How to Have Actual Fun on the Family Road Trip

By Meghan Khaitan, MyBuckleMate.com 

Pretty much every family takes a road trip by car with their kids during the holidays. And whether those kids are toddlers or teens, the actual trip itself can be a wonderful bonding and learning experience for the entire family. With a little forethought and preparation, you can sidestep the dreaded travel fiascos and keep everyone content through through those stretches of highway!

1. Make it a Fun History Lesson. Build some excitement around your trip by getting together as a family a couple of weeks beforehand to plan your road trip path with an old-school paper map. Talk to kids about the different cities and states you’ll be driving through. Then jump online together and do a little research on a few that look interesting. Learn about their history and pick some prime sightseeing destinations. This opens your trip into a journey of exploration—all the more inspiring if you give kids a disposable camera  they can later use to make a trip scrapbook.

2. Expect the Unexpected. Keeping a first-aid kit and tools for a flat tire in your car is a no-brainer, but also be sure to bring along items like a flashlight, garbage bags, paper towels, big pack of wet wipes, and cell phone car charger. If you have young children that are new to potty training, it’s a smart idea to also pack a portable plastic potty in case your little one can’t wait for the next rest stop. Kids also tend to rest better  with a few items from home, like a stuffed animal and blanket. You can also pick up an inexpensive travel pillow to make car-sleeping more comfortable.

3. Pack Healthy Snacks & Drinks. Truck stops, gas stations and fast food joints are okay in a pinch, but if you bring a cooler filled with your own healthy foods, you will save time and money on the road. Think granola bars, sandwiches, fruit and nuts, yogurt tubes, pretzels, cheese and crackers, baby carrots, packs of sliced apples, cereal bars, and any of the (non-sticky) foods your family usually likes to nosh on.

4. Create a Road Trip Adventure. Instead of just looking at the trip in terms of its end destination, make the whole trip an adventure. This will give the kids something to look forward to and break up the travel time. Take a family selfie in each city or state in front of a sign with its name or something it’s famous for. Also look for rest stops with playgrounds where kids that can burn off some pent-up energy.

5. Make Each Child a Travel Activity Kit. To help pass the time, buy inexpensive totes and pack them with things like new crayons, coloring books, story books, white boards, magnetic travel and card games, and other small games or toys, like Matchbox Cars and small dolls. Anything that's inexpensive and new to your kids is sure to please—both of you.

6. Check Out At Your Local Library. Before you embark,  head to your local library and check out DVDs, books on CD, and chapter book collections for your older reader. They’re free! You’ll have new movies to watch that your kids haven't seen yet, and when quiet time becomes mandatory for saving your sanity, put in a book on CD for the entire family to enjoy.

7. Don’t Forget the Electronics. If ever there was a perfect time to bust out the electronics, the  car trip is it. Load up iPads and Kindles with new apps, books, and movies, making sure you put different apps on each child’s device so they can swap with for more options. And whatever you do, don't forget the headphones! A few of my family-favorite apps: Waze (the superhero of navigation apps for parents), RoadsideAmerica (find the weird and wonderful across the U.S.), Tales2Go.com (the Netflix of audio books), MadLibs (old school road trip fun meets the digital age), and VisitedStates (kids can mark the states they’ve been to and upload photos they’ve taken).

8. Pack Classic Travel Games. Electronic games are fun, but don’t forget about the old school travel games to help fight boredom on the road: I Spy, 20 Questions, The Alphabet Game (work together as a family to find things along the road that start with each letter of the alphabet), Who Am I? (take turns trying to guess the famous person in history or pop culture), and the good old License Plate Game.

9. Pick Mile Marker Treats. If you’re okay with a little bribery, plot a few places on the map for the kids to get special surprise treats. Among other things, this will encourage them to learn to read a map. The treat can be something small, like sweets or a little something they can play with in the car. The only requirement to earning them is that kids be kind, get along with each other, and be patient for the trip. You might be handing out fewer of these than you'd feared!

10. Consider an Overnight Stay. If the trip is long enough, consider an overnight stay halfway through at an affordable hotel with a pool. If you book the stay right before you leave or on the way, you’ll find the best deals. 

Photograph by Nabeel Syed, via Unsplash