Welcome to the Ultimate Road Trip Guide for Families - Part 2!
We know that many families head out on the open road during the summer for some much deserved rest and relaxation. And we'd like to help make 'getting there' a fun and enjoyable experience for you! During the first part of our series, we discussed tips for packing for a road trip and why getting there can be half the fun.
Today, I'll share some great items that we love to have on our trips, car activities that keep the kids happy & entertained and a few more tips to help you have a great trip!
Must-Have Travel Tools
Every family has those 'must-have' items that they take on trips -- things that keep you organized along the way. Here's what we always have in our car before we head out:
Please note that some of the links included are affiliate links for your information & convenience.
Roadside Assistance Membership
Do you know how many flat tires we've had on our trips?
At least four that I can remember (in fact, we had two on one trip - that was one for the books!) And it's a running joke in my house that I'm on a first name basis with the AAA locksmith as I have this bad habit of locking the keys in the car.
Having a roadside membership usually means that if you have a problem with the car, run out of gas or need maps on the road, you'll have someone to call who can help you.
We really find this to be a HUGE value not only when we travel for vacation but also just on trips around town (my kids would love to tell you about the time I locked the keys in the car at the farmer's market on an August afternoon -- our favorite locksmith to the rescue once again :)
We began using travel buckets (and totes) on family trips a number of years ago and I can't recommend them enough! They're easy to make and the kids love to get creative with them on each trip. And they serve two purposes -- a place to corral all those wonderful souvenirs and treasures the kids accumulate during the trip & also a wonderful momento of your vacation.
Here are all the details for making your own travel buckets and totes for your next trip!
Snacks & Water
If you have kids, you know that you'll need snacks! Even if we are only in the car for an hour (just running errands around town), we bring snacks. Keeping the kids fed means less melt-downs when everyone gets hungry.
And just in case you get stuck in traffic or re-routed on your trip so dinner ends up being later than you planned (this has happened more than I care to remember), you'll have something with you to tide everyone over until your next meal.
Easy snacks include granola or cereal bars, fresh fruit, dry cereal, any item you can use for a snack mix (kids love to put these together in the car) and even things like fresh popcorn (pop it on the stove the night before and it stays fresh in a ziploc bag).
Updated (and I can't believe I forgot to put this in the first time!) Be sure everyone has their own refillable water bottle!
For me, a water bottle must have 3 things: a cover, a loop so you can hook it to your backpark or shorts and a nice grip. Oh, and if you're looking at a plastic water bottle, make sure it's BPA free (check the label).
Here's the one I use -- Thermos Nissan Intak Hydration Water Bottle and I've really loved it. It's thin enough that it doesn't feel bulky in my hands and still holds enough water.
My husband likes his insulated so his is the Polar Bottle Insulated Water Bottle which again has a loop and a nice grip area. We've also had stainless steel water bottles which I've heard are good but I'm not a fan of the taste (plus they can get really cold to carry as the metal will take on the temperature of the water).
For the kids, again a loop and a flip-up straw or cover are a must! Do you know how many times my kids drop their water on a hike? Like a bazillion! We would be out of water after the first 10 minutes if we didn't have a good, non-spill bottle :)
The Zak Designs Tritan Water Bottle (pictured in the Sophia the First model above) is nice because of the thinner center for a grip area and flip-up straw. They also come in a variety of colors and characters which might encourage kids to drink more water.
One option is the Nalgene Grip-N-Gulp Water Bottle for younger kids. It has a flip-up straw which is a great alternative if you can't fit a water bottle with a cover that the kids like or can hold.
Maps & Travel Books
Whether you choose to bring paper maps & books, program your Portable GPS Unit or download an app to your phone or iPad, I HIGHLY recommend having something to refer to for your trip. Honestly, I would suggest having both paper maps & a GPS unit or in-phone apps in the car. Batteries run down and apps can have incomplete information (especially in areas with newer routes or major construction) so having a paper map will make life a whole lot easier on the road.
On our last road trip to South Dakota, I totally forgot to grab the paper maps and travel book before we left. I was NOT happy.
We had such limited wifi service during the whole trip that a paper map would have really come in handy. In fact, it would have stopped my own melt-down when I was being re-routed through construction areas in Rapid City during a rainstorm (none of the apps were updated and my only co-pilot was my 8 year old)!
Visit your travel club before the trip for maps and books or find them at your local library. For apps, check out websites for the state & local visitors bureaus near your destination.
Emergency & Safety Kit
And of course, check to see that you have all the regular safety & car maintenance items with you -- jumper cables, extra water, a first aid kit, etc. If you don't have one, be sure to get one or put one together for your car. And if you have a new driver in the family, these kits also make a great gift idea!
Here's an all-inclusive one from the Automobile Association of America, the AAA Warrior Road Assistance Kit if you'd like to see what should be included in a maintenance & safety kit --
Items we LOVE for Car Trips
One of the fun parts of planning road trips with the kids is having fun in the car -- talking, playing car games, not minding that we are having finger-food without the proper utensils for meals ;)
We do allow the kids some electronics time for any trip that is longer than 3 hours. But honestly, here's what happens when they watch a movie --
Do your kids get that 'zombie' like stare?
This is why I'm really glad that we don't have a DVD player in the car and only use our Portable DVD Players on long trips.
I LOVE to have the kids look out the window and see what the world looks like! And I also really enjoy some of the conversations we have as we drive.
Since we set this expectation when they were young (limited electronics time), we've had a lot of years to explore different items and activities that have become 'car trip favorites'!
