifically for times when we leave a charger somewhere and need one of our small electronics.
- Store these lists on your computer so you can adjust them for different seasons (cold vs. warm weather) and as your kids get older (no more stuffed animals or Cheerios now that my kids are teens!).
- Individual toiletry bags are a huge help. Even large zip-locs, labeled with the names of each family member, are extremely useful, especially if you’ll be camping and using community showers. Everyone has their own bag of necessities, such as a washcloth, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.
- Decide beforehand on rotating systems for anything that might cause a fight during the time on the road. For example, seat rotation, picking the next DVD, choosing the next snack, etc.
- Begin making a master To Do list long before you leave on your trip. Determine when to do each item on the list and write it on a calendar, such as haircuts, getting a pet/house-sitter, making car rental and hotel reservations, etc.
- Include a list of things that have to be done or packed the morning that you leave, such as packing the ice chest, prescription medications, cell phone chargers, etc. Although my Last Minute Packing List is intended for emergency evacuations, it might give you some good ideas of what should go on your own vacation list.
- For the long trip itself, having some sort of routine may help the time go faster. You might want to schedule singalong time, naps, snacks, read alouds/books on CD, exercise stops, and car games. This gives everyone something to look forward to, “…in just a few minutes!” Another idea that worked great for us are surprise activity envelopes. My kids LOVED them.
- If you’ll be stopping to spend the night at hotels or other places en route to your destination, pack a single, small suitcase that will serve as a sort of overnight bag for the whole family. It should contain whatever each person will need to see them through the night and into the next morning: pajamas, a change of underwear, a clean shirt, toiletry items, etc. pack this bag into your vehicle last, so it will be easy to reach each night. This is far easier than emptying out the entire vehicle and lugging everything into a hotel each and every night.
- Healthy food is a huge plus, since inactivity is a reality of car travel. Pack fresh vegetables, cheese and crackers, fruit, healthy snack mixes, and lots of water bottles. Check out my review of the Hot Logic portable oven. It’s an amazing option for hot, healthy food on road trips!
- Stuff a handful of plastic grocery bags somewhere handy to use for trash, damp clothes, and yes, a vomit bag if someone gets carsick!
- Pack smaller, cozy blankets and favorite pillows to encourage drive-time naps as well as something familiar in strange hotel rooms.
- Our family’s favorite pit-stops are Costco (for the cheaper gas and even cheaper hot dog meals!), Starbucks (dependable wi-fi connection and mom’s favorite green tea!) and Trader Joe’s (love their huge selection of salads!).
Road trips are Also About Family Time
These trips teach a number of great life lessons.
- Take the bad with the good.
- Life is an adventure.
- You never know what amazing thing could be around the next corner.
- America is a beautiful country and part of our heritage.
- Our family is a team.
- A shared burden is always lighter.
As you embark on your family road trip adventure, remember that a successful journey is not merely measured by the miles covered, but by the cherished memories and laughter shared along the way. Embrace the spontaneity, the challenges, and the joys that come with traveling together. Keep these tips in mind – plan ahead, pack wisely, entertain creatively, maintain patience, and nourish your sense of adventure.
With a little preparation and a lot of love, your family road trip will be an unforgettable experience that strengthens your bonds and leaves you with a treasure trove of heartwarming stories to share for generations to come. So, buckle up and savor every moment of the open road, for the journey itself is the destination. Safe travels and happy adventures!
What tips help you survive family road trips?
Originally published July 17, 2015.