Heading on a road trip? Be sure the car & the family are ready with this free printable checklist and tips on what to do before a long car trip!
This week's one of those quiet times -- not too much on the calendar.
But I know it won't last long --
We're waiting to hear about college acceptances, looking into a few new attractions and counting the days until Spring Break (less than a month away for us!) which means things are going to pick up quickly!
And I can smell an AWESOME family road trip somewhere in the near future.
Ahh ... I love the thought of exploring someplace new with the kids!
When it comes to taking a car trip , I'm one of those "need to plan ahead" type of people. I don't like to get on the road and worry about whether we might have any car problems or worse yet, run out of snacks before we reach our destination (heavens no!! the kids might not last until the next stop ;)
Having what we need, taking care of car maintenance and turning the car into a 'home on wheels' makes the trip so much less stressful.
So today I'm sharing the checklist we use before heading out on our trips, whether it's a day trip or cross-country vacation -- PLUS you'll find affiliate links to some of our favorite items & a FREE printable list to help you prepare for your next road trip!
10 Things to Do before Your Next Road Trip
Goodness knows that we've had our share of mishaps on family road trips -- two flat tires in the SAME vacation, being in the middle of nowhere without cell service or GPS and running into bad weather which meant a longer time on the road (and without enough food :(
Travel Tip: Be sure to get the kids involved in as many of these as possible.
Remember, it's a FAMILY road trip so everyone should pitch in to help get ready. Try these 12 Ways Kids can Help with Trip Planning & Travel Prep.
And it's a great life skill for them to learn because one day soon, they will have their own car and should know how to take care of it.
Clean Out the (Messy) Car!
This HAS to be first on the list if you have kids -- I mean, how does all that stuff get into the car in the first place?! One of the perfect places to enlist help too :)
And I mean everything that you won't need should come out -- that extra umbrella, the reusable grocery bags you keep in the back, etc.
Open the trunk and see what's been sitting back there -- for me, it was 3 bags of donation items that should have been dropped off last week *but it rained that day so I told myself I would go on the next better weather day and then forgot about it ... sound familiar (please tell me it does!)
Then make a note to get a Trunk Organizer before the trip ;)
Get the Car Washed
Once you have the inside all cleaned out, be sure to take a swing through the car wash so the outside looks nice too. Another place the kids might want to help ;)
Make Car Maintenance a Priority
Now that you've taken care of the 'outside' of the car, it's super important to be sure the INSIDES are all running well.
We went to the Auto Care Center at Walmart to get out oil changed because it's so awesomely convenient to be able to take care of car maintenance while also getting some of the items you need for the trip -- they call it their #DropShopAndOil.
I also love that the Auto Care Center tops off my fluids, checks my tires (one was very low, vacuums the inside of the car and also checks the battery -- and overall car check-up brings piece of mind :) Be sure to tuck any items (like extra oil or wiper fluid) into your Trunk Organizer in case you need it on the road!
Snacks, Personal Items and more Snacks!
We always make sure to stock up on some of our favorite snacks.
I can not say enough how important it is to pack extra food -- hungry kids do not make for happy travelers ;)
I love to have the kids help choose some of their favorites -- and honestly, this is where I LOVE my Amazon Prime membership! We can shop from home, choose things like cereal bars , protein bars, breakfast bars (they make a healthy mid-morning snack), the prices are great! And I have a box on our doorstep with snacks for the trip!
Because I do enough running around trying to get ready for our trips so that free 2-day shipping feature is kinda awesome!
Special offer for our Readers: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial
Plus we pack lots of fruit in our Igloo Cooler -- eating healthy on the road means stopping for a treat when we get there.
We also enjoy mixing up a healthy snack mix (fruit, nuts) or bringing popcorn (we pop our own at home) and a few juice boxes in addition to our water bottles.
Can I tell you about the time that I said "Oh, there's too much to do before we leave. I'll just update the apps we need on the road" -- it was on our trip to a theme park in Ohio.
When you're driving, you don't always have the best or strongest wifi signal :(
So I wasn't able to download any new apps which was a bummer because they had a great park app we wanted to look at before we arrived.
Lesson learned: Download the apps BEFORE the trip!
Related Post: 10 Terrific Road Trip Movies for Kids
Update the GPS Maps & Grab Chargers
In addition to downloading any apps, it's also a good idea to update the GPS maps & software and charge all your electronics before heading out.
If you have a GPS + kids with cell phones (or iPads or anything else that requires charging), this 3-Port USB Car Charger is so nice to have with you! We can plug in three cell phones and still have the GPS plugged into the second outlet in the car -- so convenient!
And don't forget to grab those plug-in chargers before you head out on the trip.
Prep for the Unexpected
You never want to think about something going wrong but just in case, it's a good idea to check your Emergency Bag to be sure you have what you need in case of any problems.
You do have an Emergency Road Kit in the car, right?
My Dad gave me a kit for Christmas one year when I was doing a lot of driving on my own (he's thoughtful that way :)
A few other MUST-HAVE items for the car include:
• windshield wiper fluid -- plus Ice-Off Windshield Spray De-Icer is great to have for winter travel,
• a gallon of water (in case the car overheats)
• an extra bottle of oil and
• a warm blanket.
I like to do this the night before we leave -- it helps me to sleep better knowing that the car is ready to go (prepared ... obsessive ... it's one of those things ;)
Try to have the most important items (snacks, maps, wipes) within arms reach of someone so they are easy to get to when you need them. I love that area between the front seats of our van :)
If you don't have room between your seats, try one of these handy Seat Back Organizers!
Or if you're looking for something to help corral the kids' clutter, I LOVE this Food'n Fun Car Organizer, Cooler & Play Station which not only holds snacks but also gives the kids a flat surface they can use!
For more tips & hacks, see our 27 Travel Tips for Your Next Car Trip post too!
Pull Together a Packing List
Everyone should make a list of items to bring on the trip -- things like magazines, books, DVDs if you're going to watch any, a sweatshirt in case it gets too cold in the car, etc.
See our free Trip Planning & Packing list as an example.
This should include medications or any personal items that you might need if you'll be gone for a full day or longer.
Wondering how to fit everything in?
Read about our 3-step Packing strategy on how to organize all the items you'll bring on the trip! It really helps so you're not digging through bags every time you need to stop!
Assign Personal Space & Responsibilities
And we like to minimize disagreements and the whole 'I don't have enough room' type of thing. So we have the kids each pack what they need in a backpack -- if it fits, you can take it. If you don't have room, than you have too much stuff :)
Having a limit on what they bring means less 'stuff' traveling to other areas of the car. While we use DVD players for long trips (more than 5 hours of drive time), we also encourage them to bring open-ended items such as:
• Travel Journals (you can print some free Travel Journal pages for kids here)
• Their favorite books!
• Art/coloring activities that can be used multiple times like the Crayola Dry Erase Activity Center Travel
• Fun road trip activities (see our favorites with more free printable activities for your next car trip!)
The general goal is each "seat area" becomes your 'home' for the trip. This also helps me to quickly check to see who needs to pick up their items and where to position things like the cooler (which we always put in arms reach of the oldest kid since they are the ones to help pass out food during the trip).
Travel Tip: Assign the kids 'jobs' for the trip (great life skills here)! For example, things like taking out the trash at rest stops, passing out snacks, refilling water bottles and keeping their 'personal area' picked up.
And here's a free version of our "Prep for an Awesome Family Road Trip " list for you to print!
I hope it helps you to get ready for stress-free and fun travel.
Here are a few other Family Travel posts you might enjoy:
Vacation Craft: Souvenir Travel Buckets
How do you get the car (and the kids!) ready for a family road trip?