First and foremost, we LOVE having a travel tray/desk for the kids! It makes everything easier in the car.
They can use it for drawing, coloring, eating snacks, playing games, etc. It also helps to keep things in one spot so they're not rolling around the car!
Younger kids will like this Star Kids Snack and Play Travel Tray which can be used with a car seat and has side pockets. Once your kids are older, try the Storage Folding Lap Desk with inside storage areas. This type of tray will sit on their lap if they are in a booster seat or old enough to not need a car seat any longer.
Coloring & Activity Books
Our kids have always enjoyed having coloring books or activity books on the trip too. We try to look for fun new ones to bring each year - usually a travel activity book or a coloring book that also offers some fun activities (we've always had great luck with the Color Wonder items like the Crayola Color Wonder Travel Tote for younger kids.
As the kids get older, try the Everything Kids Series Books which offer games, puzzles, riddles and more all in a themed activity book - they have a travel version that's fun for the car!
We always bring along some travel-sized games on our trips. This is great for two reasons -- you can play them in the car and you also have games when you get to your destination (great to use after dinner or during afternoon naps for younger sibs!)
7 Uses for a Beach Blanket in the Car
As I promised in Part 1 of our Family Road Trip Guide, I wanted to share all the great ways you can use a beach blanket or large beach towel on vacation. It's really such a versitle travel item!
We have a fold-up version similar to this Outdoor Blanket with carry handles and I also like to bring along a large beach towel. Here's how we use them:
- Tablecloth for a dinner stop
- Outdoor seating when there are no chairs available
- As a blanket for the kids when they get cold in the air-conditioned car
- Folded up, as a pillow
- Tucked along the window to shield the sun (especially in the late afternoon)
- To dry off with after the kids find a sprinkler or other small body of water on one of our stops
- As a tent for the kids when they want to read with booklights on night trips
Fun in the Car
We all know that when you're traveling with kids, you are bound to hear two statments uttered from the back seat during the trip -- the first is "How far to the next bathroom!" and the second is "I'm bored, are we there yet?"
It seems that no matter how many great items the kids want to bring, they fly through them all in the first two hours of the trip. I know, it's the excitement and all -- but if you're only two hours into a ten hour drive, it's a good idea to have a few 'go-to' activities.
One thing we love to have with us are books to read -- but you can't pack too many when you're limited on space. So we've found some wonderful FREE online resources for books - if the kids want to listen to a story, here's a list of great websites that offer free read-aloud stories. And if they would rather read on their own, try these free online picture and chapter books for kids! These books can be read on your iPad, Kindle, portable computer and even your smart phone -- a quick way to to keep the kids happy & reading!
We also enjoy playing the License Plate Game and other 'out the window' travel games with the kids. Here's a free printable license plate map if you'd like to search for all 50 plates on your trip too!
I've also reached out to some amazing friends who frequently travel with their kids and have some awesome ideas for keeping kids happy & entertained on road trips!
Head over to the Traveling Praters to learn about 7 Ways to Occupy the Kids without Electronics. We love the connect with our kids on road trips too and I really like her idea for having the kids help navigate and creating a photo journal of the trip!
Our nature-loving friends at Go Explore Nature created this fun list of 8 Ways to Connect with Nature in the Car. What a great idea to bring nature into the car on your trip!
123 Homeschool 4 Me has some excellent car trip printables and tips on making your own Road Trip Fun folder!
And make sure to visit Happy Birthday Author for this really cool Car Trip Bingo printable -- I love that they include colors, car sizes and other things to look for when searching! There are four bingo boards included for free.
Play Dr Mom has some wonderful tips for creating a Car Trip Busy Box for the kids -- more than 15 ideas for items that will keep the kids busy for hours!
If you're looking for some specific car games, Housing a Forest has this free printable Road Trip Bingo and also a way to create your own travel timeline for the kids to help stave off the "are we there yet?" questions.
Mama Papa Bubba also has a nice list of quiet road trip activities for kids. These area great suggestions for older kids to use while their younger siblings are napping right next to them.
And for a HUGE list of ideas for travel activities, visit Fun-a-Day for more than 100 ideas for traveling with kids!
Trip Tips from Travel Saavy Parents
Besides keeping the kids entertained and fed, there are other things that come up along the trip. Weird sleep schedules, dealing with diet restrictions and how to keep everyone happy and healthy on the trip! Here's some wonderful advice from parents who have 'been there and done that' while travelling!
Make sure to read this great post on the Top 5 Healthy Travel Tips for Families from Visit Flyover Country! Adam is a seasoned traveling Dad and has some sage advice for keeping the family at their best on a trip.
And we've all heard the phrase 'music soothes the savage beast' -- not that our kids are beasts or anything, but music does help make the trip more fun. If you're looking for some new tunes for the kids, browse this great list of Sing-along CD's for Kids from JDaniel4's Mom.
For songs that will appeal to the whole family, check out this road trip playlist from The Pleasantest Thing (we love Sing-A-Longs & Lullabies for the Film Curious George by Jack Johnson).
And our last tip is from Nothing if not Intentional -- how to deal with sleep distruptions when traveling with young kids. Nothing can make a day less enjoyable than a sleep-deprived child so finding a routine that works while you on the road will keep everyone happy.
I hope we've helped you to get ready for your trip -- I love to hear travel stories and ideas so please do leave a comment about where you're headed and any travel tips you have for us!
You can also browse our Road Trip Fun Pinterest board for more than 50 additional ideas & activities for your trip.
Safe Travels Everyone!
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