Perhaps it was that one trip you took with your kids that helped you decide NEVER to take a family vacation again. Or someone’s bright idea to let your mother ride shotgun; being subjected to a rundown of everything wrong with your life choices is never a good time. Maybe the fact that your teenager never once looked up to notice other living souls in the car struck a nerve. Whatever the issue, if you’ve ever been trapped in the car with your children/ siblings/ adult children/ mother-in-law on a good old-fashioned family road trip, congratulations on surviving!
Whether its a 4 hour drive or a 24 hour drive there are a few things that always help. We’ll break it down to 10 tips so neither you nor your relatives go insane, get committed or begin a lifelong feud before reaching your next destination.
Leave Extra Late or Extra Early
Leaving less time for people to be awake and more time for quiet sleeping in the car may seem like a sell out move but you have to work with what you got and this is one of the best ways to cut down on travel time. Just make sure that whoever the drive is has had plenty of sleep or is a natural morning or night person.
If you’re the driver, make sure to grab some coffee or tea. No sense playing the hero- when in real life you just need some caffeine to get you through that first or last hour of the drive. As the driver no one will begrudge you if you stop at three Starbucks along the way.
Forget some things
Tell the fam you have a tiny trunk and everyone needs to pack less. As strange as this one may seem hear me out. As with most of our travels, holidays, parties, etc… (anything that involves other people) we often over compensate and take care of everything ahead of time. Why? So we have extra time with our guests or family.
The same goes for packing. We take everything we need. Every. Thing. This takes away from all those fun things about traveling. Running to the corner store in a small remote village in Montana because you need toothpaste, visiting a boutique wine shop in Cape Charles because you forgot the wine. Hunting down a farmers market in Asheville to make the guac you know will make the whole mood more fun.
There is nothing worse than everyone having everything they need when you arrive at your picture perfect airbnb rental and then being forced to sit around with each other some more. Encourage adventure and plan on just buying those extra things you need when you get there that way everyone can get out and explore. If you’re in the U.S. we can guarantee there will be a store somewhere.
Audiobook, Trip Cd or Pandora?
Face it, you may not actually be able to woo your teen or husband from their phone or keep your relatives comments about your home/job/boyfriend at bay BUT you may be able to invoke some happy memories with this trick. Whether it’s a cozy mystery audiobook or a compilation of Disney songs ( always our favorite road trip music) on cd or Pandora you’re sure to appease at least some of the people in the car. Know the only way this actually works is if you play to the majority of the people in your car. If you’re hoping to finally connect with your 14 year old son obsessed with his phone via a road trip soundtrack or book you may be disappointed.
Bring Protein snacks only
I promise this isn’t some push for healthy snacks or a ride on the quit sugar soapbox. Protein keeps hunger at bay. Sugar is a depressant. Protein takes longer to digest so you’re calmer, longer. Sugar digests very fast and causes mood swings- not great for confined spaces like cars. Protein snacks tend to be smaller. You don’t have to make this difficult or shop at some fancy store. After taking stock of what your family/road trip buddies will and will not eat, consider the following options- all are portable and many can be packed in plastic baggies or stored in a small cooler.
String Cheese/ Cheese Cubes
Hard boiled eggs (unshelled)
Master Toll Roads and Gas Stations
If you are traveling across states with toll roads and are so fortunate to live in a state with EZ Pass available by all means go get one BEFORE your trip. The EZ Pass itself will sometimes take a whole day to activate and register that the money is available so “grabbing it along the way” should NOT be an option here. Having one will allow you to drive right through the toll stations as opposed to stopping and digging around for change or filching it from your 6 year old goddaughter in the back seat.
Melanie and I have a few tricks for getting the cheapest fuel possible. They usually involve grocery/gas station chains, gift cards, apps and earning points with one or two specific fuel providers. 1. Do a quick search on your map app and see which gas stations are most prominent on your route. 2. If the gas station is linked to a grocery store you may be able to earn points and free gas just by grocery shopping! If its not linked to a grocery chain they probably still have a rewards program; sign up for it and make a point to stop at those gas stations.
Bring Blankets, Pillows or Neck Pillows
Don’t overdo this one but everyone feels better with a cushy pillow or blanket. This is a mood enhancing trick more than a functional need.
Play A Game
This will need to be a game of questions/answers and not game boards or small pieces. We like any kind of trivia, 20 questions, guessing movie quotes or song lyrics and I Spy.
Be Prepared for Bathroom Stops
No sense getting annoyed over something you can’t control. Let everyone in the car know that its ok to take bathroom breaks. If it’s a longer trip or your traveling with young children or older parents you will have to build in extra time for the stops. Get ok with it.
Be OK with having to stop at a hotel or place to eat
Another thing that can often ruin the well-planned road trip is unrealistic expectations. This puts everyone on edge. Sure, you put it in your map app and it was only supposed to be 13 hours.. so how is it that you’ve been the car for 16 hours and you’re still 2 hours away! Face it, you can’t control traffic, car accidents, construction, weather or a slew of other things that will ” ruin” your trip.
Enjoy the journey and be ready to do so.
Instead of handing out the fast food dinner and requiring people to balance their tacos and rice on their lap, succumb to the call of a sit down restaurant. Mind you this doesn’t have to be a long stop. Most sit down restaurants can get you in and out in an hour. You can be in and out of Chipotle or Piadas even sooner. Either way, everyone will thank you for the chance to get out of the car, wash up, eat something and regroup.
Make sure you’re part of at least one hotel loyalty program for any late night “I can’t drive anymore and we all need to sleep” rants. Many hotels will not take new guests after 2 or 3 am but being a part of a loyalty program may get you special treatment if you’re in a bind. This will also help make your last minute hotel stay more affordable. Holiday Inn (IHG rewards), Marriott, and Hilton are stationed at many highway exits and your best bet for finding something last minute. You could also catch them all with the Hotels.com rewards program. Know that all these hotels have apps and you can book from your phone- making sure a room is available prior to getting off the highway.
Download this Road Trip Checklist