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How to Plan for a Fun-Filled Road Trip With Your Children

Family Vacation in a Car

The family road trip — a classic bonding experience feared by so many parents has become a comedy staple. Think “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and “RV.” However, it’s highly unlikely your own adventure will turn into a disaster of cinematic proportions. 

With the right mindset and preparations, you can create a fun family vacation you and your kids will enjoy. The planning stage is often the biggest hurdle for parents, so here are some pointers to help you get started on a kid-friendly road trip.

1.   Get the Kids Involved

Getting buy-in from your kids right off the bat is the key to a fun-filled and successful family road trip. As long as your children are old enough, they can help you decide the final destination and a few things they’d like to see on the way. The planning part of your adventure should be just as exciting as the vacation itself if you do it right. 

Put together a Pinterest board with possible stops and activities, all within your budget, and let everyone in the family take turns choosing something they’d like to do. Once you have a general idea of each person’s interests, you’ll be able to put together a game plan, book your lodgings and get any necessary tickets. 

2.   Stick to a Budget

One reason many parents opt for a road trip is to save money. However, these family vacations are only cheaper if you plan them that way. Between the last-minute amusement park tickets, the multiple stops for fast food, and the souvenirs your kids just had to have, you can go over budget quicker than your kids can ask, “Are we there yet?”

Save yourself some serious cash by booking your lodging and purchasing tickets in advance because you can usually get a discount. If you have room for a cooler in your vehicle, packing all your snacks and most of your food can also save you the cost of stopping at restaurants repeatedly. Instead, eat picnic lunches at your rest stops and get supplies at grocery stores. 

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3.   Pack Only What You Need

No matter the size of your vehicle, you’ll find a way of filling it. That’s just how the magic of packing seems to work. Do your best to reduce the amount you bring with you by creating packing lists ahead of time and sticking to them as closely as you can. Have each of your older children get their list approved by you, and help younger ones come up with theirs. 

Pack a smaller bag on the top of every family member’s suitcase with just the essentials, including toiletries, PJs, and a fresh outfit, for those one-night stops along the way. That way, you won’t have to completely unpack and repack the car each time. 

4.   Bring Plenty of Entertainment

One thing you don’t want to leave at home on a road trip with your children is plenty of entertainment. What you bring will depend largely on their age. Regardless, you’ll want to leave precious room for it to save your sanity later. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the way you interact with your children has a strong impact on their behavioral, emotional, social, and academic development. Showing interest in the entertainment they like — be it their favorite TikTok singer or lego set — shoes you accept and care about them uniquely as they are. 

When you’re limited on space, give each child the same size container, like a backpack or small tub — their toys or special items must fit in those confines. In addition, you could consider making a binder with printed car games and road trip activities for kids. Include any schoolwork they might be missing while you’re gone or didn’t finish before you left for the trip. 

5.   Make the Most of Bathroom Breaks

The main reason family road trips go awry is the feeling of being trapped or stuck in the car for too long with the same people, with everyone getting frustrated. Avoid this situation by planning regular rest stops to use the bathroom and stretch your legs. 

Use the stops to their fullest potential. You can choose state parks or other beautiful locations when you plan ahead. Spend 15 minutes playing a game of Frisbee or check out a hiking path. These stops also make the ideal setting for a picnic with the food you packed in the cooler. 

6.   Get Your Car in Tip-Top Shape

You will spend a lot of time in your car during this vacation. Put in some elbow grease now to save yourself headaches down the road. First, empty everything out of your vehicle and give it a thorough cleaning. Ensure everything you put back in is things you really need. This blank slate will help you start your trip in a better mood and give you more room to pack. 

You should also make sure your car’s inspection is recent, the oil is changed and your brakes are functioning properly. The last thing you want to do is get started on your trip only to end up on the side of the road a few hours later with car trouble. One alternative is to rent a vehicle for the journey to avoid putting additional miles on your own.

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7.   Plan Your Lodging Ahead

A bit of spontaneity is part of the road trip fun, but you should have a general idea of where you want to end up each night. Remember, you can save money by booking in advance. 

Also, you don’t want to run the risk of pulling into town on the night of a big event to find there’s no room anywhere, and you have to keep going. At the very least, reserve a place to stay the night before or that morning. By then, you should have a good idea of where you’ll end up, especially when you’re on a road trip with your children instead of other adults. 

8.   Create a Family Playlist

Nothing spells a road trip like a fresh playlist. Avoid complaints by getting the whole family involved. Let everyone pick a list of songs they’d like to include. Choose plenty since you’ll be in the car for a long time. Once you start on your way, hit shuffle and be done with it. 

Older kids and teens may enjoy the chance to serve as DJ for a while. In that case, give everyone a certain amount of time to be in charge of the music, picking whatever they want to listen to, within reason. At the end of their turn, they pass control to the next person. 

Forge Lasting Memories

You don’t need to fear taking a road trip with your children. All you need is a good balance of structure and spontaneity, so plan for what you can and handle the rest as it comes. These preparatory steps will set you well on your way to having a memorable vacation together.

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