Traveling by air can be prohibitively expensive, especially when you’ve got kids in tow. Road trips are cost-effective alternatives; getting through them gracefully is a whole other matter. If you’re planning on hitting the road as a family this summer, familiarize yourself with the following ten tips in order to have the most enjoyable, stress-free experience possible.
Start with a Clean Car
Nobody enjoys driving around in a car or minivan that is cluttered and messy. Before hitting the road, clean your car thoroughly. Go through all of its bins, cubbies and other storage areas and make sure they are empty; vacuum its floor and clean its interior surfaces so that they are dust-free and spotless. Finally, take your car to the car wash the night before you leave so that it’s sparkling clean the morning you head out.
Keep it Clean
All too often, families head out on road trips with neat, clean cars; within hours, though, those cars are cluttered and disorganized. In order to keep your car as neat as possible, stock it up with the right things. Strategically place one small garbage bag for each row of seating; as they fill up, dispose of them in rest area garbage cans. Use plastic tubs to contain your kids’ games, puzzles and coloring books; encourage them to put their things away when not in use. Make keeping the car clean a family affair.
Invest in Entertainment
If your car doesn’t already have a DVD player, think about investing in a portable one. If you have a laptop, set it up to be used for watching movies during the journey. It’s amazing what a difference a little entertainment can make on a long drive. Another great option is to buy small MP3 players for each kid; if they have video screens, they can be used for watching movies and TV shows as well.
Get Satellite Radio
One of the most annoying things about traveling by car is that you lose radio stations as you go, and have to search around for new ones along the way. Satellite radio eliminates this problem, and offers an vast array of genres to boot. From kid-friendly stations to up-to-the-minute news broadcasts, you can listen to just about anything you’d like with satellite radio. If you don't want to pay for XM, you can also create custom playlists on Pandora and Spotify.
Create Custom Trip Books
Road trips are great ways to broaden kids’ horizons. You can help bring the places you journey past and through to life for young travelers by creating custom trip books for each one. Each book could include a map of the planned route, along with interesting factoids and tidbits about the places you’ll be passing. Print out a few games and crossword puzzles to make them even more entertaining. Finally, include a few blank pages and encourage your kids to keep journals of their travels; share your stories each night at the hotel!
Stock Up on Snacks
Instead of buying snacks as you go, bring along a large cooler and stock up on healthy things that the kids will love. Stopping for the occasional treat is okay, but make it clear that you’ve got snacks on board in case anyone gets hungry or thirsty. Let your kids help you plan what to bring along, in order to be as democratic about it as possible. Don’t forget chewing gum, and think about bringing some candy for emergency situations.
Keep the Car Gassed Up
In an effort to stop as infrequently as possible, some drivers choose to avoid gassing up until their cars are at – or even below – empty. Nothing is more stressful than trying to find a gas station when your car’s running on fumes, though, so make it a point to keep it at a quarter- to a half-tank – minimum – at all times.
Take Plenty of Breaks
The ennui of sitting in a car for hours on end can get to anyone, but it’s especially stressful for kids. Make a point of stopping every couple of hours to let kids stretch their legs and get some fresh air.
Share the Drive
Keeping the kids happy is essential, but making sure the grownups are okay is important, too. Create a “trade-off” schedule before leaving so that each adult takes a fair number of turns driving. That way, everyone has a chance to kick back and relax from time to time during the trip.
While planning a route and sticking with it is great, don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path to explore places that pique your interest from time to time. Sometimes, it’s the hidden roadside gems that create the most lasting memories. Be flexible enough to stop and enjoy yourselves if the opportunity presents itself, and your road trip will go off without a hitch.