Road trip tips

I just can’t wait to get…

This week we share 12 perspectives from seasoned travel moms with our insights into how to have successful road trips. This is the seventh of our Family Travel Blog Series. If you missed previous posts, check out:

Visiting the ancient city of Mycenae on a lone hilltop in the Greek Peloponnese
Visiting the ancient city of Mycenae on a lone hilltop in the Greek Peloponnese – easily reached with a rental car.

Saving Money on Food

Packing for Family Travel

Saving Money on Transportation

Selecting Family Travel Destinations

Choosing accommodations

Exploring a new place

Follow the links to each of the contributor’s websites for other great travel tips and educational resources!

Our tips from World Wise Kid

We love exploring landscapes with a good road trip, following a map on a mountain, coastal or desert road, bringing the contours to life. While traveling across monotonous flatland to get somewhere, the kids can color, game, read or draw, but when the landscape itself is a reason for the travel, it’s important to encourage them to look out the window and learn about the culture and life as we travel through a new and different place.

Listening to audio tracks is entertaining and educational. While road tripping through the Peloponnese region in southern Greece, we listened to interviews of Rick Steve’s free audio guides on the Eastern Mediterranean. While exploring Hawaii, we tune into hula music on the radio or a CD. When we toured Florida, we listened to Hoot, Flush, Chomp and Scat by Carl Hiaasen – youth fiction that takes place in the Everglades and Keys. We download Podcasts to listen together: KidsNuz, StarTalk, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me… and RadioLab. We sync to the car speakers with Bluetooth or an audio cable so everyone can hear clearly.

We love a very loose agenda when road tripping – with time and freedom to stop in an interesting looking shop or cafe, or run across a field. We often take breaks in small towns to get coffee and snacks, interact with the locals, learn about their town culture and history and to download another audio track!

Regina at Fulltime Field Trip

Who doesn’t love a good road trip? But when you add kids, you may be looking at a few spills, tons of extra bathroom stops, and at least a million “are we there yet” questions. Here are my favorite tips for road tripping with the kiddos.

Are We There Yet Map.Sick to death of the endless “when will we be there” and “how much longer” questions kids naturally ask? Buy or print a map of the area you’ll be traveling. Next, draw on it each leg of your trip. Pin it on the ceiling of your car for all to see. Or place it on a clipboard to be passed around. On a clipboard, I assign kids to be in charge of this sacred item for an hour or two. A responsibility they look forward to. Not only is this educational and makes a nice keepsake; it truly reduces that ever-so-annoying question.

Snacks.You can never go wrong with extra snacks. When you can’t find a restaurant or you’re stuck in traffic it will be snacks to your rescue every time. We skip anything sugary or messy and always have wet wipes and a towel within reach.

Kirsty at World for a Girl

Since having kids, we’ve become roadtrip fanatics. When you have young children travelling by car gives you freedom, flexibility and lots of space! We’ve done some epic road trips in the last five years including driving the ring road around Iceland with a baby, driving around Cyprus with a toddler and this week, we’re driving the entire length of Taiwan by car.

We’ve learnt a lot on our long car journeys. We’ve had disasters, adventures and a lot of vomiting! Some of our top roadtrip tips are:

Pack lots of smaller bags so you can leave the ones you don’t need in the car boot overnight.

Try to plan each segment of a long drive to last around 2 hours (about the length of a kids movie!) Use Google Maps to locate local parks where you can pull over and play.

Picnics are a wonderful way to experience the outdoors with young children. They are also a great way to break up long drives. Even busy motorways can have attractive rest areas. Plan ahead, bring a cool bag and enjoy some memorable lunches.

Yamy at Go Fam Go

Road trips are money saving alternatives to flying the whole family to your vacation destination. However, usually it means getting there longer.

It can be tempting to keep pushing forward when you shouldn’t. You may have a plan that you want to stick to, but you need to listen to your body. If you are tired, resist the urge to keep pushing, and stay well rested and hydrated. Keep caffeinated beverages to a minimum, and follow the same advice for alcohol. A jittery or hung-over driver can be just as dangerous as an intoxicated one.

Plan for breaks by stopping over for sceneries, checking in a hotel or motel in your route, or doing day trips in a town you’re driving through.

Kris at Gadsventure

We travelled around Australia for 12 months when our kids were very little. The best road trips tips we have gained from this is to only drive short distances, and have plenty of time in between travel times. We find the kids are perfect for the first 4 hours or so, and then things will start to go pear shaped.

Crossing the Nullabor Plain on our Australian Road trip

Crossing the Nullabor Plain on Gadsventure’s Australian Road trip

We also love to leave super early in the morning if we know we have a long haul drive ahead of us, for example a 10 hour trip to see the grandparents. If we can leave at 3am, then we get the first half of the drive under our belts before the kids even wake from their slumbers!! Driving with sleeping kids is a fantastic way to do it!

