The 8 Biggest Must-Dos for a Successful Family Road Trip

(Because without the right plan, that dream trip to Yellowstone could turn into a nightmare fast.)

tips to a successful family road trip

A road trip for the family means loads of fun, new experiences, and creating memories they'll never forget. Or at least that's what you're hoping for. But everybody knows the second you leave the cul-de-sac, all your hopes go into a freefall. So let's help draw up the perfect gameplan for your trip—something you can get the whole family in on and stick to it. 

Here are a few must-dos to help keep your trip on the right path:

Must-Do #1: Pack for the Worst, Too.

Of course you have your toothbrush and your iPhone charger, but we're talking about packing for emergencies. What if your infant wets through their diaper? Do you have a spare handy? What about a towel? Some wet wipes. Or, what if your 6-year old gets a little case of motion sickness all over their favorite blanket? Gonna need to clean that up, for sure.

What about car emergencies, do you have a flashlight with juiced-up batteries to help you change a tire at night? How about snowboots in case you need to push yourself out of  snowbank? Always, always, always pack for the worst.

Must-Do #2: Set A Realistic ETA and Don't Expect to Break A Record.

Long hours in a car are tough for travelers of any age, but can seem doubly long for younger kids. Factor in your family’s tolerance as you plan your route. Build in some extra time for breaks, activities and sweet roadside attractions, meals, and unexpected delays. HINT: there are ALWAYS unexpected delays.

You can change up the routine by having kids (and parents) switch seats. Kids can switch sides and take turns leading on-the-road games and "Wheels on the Bus" sing-alongs or help choose the next stop. One parent can sit in the back and join in on activities. Make sure to rotate. Everybody needs a fresh start.

Must-Do #3: Plan Breaks to Streeeeeeeetch.

Getting off the highway even for a short stretch can open up your options for interesting scenery and fun activities. 

TIP: Check out the National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads website for some scenic and historic landscapes along the country’s expansive freeways. Or, visit state's Department of Tourism sites for cool petting zoos, local fairs, pick-it-yourself farms, and a whole bunch of other ways to enjoy active fun.

If you’re feeling adventurous, look for unique or odd opportunities: the world’s largest shoe, a dinosaur park, a kitschy putt-putt course, or an offbeat museum.

Here, check out this guide to the country's best roadside attractions in each state can get you started >

Must-Do #4: B.Y.O. Fun

For the long stretches of road between the stops, have a stockpile of in-car options at hand.

Pack a stash of toys and gear: a fidget spinner, new books, or washable markers and a fresh notebook to capture scenes from the road. And of course, the trusty iPad or tablet, prepped with a few educational videos – check out these Ted Talks for Kids and Family. Take some breaks from screen time with a few podcasts, like NPR’s family-friendly Wow in the World science series. You can also bring a few toys for active outdoor breaks at a rest stop, like a frisbee, beach ball, or bubbles.

Must-Do #5: Get Healthy Food on the Go

With a little research and planning, you can balance detour-worthy restaurants and local specialty splurges with healthier snacks and meals.

Stay stocked with car-friendly snacks: apples with peanut butter for dipping; carrots and hummus; trail mix; granola bars; single-serve juice boxes. An insulated lunch bag chilled with a half-bottle of frozen water or juice for each child keeps snacks fresh and helps avoid squabbles.

When pulling off for meals, use a restaurant review app like TripAdvisor to search for highly-rated places and eat like the locals. If your family prefers the tried-and-true family restaurant chains, many of these now offer healthy selections on the menu. If it needs to be a quick pit-stop, some counter-service restaurants are nearly as quick as fast food, with more choices and better nutrition.

To take advantage of fresh local foods, stop at a grocery store or market for picnic fixings. Then head for a nearby park or scenic overlook to eat together - and burn off some energy.

Must-Do#6: Better Know the Laws, Jack.

Whether it's driving laws or COVID-19 mask and safety guidelines, every state is doing something different. In one state, you may be required to use hands-free tech to make calls, and others you don't. So it's important to give yourself a little rundown on the local laws along your route. The last thing you want is a nasty ol' ticket for something you never even knew about. Especially when a little quick research could have avoided it in the first place.

Must-Do #7: Quick, Check Your Coverages!

Make sure your insurance is up-to-date and your coverage is looking good. If you don't know, call your independent insurance agent and tell them what you plan to do, they can help make sure you're all set. 

If you have roadside assistance through AAA or as a part of your insurance, make sure that's all set, too. Again, stuck in the middle of nowhere in an emergency without a tow can put a real big damper on the whole mood and really set you back. If you don't have roadside assistance, your agent can help you there, too. Whether it's adding it to your existing coverage or pointing you in the direction of a third-party provider, they'll help get you all set.

Must-Do #8: Now, Repeat. Make the Trip Home Just as Fun.

Even after a perfect trip, there’s still no place like home. Plus, the kids are probably a little cranky and worn down, so be cautious...

Make sure you allow plenty of time for the journey home to go smoothly and safely, without rushing. If your timing allows, return on a weekday instead of the weekend to miss some of the heavy traffic. That also gives your family some time to settle in before work, school, or other routines back kick in, and helps end your road trip on a high note.

Safe driving out there, and remember that your independent insurance agent can always help to make sure you're as prepared as possible.

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