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Summertime and everyone is planning road trips with their families. I find travel in all forms really relaxing and rejuvenating so I was surprised to find out how much family travel stresses out some of my friends.
Ella and I recently took a road trip to Lake Erie for a long weekend, so I wanted to share how I plan for long car rides to make them enjoyable and get our summer vacations off to a great start!
Ella and I have been taking family road trips since she was less than a year old, so I’ve had a lot of practice and, perhaps more importantly, so has she. Just like with table manners or getting used to anything, I think kids need to learn to be good travellers and it’s something that gets easier and better the more opportunities they have to “practice.” Even if you want to save the big budget trips for when the kids are older, I think even small weekends away or day trips to surrounding cities/towns can be a great way to build some travel skills and resilience in kids.
But, regardless of how much experience your child has with travelling, there are soooo many things that you can do to make road trips easier and more enjoyable for your whole family. By having a positive mindset and doing as much preparation as possible beforehand, you can set your kids up for success on even the longest road trips!
Today, I’m going to share with you my free Road Trip Planning Printables to help you ensure that you have all bases covered, as well as share my best road trip planning tips and some super fun printable games that kids can use to entertain themselves without screens.
Family road trips are an amazing opportunity to really connect and spend time in close quarters with your favorite people – they really can be super fun and enjoyable while building great memories!
Road Trip Planning Tips
Plan out Your Route and Destination
Ensure you know how long it takes to get where you are going, and the best ways to get there. Don’t just rely on a GPS to get you there – have a paper map incase the GPS experiences difficulties and study the route beforehand.
Also, look ahead to where rest stops and gas stations will be and make notes of them.
Plan out how long it will take you to get to your destination, add in a buffer of time for unexpected traffic or delays, and also add in regular rest breaks to use restrooms or even let the kids stretch out their legs. Check the forecast, too, as bad weather will add travel time.
Clean Out the Car
It may seem counter-intuitive to completely clean (and clean out) the car before the kids make a mess of it, but cleaning out the car is essential for smooth road trips.
First, you will feel less cramped with all of the unnecessary items taken out of the car and have more room for the things you’ll need on your tip.
Second, you can replenish essential car supplies (like hand wipes) and not get stuck in a sticky situation!
And third, being in a clean, uncluttered car is a better (mental) experience for everyone.
Treat Your Ears
Don’t torture yourself with a toddler tunes CD, I guarantee there are some songs that the whole family can agree on or you can make a fun mixed playlist or CD that alternates between everyone’s favorites. We’ve also really enjoyed books on tape – you can get some awesome childhood classics on tape and I find them really enjoyable to listen to, too.
Pack Activities – Don’t Rely on Screens
I’m not anti-screen, but they will only get kids so far. I prefer to start off with printable games, coloring books, mess-free crafts, etc, and then pop in a DVD or pass over the tablet once that’s had a good run.
For this road trip, I packed:
- pipe cleaners (make wands, tiaras, shapes, letters, etc)
- notebooks for drawing or writing
- coloring books and new sparkly crayon-markers
- a game of Old Maid
- new picture books
- an unbreakable mirror for making funny faces
- an old camera of mine for her to capture her favorite sights outside of the window
I also made this awesome Word Battleship Game (grab it at the bottom of this post) that is perfect for long car rides (just laminate it or stick it in a page protector to make it reusable), letting kids practice writing, understanding coordinates/graphing and taking turns – and I also put together a list of 20+ Printable Road Trip Games so you can have a stack of great activities that don’t take up a ton of room!
Clipboards or lap-desks are also great for giving kids a workspace in the car. I put all of our printable games, a notebook and some scrap paper in one side, then some crayons, stickers and pipe cleaners in the other side for an awesome “portable creator’s studio.”
We’ve also previously really liked having glow sticks, wikki stix, magnetic doodle pads, sensory bottles, magnetic paper dolls, magnetic blocks and other low-mess toys in the car.
For younger kids, finger puppets, mess-free craft activities, picture books and stickers are great. I also would wrap up cheap new toys or books for Ella to unwrap every hour or so for longer trips when she was a toddler and that bought me a lot of time.
I also made an ABC Road Trip Game that is great for preschool-aged children, so be sure to grab that, too!
Timers & Paper Chains
This is a fun “hack” that I did when we took my friends’ daughter on her first road trip. We made a paper chain with all of the activities that the kids could do during the car ride, and then set a timer on some of the more open-ended ones.
For example, for a 5 hour road trip, we planned on a 75 minute movie (and planned on showing the previews!), so our activity chain looked needed 225 minutes worth of activities. Activities can repeat as needed but they need to be done for at least a certain amount of time for the kids to get to “tear off” one of the chains.
So maybe I’m going to pick 8 activities, 4 of them are going to repeat, and there is a 20 minute minimum before they can tear off a chain.
It’s a great visual reminder for kids of how much longer the road trip will be – and you can even add in different colors to designate when breaks will happen and if there is going to be screen time or a movie.
See How the Road Trip Paper Chain Works here:
We also like playing fun games while driving like I Spy, 20 Questions, the Guessing Game, Story Starters (where you say a bit of a story and then the rest person does a bit), etc. I also love teaching my daughter nursery rhymes or new songs while driving – singing in rounds can be pretty fun on long car rides!
Pack Snacks, Drinks & Wipes
Snacks are essential to getting through a road trip, and I was really happy to partner with some of our favorite snacks to make this road trip smoother.
I try to do a mix of fresh fruit, special treats, fun (caffeine free) drinks and waters and I toss in a few frozen water bottles to serve as ice packs. One of my favorite things about road trips growing up were my dad’s mix tapes and that I was allowed to feel very grown-up with a soda – however, I’m packing caffeine free for my daughter!
I grabbed this awesome cup-holder TRIDENT Unwrapped Bottle in Cinnamon flavor from Walmart which is a nice treat for me and I don’t have to unwrap anything while driving, and we both love A&W® root beer. We tried these RITZ Crisp&Thins oven baked chips as an alternative to fried potato chips and they were really satisfying, especially paired with cheese and fruit!
I’ve done a few different things to make snacking a little tidier in the car but really, all you need are some zip-top bags and hand wipes and you should be good to go! A little plastic caddy or “snack tool box” are fun, but not essential. (The caddy is great if your kids don’t have their own cupholders in the back but our car has one for each seat and Ella’s carseat has it’s own, too.)
Pack the Emergency Kit
Ensure that you have a first aid kit, blankets, a first aid kit, jumper cables and back-up phone chargers (I like the ones with separate battery packs so if your car dies you can still reliably charge your phone).
Check that the oil and windshield wiper fluids have been topped up and your spare tire is in good condition. If you have roadside assistance, make sure the numbers are in the car and the policy is up to date. (And while you’re at it, make sure all of the paperwork for your car is there, too!)
Pin this collection of Tips & Road Trip Planning Printables for your next family road trip:
Please let me know if there is anything I’ve missed or if you have some awesome tips for not just surviving a road trip with your family – but enjoying it!
And don’t forget to grab our free road trip printables: