Road Trip Checklist! Tips for Making Family Car Trips Fun
From generation to generation, whether it’s like the ones in your family’s old station wagon or in today’s fully-equipped Suburban, one summertime tradition has stayed constant:
Are we there yet?
That phrase means it’s summer and American families are hitting the road, in full force. The family road trip, a vacation staple, has taken on new meaning after two years of the pandemic. According to a recent survey, more than 200 million Americans are planning to take a road trip this summer, and more than 25% of those travelers will go on journeys greater than 500 miles.
That means plenty of kids, sequestered in the back seat, will be pleading for information and stimulation about when they’ll finally arrive at grandma’s house, the beach or a theme park fantasyland. And “not yet” is not a satisfying answer for youngsters locked into squirm-preventing car seats or seatbelts.
But a long journey also presents opportunities to bond like never before. Remember the good old days when tablets, built in TVs or even the Walkman didn’t exist? We relied solely on each other, and we have the memories to prove it. Here are some ways to ensure the family road trip generates plenty of family fun.
Road Trip Snacks: Don’t Get Hangry!
Unless you’re trekking across the vast, snow-white, seemingly endless Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, you’ll likely find plenty of rest stops and restaurants to make pit stops. But if your journey is long, you’ll want to limit the number of roadside detours or your two-hour journey will turn into a day-long crawl.
You can limit pitstops by planning ahead and loading up on everyone’s favorite snacks. Let your kids be part of the selection process. That way they know there’s definitely something they’ll like on the way. And just because you’re out of your daily routine doesn’t mean that healthy eating flies out the window.
Load up on a variety of nutritious goodies (along with a few sweet treats, too) – with variety being the key word. Plenty of choices means fewer meltdowns when you run out of someone’s favorite.
According to Yummy Toddler Food, there are 50 snacks to consider to keep kids and parents happy from healthy to feel good. Now, the car is bound to get messy, but here are our suggestions on easily accessible, nutritious, and delicious road trip snacks. Remember to keep sleep-preventing sugary treats to a minimum.
- Snack bars like Dino Bars or Perfect Kid Bars
- Less-messy fresh fruit (like blueberries, clementines, bananas and dried apples)
- Cheese and crackers
- Juice boxes and bottled water (TIP: on the juice box try opening the top’s wings which gives hands more stability and less chance of spilling)
- Go-Gurt (if you have a cooler)
- Mini-sandwiches – make their favorite on regular bread and cut into four pieces for bite-sized satisfaction
- Individual bagged chips – that way everyone gets the same amount
For more kid involvement and to get them excited about the road trip, try packing all the tasty treats in personalized Bento Boxes – which is just a fancy word for lunchbox – so each kid has options. It’s wise to also bring a cooler or cooler bag to keep the unprocessed foods fresh and the drinks chilled.
And be sure to bring plenty of napkins and wipes, to keep hands free of stickiness. And don’t forget paper towels, too, because there will be spills -- whether you’ve got toddlers, teens or grown-ups in your crew. Soak up the spills with Scott® Paper Towels, which are extra absorbent to wipe away messes. Lastly, open a trash bag and tie to a seat so everyone can toss their trash away as the journey continues.
Road Trip Games: Old-school Activities to Keep the Family Entertained
Sure, iPhones and video games help pass the time. But isn’t the main purpose of a family road trip to do things together? While it’s OK to let everyone self-entertain, or nap, for part of the trip, take 15 minutes every hour to play a technology-free game from the good old days.
The only requirement: the game must involve actually looking out the windows. Your travelers may be delighted by what there is to see beyond their handheld screens.
A few favorites that will engage old and young alike are:
- A to Z – Older kids and adults will like this one. Each player has to travel from A to Z in order, by spotting words that begin with each letter on billboards, road signs, trucks, etc. Beware, many will get stuck on “Q” or “X” so feel free to skip certain letters, unless you’re schlepping through the New York borough of Queens or Xenia, Ohio.
- States or Countries – Choose a geographic category, like U.S. states or countries. The first player names one – like, for instance, “Mississippi” – and the next has to think of one in that category that begins with the last letter of that word – in this example, it could be “Indiana.”
- Rhyme Time – The first player looks out the window and shouts out the name of something they see (like “cow”). Then, each player must think of a word that rhymes with that word (“now,” “wow,” etc.) until someone is stumped. That person then picks a new word, from something they see along the road, and the game continues.
- Car Colors – Perfect for younger kids, shout out a car color (“green”) and the first one to see a car of that color, and to shout out the color, wins.
- Check out Great Wolf Lodge, which might be the destination, for more games to play in the car.
Now that you’ve figured out how to keep the troops entertained on a family road trip, it’s time to answer the most vexing question of all: Where shall we go?
Cool Road Trip Destinations
It’s a big country, with countless possibilities whether your journey is beginning in mountainous Maine or the suburbs of San Diego. There are some obvious destinations – hello, Disney World – but why not seek out some less-traveled spots that offer breathtaking scenery and/or amazing experiences?
Consider these top stops for your family road trip:
- Crater Lake, in Oregon. The deepest lake in the U.S. is also one of its most picturesque. Hike down to the lake from its rim, take a boat tour, and join in the fun with this national park’s Junior Ranger program.
- Everglades National Park, Florida. What kid wouldn’t want an up-close look – from a safe distance, of course – at crocodiles and other creepy creatures? The largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. offers plenty of safe adventures, including guided airboat tours and a 15-mile tram ride through mangrove forests.
- Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Its name is well deserved, as Mammoth is the longest system of caves in the world. There are a dozen different tours to choose from, including a 2-hour journey at night guided only by lanterns.
- Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, West Virginia. Step back in time with a trip aboard a steam-driven locomotive and take in breathtaking views of the Appalachian Mountains. The park offers biking, fishing and hiking, too.
- Enchanted Highway, North Dakota. On this 32-mile stretch of a state highway, you’ll encounter numerous giant-sized metal sculptures, including enormous grasshoppers, a gigantic farm family and a bevy of geese taking flight. Weird and majestic.
- If you decide to stay in any of those places for more time, we have some camping tips prepared for you.
Need some more ideas for family road trips? Try this blog and this blog for some fun options.
Where are you headed this summer? Do you have any tips for avoiding back-seat meltdowns on longer drives? Build on the ideas we’ve listed, or share your own, via social media channels. Remember to use the tag #KeepLifeRolling.
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