5 Tips To Help You Have A Great Family Road Trip
Every couple years, we like to take a family vacation that involves a big road trip so we can show the kids more of the country. It's not as fast as flying, but it can be a lot of fun if you plan things out.
My family just completed a lengthy vacation that included driving through six states (twice), and boarding a 4-night Carnival Cruise in Mobile, Alabama to check out Cozumel, Mexico.
As I gain more experience on such adventures, here are 5 tips that I think will help you on your next road trip:
SAVE FOR YOUR VACATION AS A FAMILY
We opened a "Family Trip" savings account years ago and both my wife and I put some money into it each month. We've also set up a modest allowance for the kids if they do chores above and beyond the norm (dog poop duty during a massive snow melt, for example) and they can put that in there too.
This helps build a trip fund throughout the year so you're not faced with coming up with all the money at once.
STAY AS FLEXIBLE AS POSSIBLE WITH TRAVEL TIME
As you plan on how long the road trip portion of your trip will take, stay flexible and try to allow yourself extra time on both the way there and back. This is primarily because the weather can be a factor along your journey and it's best to allow yourself the flexibility to alter your route or stay an extra night somewhere along the way to avoid putting your family in a dangerous situation.
This year, we ended up leaving for our trip earlier than expected to avoid freezing rain here, then we altered our drive the first full day to avoid potentially dangerous thunderstorms in the southern United States. It all worked out, thankfully, because we used weather apps and stayed flexible.
DRIVE DURING THE DAY, SLEEP AT NIGHT
Driving overnight can get you there quicker, but driving while you're too tired is dangerous, which isn't a risk I wish to take with kids in the car. Don't push yourself into fatigued driving.
My wife and I both agree that when you leave early in the morning, sometimes as early as 4:00 a.m., it's cool because by the time the day really feels like it's going, you're already several hours closer to your destination that day.
One of my best road trip memories so far is leaving Nashville in the wee hours of the morning several years ago and experiencing the sunrise along the Tennessee / Georgia border.
I witnessed the gorgeous sunrise while thinking everyone else in the car was missing it because they had fallen back to sleep. Then I saw my daughter in the rear view mirror also watching it in amazement. We gave each other a knowing smile and that was our special moment, a moment we still talk about.
USE TRAVEL APPS TO FIND BEST PLACES TO STAY ALONG THE WAY
When we have an extended road trip, we will spend one or two nights at hotels along the way. Of course, we often have no idea what the cities are like in which we are staying. We just know we want to stay as close to the highway as possible for convenience.
Travel apps can be very handy because not only do they provide a good list of hotels available, but there are reviews from guests who have stayed there.
If you are a points rewards member or are loyal to a specific hotel chain, use a travel app such as Priceline or Travelocity to first check on available hotels just so you can see reviews.
Your specific hotel chain app may not have the best variety of reviews, and it won't include other chains that could save you money or provide superior accommodations in the city you're staying. If the hotel chain you're loyal to remains the best option, then go back to their app to actually book the room.
On our recent road trip, our best hotel stay was in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Using Priceline, I found a Drury Hotel right off the highway that was connected to their convention center. We don't have Drury hotels up here, but it was fantastic and very well priced. We were treated to great complimentary food and drinks in the evening, warm breakfast and a pool and hot tub. Perfect.
BRING FUN STUFF TO DO IN THE CAR THAT DOESN'T INVOLVE SCREENS
Full disclosure here, the majority of the time on the road our kids, and whoever wasn't driving, were on their screens. Whether it was watching shows or movies or playing games, there's no denying it really helps pass the time.
That being said, my favorite memories were the several times we broke out the Mad Libs books we brought. We had many big laughs reading back the stories that were created (especially since the words always seemed to drift towards things like "fart", "stinky", "butt" etc. Until the kids had to tell me to grow up). Also, we also had teaching moments for all of us on the definition of nouns, adverbs, adjectives, etc.
The kids also brought their homework and other books and music. The bottom line is don't be too stringent on screen time during road trips, but bring other things to do along the way. It's those "other things" that lead to conversations and the best memories.
There you have it, five things that I hope will help you have a better big road trip family experience. If I would add one more, it would be to pack a lot of snacks and water to keep everyone happy.
Ultimately, drive safely, take a lot of pictures and enjoy the journey as much as the destination!
Our home for 4 days of our trip.