Family car rides just got easier! Before you hit the road for holiday travel, read these 11 tips for taking the best family road trip.
Even though our family does not vacation often, we have taken lots and lots of road trips during our 10+ years of marriage since our families live so far apart.
(My parents live in the same town with us here in North Carolina, but my husband’s parents live 10-12 hours away in Mississippi! The first half of our marriage we lived in Mississippi, so we visited North Carolina back then!)
We are happy to be spending Christmas in our new home this year, but we’ve made road trips during many holiday seasons. Along the way, we’ve learned a few tips for a great road trip–or at least how to remain sane while cooped up in a car together for that long!
Check out these 11 tips for a great family road trip!
1. Before departure, discuss sleeping arrangements with your spouse and host.
This is especially important if you have a baby! If you do, be sure to bring a pack ‘n play!
My in-laws have a pack ‘n play at their house that we typically borrow. But one year we stayed a night at a friend’s house, and the baby had to sleep with us in a super high bed. We are not opposed to sweet baby cuddles in the middle of the night, but I did not sleep well thinking the baby was going to fall!
2. If you are a “naturally-minded” homemaker, decide if you will leave some of those ideals at home or take them with you.
For example, do you use cloth diapers? If so, will your host allow you to use his or her washing machine to clean them? You may need to consider taking a break from cloth diapers during the trip!
Do you prefer cloth napkins and other waste-free products? Be sure to pack what is important to you, but, at the same time, try not to offend your hosts or jeopardize your relationship. Even the “greenist” of us can deal with paper napkins for a few days, right? 😉
3. Map out your route, and opt to travel roads that will yield the best possible weather conditions.
There are actually several ways we can travel to Mississippi from North Carolina. The most beautiful is through the West North Carolina and East Tennessee mountains. However, when we travel during the winter months, we opt for the southern route–through Atlanta–instead. By traveling this way, we are less likely to get stuck in snow.
4. Scope out any tourist spots along the way.
The final destination does not have to be the destination. Especially since we do not take many family vacations, we try to make visiting family into a vacation!
Check out zoos, aquariums, parks and museums. These do not have to cost a lot of money. Some attractions have free days, or you can get a Groupon discount.
5. Check out car rental locations along parts of your route.
This may sound crazy, but you never know when you will break down and need a rental! This actually happened to us this past summer!
We were on a rare weekend away to the beach, and we were borrowing my parents’ van (since ours is 13 years old and not super reliable). Low and behold–the newer van broke down on our first day there! We had to rent a car to travel home.
Since we do not currently own a car that can travel long distances, we either have to rent a car or borrow my parents’ van when we make long trips. (Enterprise Rent-A-Car has a location in our town, and it happens to be the agency we normally use.)
I know this isn’t always the most affordable option. Traveling is not cheap. Our family almost always helps us in some way to be able to make it “home” for the holidays (on the years we go). Most of the time, the cost of gas or a car rental is part of our Christmas gifts.
My parents actually rented vehicles when I was a child for a different reason: We visited my grandparents in Missouri every year, and they would rent a van in order to preserve the mileage and hopefully the longevity of their vehicles by not driving them long distances.
6. Install the Gas Buddy app on your smart phone.
If you have a smart phone, the Gas Buddy app can save you money and time! We always check it out when we are getting low and need to fill up. It will tell you where the closest gas station is with the cheapest gas!
7. If anyone in your family has food allergies, be sure to research restaurants along your route that may be able to accommodate your needs.
I suggest packing plenty of snacks–and maybe even meals (it saves money, too!) in case there are no restaurants where you can eat. It may also be a good idea to discuss any food restrictions with your hosts before the trip. Check out this post for more advice on traveling with food sensitivities.
8. Pack plenty of blankets!
Since it is dangerous for children to wear coats while in car seats, we always keep blankets in our van for our girls to keep warm! But I’ll admit: Mommy likes to snuggle under a blanket in the passenger seat as well! These could also come in handy in case of an emergency.
9. Pack sources of entertainment for your kids.
Games, books, coloring books and crayons, etch-a-sketches and DVD players can be lifesavers, but I suggest waiting to pull the DVD player out as a last resort. Our girls get really wound up if we pull it out too soon!
10. Send gifts to your destination ahead of time.
If you are purchasing Christmas gifts online, go ahead and have them sent to your destination. It will allow more room in the car to stretch out your legs!
11. Be sure to get the vehicle you are driving serviced (oil changed or at least checked, heating checked, tires checked, etc.) before you depart.
If you are using a rental, be sure to ask the agency if they have serviced the vehicle recently as well!
This is something my dad is VERY adamant about. My poor hubby! He didn’t realize when he married me that my dad would be the car maintenance police, as we joke! But we really do appreciate the reminders to check on our vehicles.
With a little planning and preparation, you can have a great family road trip that’s enjoyable for everyone!
What are your tips for a great road trip?
Related Post: 5 Savvy Ways to Save Money on Family Vacation
Love it. But I have a sadness–no sewing machine. Where oh where do you get the reusable, cloth snack bags? My husband (bless him for this) watched yet another documentary on trash and is ready to give up zip lock. (Fist Pump!) This would be a perfect option for us. Thanks!
I do have a sewing machine, but I can’t sew! LOL!! I did at least try a few years back! I got those from Mighty Nest. They are one of our sponsors, and they have a coupon code for 10% off right now: homemaker10. http://mightynest.com
Hope that helps! 🙂
LOL! Isn’t that just the way it is with sewing!
That does help, thank you! And thanks for the Coupon code!
LOL! Yes! You, too!
Why is it dangerous to wear a coat in a car seat? I’ve never heard that before. The vehicle we are currently driving does not have a heater, so if the weather is freezing, we keep our coats on.
Because if the coats are bulky, then the straps do not fit properly around the child. Car seat straps should be snug at all times. You would use blankets or put the coat over them once buckled in.
What Will said (he’s my husband!). Please use blankets instead!
We like to preplan snacks to purchase as well as make sure each kid has an activity bag. The snacks at pit stops are terribly expensive. This way crackers and juice and so forth are absorbed costs up to 8 weeks ahead of time. Driving can be boring and often give you the munchies
This is a great list!
Yes to planning sleeping arrangements! We have three kids (4, 2, and 5 months) and just were gone on two separate week-long trips in the month of May. We don’t usually let the kids sleep in the bed with us so our preference is for them to have their own beds. The baby gets the pack-n-play. In the past we have also used the crib mattress as a portable bed (though it is rather bulky). This time, though, we rolled up the boys’ thin IKEA mattress and brought it along.
My best on-the-road tip is to pack fun (albeit healthy) snacks and make sure the older kids have books and toys in reach to play with.
Cash! My parents taught me to never travel without it. I usually estimate about $10 for every hour of travel. So a 7 hour trip I would carry $70-$80 cash (even if working this into the budget for the trip or use for gas on the return home) the reason is when traveling you never know if you might break down, or stop some place that may not be able to take a check or credit card. Especially if you choose the scenic route or road less traveled. My guess is a small petting zoo on the side of the road, could be free or could cost a few dollars a person and most likely will only accept cash. If your car breaks down and you need a tow or a tire change and you don’t have a roadside assistance plan like AAA, many times the hired help only accepts cash and never accepts checks. Want to go swimming at your destination? Our public pool in town only accepts cash and laughed at me when I came unprepared the first time.
I’ve never really thought of some of this guide. THanks for sahring.