We love taking road trips. Correction, my husband loves taking road trips and we often do so out of necessity because it is much more economical than flying with four kids.
We also have become pretty good at packing because we’ve learned that we don’t do well without lists. We can plan the ultimate road trip yet get sidetracked by having to stop and stock up on items we’ve forgotten.
Once we started making lists and writing even the smallest details down, we stopped feeling so stressed about packing and were able to just focus on getting everything and everyone ready to have some fun!
Plan The Ultimate Road Trip
I’ve written about planning for road trips before (tips here), both with or without kids, and I’ve talked about making sure the kids are all packed and ready to go. I’ve discussed road trip apps and keeping the kids entertained on a long trip.
What I haven’t talked about before are the necessities we, as parents need. That’s how it always goes, isn’t it? We always worry about the kids before thinking about our own needs?
My piece of advice if you are going to plan the ultimate road trip for your family, or even just for you and your spouse, is to make sure you are taken care of first. If you are not taken care of you’ll be stressed, and that will bleed into everything you do making it less fun for you and probably everyone else as well. Take care of you!
Have a Loose Plan
I understand that you may want a little spontaneity and simply go where the open road takes you, but trust me, after driving all day while taking in sight after sight you are going to want to know where you will be crashing your head.
One trip with a screaming 2yr old long past her bedtime confirmed the fact that searching for hotels before the next exit comes up is not the best idea in the world.
TIP 1: It is a good idea to have an idea of where you want to be at the end of the day so you can keep track of when you need to stop sight-seeing and start hitting the road.
On the other hand, don’t over-plan. Delays are probably going to happen so if you plan to be at a certain location at a certain time, it is almost inevitable you will be delayed.
This happened to us on a recent trip to Florida. We were going to make a pit-stop at a National Park in Kentucky and take in a cave tour, the only problem was that we had to be there at an exact time or we’d miss the tour.
Due to a few delays here and there we did end up getting there about five minutes late and missed the tour because they don’t wait around for you! We did still get to walk down to the entrance of the cave but didn’t get to go in. Bummer. 🙁
Take Scenic Byways
Why are you on a road trip but to see the sights and experience this amazing country?
Tip 2: Get off the interstate and take some back roads, or let the kids use a roadmap (non-GPS variety) and try their hand at navigating. Not only could this be a fun family activity, but it can also give your kids some valuable life skills about navigation or you could even stumble upon a hidden gem along the way!
Do be sure to have a plan to get back to the main road should the need arise. It can sometimes be difficult to find things to do, or places to sleep after you’ve been winding around lonely country roads for a few hours.
Have Things For The Kids To Do
Sometimes everyone just needs a little down time, especially on a really long road trip.
Tip 3: Have activities, games, or even electronics that can keep the kids occupied when things start to become a little too mundane. Check out my ‘Entertaining Kids On A Road Trip‘ post for some fun ideas!
Don’t Leave Home Without It
Some of these things may be more about preference or may depend on where you are traveling to, but there are definitely items on any traveler’s list that you want to be sure to have at your disposal.
Tip 4: Have a list of items you need. Here is what’s on my list:
Car Care Items — There really is nothing worse than being hundreds of miles from home and finding out you have a dead battery or a flat tire. Be sure your car is stocked with the basic repair items like jumper cables, a spare tire, and flashlights.
Self Care Items — As I mentioned previously, make sure you are taken care of on the trip. You’ll feel less stressed and so will everyone else. My personal must-have items are some moisturizer, dental care, and comfortable shoes.
Comfy shoes are a must for me because you never know when you’ll be taking the kids hiking, which we do often, or heading on some roller coasters — since we are a family of thrill junkies and our road trips usually come with a stop or two at a theme park!
Travel Blankets & Pillows – I’m often much colder in the vehicle than anyone else, so a nice thin blanket is just the trick. Plus it comes in handy should we find ourselves in a precarious sleeping arrangement at any point in time.
A Great Camera – Who goes on a trip without taking pictures? Take pictures that your friends will be jealous of by using an amazing camera. I have a Canon 80D DSLR, but you don’t even have to go that fancy – an inexpensive DSLR has an auto function that works well even for the most novice of photographers.
Some Good Walking Shoes – It’s worth repeating. While I may want some cute shoes for a night out, shoes I can walk, run, and hike in are a must. If I’m exploring, I’m not wearing something fancy pancy – I need sturdy shoes!
A Good Cooler – We typically pack a cooler full of snacks and pre-made food to keep us adventuring longer without having to find a place to stop for food. Stocking up for a road trip is easy when we head to Sam’s Club. We can buy items in bulk to save. Simply restock when you run low at the next gas station or grocery store you come to.
Water Bottles – A good Nalgene water bottle is your best friend. You do not want a bunch of empty plastic water bottles littering up your vehicle, plus that can get expensive on a long trip. Grab a good refillable water bottle and you may be surprised — water is free pretty much everywhere you go!
A Book or Two – While keeping your traveling companions occupied in conversation is great, especially the driver, there may be times when there isn’t much to say on a long road trip. Bring along a book that you’ve always wanted to read and use that downtime to get lost in imagination before you get lost on those back roads.
BONUS – Free Road Trip Essentials Checklist
This list comes with a few standard items already ready for you to pack and mark off your list. There is also room to add your own items as needed and a fun Road Trip Bucket List idea starter as well!
You can download for free HERE or click on the image to download and print.
Thanks to Sunset Mitsubishi for helping with this awesome list!
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