If the idea of taking your family on a road trip makes you shudder in horror — or picture everything that could possibly go wrong — you’re not alone! Whether it’s one too many viewings of National Lampoon’s Vacation or unpleasant memories of your own clan’s not-so-grand Grand Canyon trip circa 1985, somehow “family road trip” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “all-inclusive tropical vacation,” “eight-day, seven-night luxury cruise,” or heck, even “Mom spending the night on her own in a hotel with room service and a jacuzzi tub.”
But admit it — as alluring as a child- (and maybe even husband-) free vacation sounds, you’d miss those little stinkers. And a family road trip is a fantastic, relatively inexpensive way to see the sights, experience some culinary diversity, and reconnect with one another away from the pressures of school, work, and home life.
Follow these simple-but-ingenious tips for making sure everyone has fun, and get ready to have the best family vacation ever.
Choose Your Destination Wisely (Or Ditch It Altogether)
While road trips epitomize that old cliché about how it’s the journey, not the destination, no self-respecting child will let themselves get excited about driving to Civil War battlefields or Aunt Doris’s retirement-community condo in Yuma.
Your trip will get a much better reception if there’s an alluring end in sight: a theme park, a sports stadium, an oceanfront vacation rental, or a town that smells like chocolate fudge.
However, that’s going to make the trip home — half your vacation! — something of an anticlimax. Instead, consider making a themed trip that’s organized around the weirdest roadside attractions, the best BBQ pits, historic ballparks, or regional hot dogs. Whatever your family is into!
Thanks to travel websites, and apps, this kind of road trip is super easy to plan. To prolong the fun and bring out your kids’ creativity, have them document your wanderings with a joint journal, photojournalistic blog, or YouTube video series.
Travel with All the Comforts of Home
You may remember endless miles spent squabbling in the way-back of a station wagon, or your Dad swearing up a storm as he wrestled with the pop-up camper. Avoid these hassles by taking to the American highways and byways, with a motorhome or travel trailer.
Perhaps the most obvious advantage of traveling this way is that by avoiding motel rooms, you’ll save a ton of money and steer clear of creepy-crawlies like bed bugs. Nothing will ruin a vacation faster than being infested with these opportunistic stowaways!
Giving everyone a little elbow room will also prevent tempers from getting frayed quite so quickly. And the amenities are a huge plus: imagine never having to frantically exit the interstate because somebody is about to pee their pants, even though they didn’t have to go when you stopped for gas 15 minutes ago.
A Good Sam extended warranty will give you and your spouse peace of mind, no matter where your (motor) home-away-from-home takes you.
Insist on Some Good Old-Fashioned Family Fun
Sure, everyone will want their phone, tablet, or laptop handy. Just like at home, however, be sure to institute rules around screen time. That will give you the opportunity to pass down cherished travel traditions like playing the license plate game, I Spy, 20 Questions, or road trip bingo.
Or get super-corny on your kids and have a family singalong. They’ll likely roll their eyes at first, but sooner or later everyone will join in. By insisting that everyone spend some time gazing out the window and chatting, rather than hunched down over their individual electronics, you will guarantee a memorable vacation for every member of the family.
Keep Some Surprises Up Your Sleeve
Savvy travelin’ moms know not to show their hand right out of the gate — or the garage, as it were. Keep a stash of surprises tucked away in a tote bag or plastic bin for when the natives really get restless. These could include: special edible treats like candy or homemade Lunchables, or some small toys, games, or puzzle books. Before you leave home, browse the aisles of the dollar store for such items so you can have plenty of fun offerings to pack, but without breaking the bank.
Or make up coupons for privileges like riding shotgun (if age appropriate), getting control of the aux cord, choosing a fast-food place for lunch, or being able to pick out a fun snack or drink at the next truck stop. You can hand these out as you see fit, let the kids draw one from a grab-bag, or use them for game prizes.
Hopefully, these road-trip tips have helped restore your sense of adventure, and maybe even inspired you to gather the family around and get out an atlas (or pull up Google maps!) to plan your next family vacation.
Did we forget any essential advice? Do you have a particular tradition or trick that never fails to keep your kids from getting bored while on the road? Share your thoughts in the comment section!