Shannan at Captivating Compass

Things you need to consider if you’re planning an international road trip:

  1. Will you need a special license, permit or insurance?
  2. What will it cost? Parking, tolls, and petrol are costs you will need to consider above the cost of the car, van or camper rental.
  3. Distance vs. actual drive time. The cultural dynamics of driving in a different country are so varied. Knowing that it will likely take 45 to 60 minutes to drive 30 miles in Scotland (link to: https://www.captivatingcompass.com/scottish-highlands/) is incredibly important if you don’t want to spend your entire trip driving. Give yourself ample time to get from point A to point B when you are in an unfamiliar place. It will almost always take longer than expected.
  4. Become familiar with local road signs and what they mean before your trip. Some are funny, some are confusing. You may even find familiar signs or street markings mean something completely different than what you thought.
  5. Have a co-pilot, if possible. It’s less stressful if you have a co-pilot to help navigate, read road signs, and manage the phone, snacks and music selection.
  6. Have a good mapping app or offline map that you can use without incurring international data charges.
World for a girl explores Iceland

Nikki at Yorkshire Wonders

We like to play the ABC game in the car. So, we choose a topic, it could be animals, countries or capital cities for example. Then we take it in turns, so the first person names a country beginning with A, the second person names one beginning with B and so on. It can be as silly or as educational as you like! When the children were younger we used categories like ‘girl’s names’ and ‘boy’s names’. You can target it to their age group.

Annette at Tips from a Typical Mom

Road trips are pretty much the only way we travel with our kids. We used to live about 4 hours away from family when our kids were really little, so we got really good at road trips. Here are my best tips for road trips with kids:

  1. Only bring water. Do not bring flavored drinks. If you do, your kids will chug them and you will be stopping to use the restroom every 30 minutes.
  2. Have plenty of movies (if you have a dvd player), or downloaded movies on the iPad to give to the kid who is making the most trouble.
  3. Coloring pages, small toys, word searches are all great for when they need a break from electronics.
  4. Put everything away and play games together. 

Melissa at Disabled Disney

We love to go on road trips! As a matter of fact we normally drive to our vacation destinations! So what do you do for long hours in the car? First tip is bring snacks! Kids of all ages can normally be pacified with a snack. Snacks don’t have to be sugary and sweet. You can bring popcorn, nuts (depending on food allergies), cheese (if you bring a cooler), pretzels or whatever your kiddo likes! I have even brought snap peas and baby carrots.

Second tip is games. Take good old favorites like the license plate game…but give them a twist. Make up rules just for your family like the first person who spots three different states gets to choose the music for the next (fill in time parameter). Or the next vanity plate or even choose a letter or number and the person who spots the most of that…wins!

Third tip is choose music your whole family likes to sing along to! With us it’s a good bet that Disney songs, 80’s or metal will be chosen! And fourth tip bring comfy stuff like pillows and blankets! Kids and adults sometimes like to snuggle and take naps on long car rides.

Tiffany at Mommy and Me Travels

Family road trips are some of our most fun and memorable adventures. They have also been some of our most stressful. Well not anymore! We have mastered road tripping and ensuring that the ride is enjoyable for all. Start by thinking back to when you were a child and there were no electronics. How did your parents entertain you? Some of those tried and true games really work. To entertain my 6 year old our favorite is the alphabet game. For this game all you need is your eyes and signs or licenses plates.

To play, everyone starts at A and whoever finds all the letters A to Z in order, wins. It’s a race and you can’t use the same “a,b,c…” as someone else. For my toddler, his favorite game is trying to get the semi-trucks to honk their horns. You play this game by moving your arm up and down as if you were pulling the string for their horn. He gets a big kick out of it and also is focused on finding “another big truck”.

Sarah at State by State

While driving your own car can help you save money on your trip, it can be a challenge for little ones to sit still so long. We are in the car all the time and have learned how to make it a better experience for everyone. The best advice I can give is to break long trips up whenever possible.

When we first started traveling full-time we would drive five or six hours at a time. This made for some really long days. We all felt tired and cranky by the time we arrived at our destination. Now our travel days are only two or three hours. This means we are all in a better mood when we get to our destination and we have time to enjoy it too.

Shorter trips are not always possible for families on vacation. You may need to get to your destination in one day. If this is the case, you can still use this tip. Make sure you stop every two or three hours and let the kids out. When you stop for gas or a bathroom break, let the kids run around for a few minutes. It might make the trip longer, but it will be better for everyone to get out and stretch their legs.

Sarah at Dandelion Seeds

As with all things, know your audience (in this case, the people who’ll be in your car). Younger kids often, although not always, need a lot of movement. It may seem counterintuitive, but I plan to reach our destination as quickly as possible–and that might mean less movement in a single day. It might mean a single uncomfortable day, but then it’s over. If you plan too many stops to “get wiggles out,” it can become increasingly difficult to get back into the car every time. Drive the maximum amount you can handle before that mandatory wiggle time.

Alternatively, and what works especially well with older kids, is to make the journey part of the adventure. There might not be much between Albuquerque and Las Vegas, for example, but spending half a day to walk around Meteor Crater would be a really memorable adventure for the whole family!

Bryce Canyon road trip. Photo credit: Dandelion Seeds

Next week’s family travel blog topic: Tips for International Travel.