Family road trips are as much about the journey as the destination. Hitting the open road with your family creates memories that parents and kids will cherish. Here are practical suggestions to keep family road trips safe and as stress-free as possible.
Pick a Place
Break out the map apps (more on those later) to help you pick a place. Your family’s size, ages, and interests influence your destination. Also, the time of year and whether you’re traveling from warm weather to colder climates (or vice versa) play a role in your trip.
Places to consider:
- Boston, Massachusetts – Rich in American history, plenty of museums, sporting events, and culture
- St. Augustine, Florida – Miles of beaches, wildlife sanctuaries, quaint shops, and more in America’s oldest city
- Sedona, Arizona – Massive red rock formations and breathtaking vistas in the Southwest
- San Luis Obispo, California – Home to a 1700s Spanish mission and various attractions in what is nicknamed the happiest city in America
Use Apps to Plan Your Trip
Gone are the days of paper maps that you could never refold to their original size. There are tons of travel apps to help you plan every aspect of your trip, from finding hotels to locating the nearest urgent care clinic.
A few of our favorites:
- Roadtrippers lets you search for hotels, campgrounds, and restaurants. Most of the app’s destinations have reviews, so you know what to expect regarding safety, amenities, and cost.
- Google Maps is a tried-and-true travel planning app that includes reviews, driving directions, real-time traffic updates, and more.
- Download Waze for turn-by-turn directions, in various voice options, from standard Siri-like tones to your kid’s favorite cartoon character. The app also warns you about road hazards and traffic jams.
- The Lifesaver app helps drivers stay focused by disabling their cell phones when using GPS. Distracted driving is a leading cause of car crashes as more people use mobile devices while driving.
One of the joys of packing up the family car is that you’re in charge of the itinerary. Unlike air travel that sets the schedule for you, family road trips let you take a slower pace.
Give yourself plenty of time if your destination has a hard deadline (like a family reunion or a wedding). Otherwise, plan on driving no more than 300-350 miles per day if possible.
- Young children get antsy when they’re in a car too long.
- Safety is a factor, too – drivers are more likely to make mistakes or fall asleep at the wheel when they drive for hours without adequate breaks.
Take Time to Explore Along the Way
Before you begin your trip, make a list of the places that you’d like to stop and explore along the way. The time of year or season might influence your activities. For example, an autumn trip in New England should include plenty of stops to appreciate the changing leaves.
A slower travel pace interspersed with points of interest also ensures that everyone gets some exercise. Young children, in particular, need a chance to run around. Otherwise, you could be in for some cranky miles.
Make a list of what to bring for each family member, including infants traveling with you. Remember, the more you pack, the more you’ll have to unpack every time you stop for the night.
Consider these seven family road trip essentials:
- Some toys, books, and favorite sleeping stuffed animal for kids
- Electronics and their chargers
- Medicine to last the entire trip plus an extra day
- Separate containers for perishable versus dry food and snacks
- First aid kit stocked with bandages, topical antiseptic, pain relievers, sunscreen, and other necessaries
- Flashlight with fresh batteries
Get Your Car in Tip-Top Shape
Schedule a checkup for your vehicle before you leave (unless you’re handy with cars). You can minimize the risk for an accident or breakdown by taking these simple precautions:
- Check tires – including the spare tire – for adequate tread and tire pressure.
- Check and change the oil if needed.
- Check and fill engine coolant, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid.
- Check brake pads, brake lights, headlights, turn signals, and hazards.
- Check your wiper blades (don’t forget the rear window wiper if you have one).
Additionally, it’s a good idea to add jumper cables and a road flare in case you’re caught off guard with a dead battery or a flat tire.
Protect Your Home While You’re on the Road
Most people enjoy sharing their vacation photos on social media, but that can alert unsavory characters that you’re away from your home.
Consider keeping your profile private with limited access to trusted friends and family members only. You can also wait to post your pictures and videos until you’re back home. Home insurance and social media are also intertwined, as if your house is damaged or broken into, you may be on the hook for damages if your insurance company thinks your posting caused the break-in to occur.
Additional Tips to Keep Your Home Secure
Along with social media safety, here are more ways to make sure your homecoming is a safe and happy one:
- Consider a video doorbell security system that allows remote monitoring from your phone.
- Use a timer for exterior lights or use solar-powered lighting that automatically turns off during the day. You can use a timer for strategically placed interior lights as well.
- Contact the post office and delivery services to hold your mail and packages.
- Tell a trusted neighbor that you are away from home and keep an eye on your property.
- For extended trips, notify your local police department to see if they can perform extra patrols.
Strive to Be Stress-free
Whether you’re planning a long weekend or a month-long adventure, be sure to pack patience, kindness, and a sense of humor for a trip that is as safe and stress-free as possible. Parents should remember that kids need plenty of rest and playtime. Older kids and teens can help do their part by keeping an eye on their younger siblings. Follow the rules of the road and happy trails!