Some of my fondest childhood memories are the family road trips we took each summer. Yours, too. probably. While the cars and the roads have changed, the basics have not. With low gas prices, aid air travel expensive and frustrating, 2017 will see the return of the road trip.
Here are timeless tips for making family road trips fun, affordable and memorable:
Involve the kids in planning the trip
Whether you gather old-fashioned paper brochures and guidebooks, or new-fashioned apps and URLS, planning together means enjoying together. Start planning now, if you haven’t already. Beyond making the kids feel involved and important, it insures that each child will experience something he or she really wants to see and do, which will help prevent tantrums en route.
Be prepared to compromise
One of my favorite trips with my own children was a two-country road trip safari. It was the year my daughter wanted to go to Paris or to the beach. My son, who was studying the American Revolution in school, wanted to go to Boston or Philadelphia.
Our compromise was Quebec, which is as close as you can get to Paris without leaving North America, and Cape Cod beaches for her, and Boston for him. Everybody was happy, especially Mom.
Schedule down-time for everybody
Simply, nobody can go non-stop from dawn to dinner for more than a day or two, no matter their age. Build in down-time, whether it’s an afternoon swim in the hotel pool, an after-dinner trip to the arcade, or what I call “silly stuff”, like pizza for breakfast.
For both safety and sanity, down-time includes breaks for the driver as well as for the passengers, every hour or two. Do jumping jacks or play tag in a rest stop parking area, to break the monotony of driving and to wake up sleepy muscles.
Pack for the road
Even if there’s a backseat video screen with individual controls, each child should have his or her personal “goodie bag” of treats. If you are organized enough, pack a small re-sealable plastic bag for each child for each day of actual driving. If not, each child gets his or her own, which helps teach that personal responsibility does not go on vacation when the family is on vacation.
Also pack a cooler with snacks and beverages. You’ll save money, because you’ll be avoiding over-priced items at rest stops. You’ll also be avoiding high-caffeine and high-sugar drinks, and high-fat, high-sodium snacks, which can crank up the energy in the back seat instead of toning it down. And it can help avoid meltdowns from hunger if you are between rest stops.
Whether we were driving, flying or taking the train, I never left home with my kids without a supply of homemade trail mix, of dried fruit and nuts in any combination. And even though my kids have grown up and left the nest, I still carry a baggie or container of trail mix with me whenever I travel.
No matter how much you plan, things go wrong. Tires go flat. Hotels lose reservations. It rains the day you were going rafting. A favorite stuffed toy goes missing. The restaurant just closed the kitchen when you arrive, later than planned. It’s happened to me over many years of road trips with my kids. And while it wasn’t funny when it was happening, we all laugh together about it now, which is exactly the point of family trips.
Get your car ready for summer travel
Take some simple steps before you leave to prevent big and expensive problems while you are away. Schedule a tune-up. Check the tires for wear and tear. Ditto the windshield wipers, and replace them if necessary before you begin your trip. Change the oil filter and air filter.
This is a family vacation, after all. Nobody should be plugged into their phone at all times. Make mealtimes technology-free for everybody – grownups and kids.
What’s your favorite road trip tip? Add your comment below.