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10 Tips for Family Road Trips

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Are you taking a road trip this holiday season, or planning one for next summer? Contributing writer Margot Black has a lot of experience traveling with her family, and shares her ten tips for taking a family road trip. 

Bundling your family into a car and driving for hours on end probably sounds like your worst nightmare, not a fun vacation. It could be…but only if you use your smarts. The beauty of a family road trip is that you can be the master of your own destiny. Driving is easy and cheap in comparison to airline tickets and can give you a lovely sense of freedom. But not with the kids crying because they’re hungry, bored, or need the restroom, or because you haven’t packed a favorite toy/sweater/snack.

I recently enjoyed (not endured, please note) a four-day road trip around northern California with my husband and nine-year-old son. It was fabulous and joyful and I learned a lot. Bring on the adventure since you know you’re going to be in the car—and when you get out of the car try to insert as much physical activity as possible.

Here are my top ten family road trip travel tips for this holiday season.

1. If you’re making multiple stops during one road trip, take only one suitcase for all of you.

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I’m really not as OCD as this picture makes me look. My husband makes me do this.

It makes sense to drag only one case around and it also avoids clutter in the car. We used Eagle Rock Pack-it Cubes, which are colored travel packets. Each family member has their own color, which makes it easy to keep track everyone’s belongings in one suitcase.

2. Learn about your destination ahead of time.

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Learn to use a map early, it’s a very useful skill

Knowing where we were heading made us a more efficient unit. We traveled around Southern Humboldt County, Northern Humboldt County, Humboldt Bay, and Eureka. Task one family member with organizing the maps so you know what to do and in what order. If you can, plot a route ahead of time—you will also save money on fuel.

3. Allow every family member to plan half a day of activities.

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This tactic means that everyone is invested in the trip and the day ahead and no one feels left out. Our kid loves to tell us what we’re doing that morning or afternoon, and his suggestions are always a lot of fun. We lay out a few choice activities while in the planning stage and each family member claims one to research and lead.

4. Eat locally if you can.

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We try to splurge on a treat dinner at least once every trip and look for restaurants that serve delicious, seasonal food. That being said, if the uncertainty or constant change is too much for your kid, a Denny’s or IHOP can make them feel safer/better, so be open to that as well.

5. Plan for lots of stops.

My son opted to spend his snack money on some pumpkin juice, and promptly regretted that decision

My son opted to spend his snack money on some pumpkin juice, and promptly regretted that decision

We stop often and buy lots of snacks at different places. We have a snack budget and everyone gets to choose what they want to eat and what they want to share. Gas stations and rest stops can be the most fun. We always try a new jerky and my son loves Slurpees. Jerky and Slurpees…call me classy, but it’s fun.

6. Sleeping does happen in the back of the car, so bring a cozy blanket.

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But to reinvigorate the family, take breaks in local parks, playgrounds, and on beaches. Keep a jump rope, ball, Frisbee, and kite in the car. They’re all high-energy runaround pastimes, and are easy to replace and cheap to maintain.

7. For long journeys, or merely connecting trips between destinations, come prepared with games that your kids have never seen.

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Something new to unpack goes a long way on car ride. Or go for a round of something simple like Backseat Bingo. We also like to count car colors up to 100—yellow lasts the longest in my opinion.

8. Book a hotel with a pool.

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It will really help the activity level for kids and it’s a perfect way to unwind after sitting in traffic for so many hours. I’ve been known to join my kid at 50-60 degrees just to shake off the journey. Extra points for hot tubs. Oh, and a hotel with breakfast included is a family travel non-negotiable for us. Can’t start any adventure on an empty stomach.

9. Stock up books or CDs at the library—or download your favorites.

We had to stop for this treehouse carved out of a tree stump!

We had to stop for this treehouse carved out of a tree stump!

We love listening to stories. Our latest selections have included Harry Potter, The Ranger’s Apprentice, and the Percy Jackson series.

10. Embrace the absurd, the silly, and the ridiculous!

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 We drive to places that amuse us for different reasons; we have seen the largest Paul Bunyan statue, the largest potato chip, and have even driven through the world’s largest tree (it was an eight-minute destination but it was memorable). The bed and breakfast where we stayed during our last road trip turned out to also be a Pokemon Stop (who knew?) so our kid was thrilled. We’ve also visited some ridiculous local museums in our time and bought many silly mementos that we love. Who doesn’t want to dig into a box of Wild Bear droppings shaped like chocolate candy?

For more family-friendly travel tips and destinations from Margot Black, check out:

Text and Images by Margot Black for PeterGreenberg.com

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