A road trip means fun, new experiences and creating memories. As you plan your route, there are lots of ways to break up the journey and amp up the fun. Adding in an extra hour here or there lets you see places and do things you’d never even glimpse from the highway. Add some healthy activity and food choices and you’re set for a great time during the ride, and at your destination.
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 extra time for breaks, activities and attractions, meals, and 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 or helping choose the next stop. One parent can sit in the back and join in on activities.
Getting off the highway for even a short stretch can open up your options for interesting scenery and fun activities.
Check out the National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads website, which offers up scenic and historic landscapes along the country’s expansive freeways. Or, visit Department of Tourism sites for the state(s) you’re traveling through for petting zoos, local fairs, pick-it-yourself farms, and many 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.
For the 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 this playlist of video options from 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.
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.
Even after a fantastic trip, there’s still no place like home. Allow enough 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.