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Although we typically talk about air travel on this blog, some of my best memories are of road tripping with friends. Now that I’m a mom, I want to keep the tradition alive by road tripping with my kiddos.

Every year our family travels across the country to visit my in-laws’ at their farm. So when COVID hit and flying wasn’t the safest option, we decided to pack up our vehicle, our small truck camper, and our two little ones to go on a cross country road trip.  With our small truck camper we were a completely contained unit. We had no reason to stop for anything other than filling up at the gas station.

Four days later, we arrived at the farm, a little tired but also saddled with tons of new and wonderful family memories. We have now done this same trip three times and feel we are beginning to perfect our road tripping strategy. Here’s our tips for how to plan and prepare for the perfect family road trip.   

How to Plan a Perfect Family Road Trip 

When you are thinking about a trip across the country, or only a few hours away, the first step to a successful road trip is coming up with a plan. Here’s a list of things you should consider when building your road trip blueprint. 

Choose a destination

Where do you want to go? What is your final destination on your road trip journey? Are you feeling beach road trips vibes or are the mountains calling you? After years of being cooped up in our homes taking virtual vacations instead of real ones, now is the time to get on the open road. So, ask yourself, where do I want to go? Is there something on your bucket list that you’ve been dying to see? Or perhaps your road trip decision is based on a special someone that you haven’t seen in awhile.  Your destination is important because it will dictate how far you go, how much stuff you need to bring, and how much your road trip will cost. 

Create a budget

Once you know where you’re going, you can start to budget for the trip. One day of travel in the car will obviously require less planning and less money than a four day trek. Things to consider when you’re making your budget include: 

  • Accommodation: are you going to stay at a hotel, motel, friends house, or camp?
  • Food: are you going to pre-pack meals and snacks or stop at restaurants?
  • Fuel: based on the distance of your trip you can do a quick calculation for how much you will need to set aside for fuel.
  • Activities: Is there any attraction or activity that you want to stop and do along the way? What about when you get to your destination? 
  • Emergency fund: We always like to have some money put aside in a road trip emergency fund because you just never know what’s going to happen. A flat tire, a mechanical issue, or an extra activity that you didn’t budget for.  

What to Bring on a Family Road Trip 

Now that you know where you’re going and how you’re going to pay for it, you can start to think about what you need to bring. Packing for a road trip with kids is a totally different experience than packing for yourself. You just need so much stuff. Every time we head out on a road trip I feel like we are moving out of our house! Here’s a packing list of the road trip essentials you will need.

Food

In my opinion, one of the best parts of a road trip is the food. We plan for all of our meals and snacks and prepare as much as we can before we leave. Because we have a truck camper, we are able to store food in the fridge and the trailer cupboards. If you don’t have a trailer, you will need to be sure to save room for a couple of coolers (depending on how far you plan to go). Every morning we pack a small cooler or a fridge bag in the vehicle with healthy snacks, lunch, and water bottles. This way you don’t even have to stop when the kids get hungry. You can just pass them a snack. 

Cooking

If you plan to camp on your road trip you will also need to bring any essential cookware. Pots, pans, food storage, tinfoil, and utensils. Anything you need to prepare and clean up after your meals. The more prep you can do before you get on the road, the better. Also, don’t forget about bringing garbage bags and plastic bags for cleaning up in the car and at your campsite. 

If you will be stopping in hotels, consider the things you will need for hotel room cooking

Clothing

If you’re traveling with kids, you can guarantee there will be messes (spilled food or drinks) or accidents. So, pack extra road trip outfits. Also, if you plan to stop along the way don’t forget to pack for the weather. If it’s going to be hot and sunny bring sunglasses and sunhats and if it’s going to be wet or windy bring raincoats and boots. If you are braving a winter road trip, then hats, scarves, winter coats, snow pants, and boots are necessary. You never know what will happen if and if your car breaks down, you need to make sure you have the clothes to stay warm.

family road trips take preparation

Activities

Kids get bored in the car, so bring lots of things to do. Activity books, reading books, stuffed animals, toys, music. Whatever will help to pass the time and stave off boredom. You can also plan to pack a ball, frisbee, or some sort of active outdoor toy that can be used when you stop to take a quick stretch break. 

Extras

I can not stress the importance of bringing wet wipes or baby wipes in the car. You will be truly shocked how many things you will use them for. From cleaning up spills to wiping dirty hands and faces. I never forget to pack the wipes. And don’t forget blankets and pillows. They can help make things more comfy for your kiddos to take a nap and can also be used for fort making! 

What to Wear on a Road Trip

A road trip is not a fashion show so forego the fancy clothes and stick to something comfortable. If we plan to leave super early in the morning, we let the kids stay in their pajamas. It makes the transfer from bed to car much easier. My husband keeps it comfy with a pair of sweats and I usually opt for some leggings. It can also be a good idea to dress in layers like a light sweater over a T-shirt. This way if someone is hot and needs the A/C on and another passenger is cold, you can just throw on or take off a layer. 

Comfy footwear is also a must. A good pair of sneakers or slip on shoes are a great choice. If you plan to stop and walk or hike, you might want to avoid flip flops or sandals as they don’t provide as much support. 

A good tip is to pack a small diaper bag or handbag with some extra clothing options so you can change your kids out of their PJ’s when the time is right or to accommodate any necessary outfit changes due to spills or accidents. The biggest packing mistakes you can make with kids, in my experience, is not bringing enough clothes for your kids. Just think, if you go through all of their pants before you make it to your destination there are very few options for cleaning clothes. 

Check Your Car Before Starting a Family Road Trip

The final thing we do before we head out on the open road is check out our vehicle. We want to confirm that everything is in working order before we start our journey. First we make sure we have everything we need in case of an emergency including a spare tire and jumper cable. We also take our vehicle to the mechanic to top up the engine oil, brake fluid, get a tire rotation (if needed), check the brake pads and ensure everything is working the way it’s supposed to. This gives us an extra level of comfort that nothing is going to go sideways, at least in terms of our vehicle. 

Enjoy Your Trip! 

Taking a road trip with kids isn’t always the most relaxing way to get from point A to point B. It takes a lot more planning, preparation, and time. But, it is a wonderful way to see the country and make lifelong memories. With kids in tow, you truly have to take it a bit slower. This can give you the opportunity to see things that you normally would have zoomed right by. So, no matter where you plan to go, give yourself the time to enjoy the trip and make those memories with your kids. 

Wishing you happy travels!


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