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Before You Go - Planning Your Family Road Trip

A family road trip can be a great opportunity to explore the highways and byways of America with your favorite people - your family!  Careful planning and preparation can ensure that your family enjoys a safe and satisfying voyage from Point "A" to Point "B" - and can guarantee that Mom and Dad keep their precious sanity!

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Before You Go - One Month Before Departure

Even four weeks before you travel, you should have your planning started!  This is the perfect time to get advanced planning taking care of - to get your major travel routes planned, and confirm any hotel reservations that you'll need for a multi-day road trip.  This is also the time to start your lists - giving you plenty of time to shop and research any items that may be missing. Get important travel documents, credit cards, health insurance cards, and any other documents or travel items that you might forget to pack - place them in a duffel or backpack that you KNOW you will take with you on your trip!  This way you are sure to have them when you begin to pack.

Be sure to call your health insurance, auto insurance, and financial institutions.  Every company has different policies for out-of-town travellers!  Make sure you know what hospitals you should go to in the towns you will be visiting, and that all auto documents and warranties/maintenance are up to date.  Financial institutions are more careful than ever, and many travelers have found their credit cards "locked" during long vacations to prevent fraud.  Inform your bank that you will be vacationing, and educate yourself on their policies regarding lost/stolen cards and unauthorized charges.

This is also the time to finalize your travel route. Spontaneity and last-minute stops are great for teens and adult travelers, but if you are traveling with young kids, you will want to know in advance where the best pit stops are, and where you will be sleeping at night. Travel plans can be mapped out on sites such as MapQuest, Google Maps, or through AAA.  Experts agree that if you are traveling with children, you should plan food/snack stops or "stretch your legs" stops every 3-4 hours. If you are traveling with an infant or toddler aged 2 years or younger, please plan to stop every 2 hours!  You will need to make sure the child's diaper is changed, and that they get something to drink. 

Things to look for when planning your route:

  • Famous landmarks, natural features, and other points of interest that your family would enjoy visiting on either the trip "to" or the trip "home."
  • Major cities that will provide a safe overnight stop for your family.  Call several hotels or use a booking website to compare prices - many online agencies will also include nearby towns where the prices will be slightly more affordable.
  • Most states keep lists of rest areas and welcome centers.  Contact the Visitor's or Tourism Department of the states you will be passing through.  More than likely they will be able to recommend the safest stops for you and your family.

Before You Go - One Week Before Departure

The week before the big family road trip can be an exciting time for kids, as they get ready for a family vacation on the road. This is the perfect time to plan a quick family meeting to talk about the trip. Even young children will enjoy hearing about family road trip plans. The final destination will most likely be the main focus of the family discussion, but sharing some details about the planned drive, will help to give children an idea about what to expect. Setting a few family road trip rules is a good idea at this point in planning.

This is LIST TIME!  Make lists of the things you will need and get shopping!  Some suggestions for helpful lists that will make your family's time on the road go smoothly:

  • The Car Cooler - What snacks and drinks will you want to have in the car with you?  Try to avoid highly sugary or salty snacks, as these can cause indigestion and aggravate motion sickness.  try to focus on fruit-based snacks like fruit leather, granola bars (Kudos bars don't count, Mom!), fruit juice, Capri Suns, bottled water, etc.  Even home-made favorites can be great - choices like oatmeal cookies with dried cranberries and raisins, peanut butter sandwiches, crackers and cheese, and drinkable yogurt snacks can keep your cooler's contents healthy.
  • All that food means plenty of trash!  Even home-made snacks will result in discarded baggies and napkins.  Make sure to place small drawstring-trash bags in the front and back seats to gather up empty snack wrappers and bottles.   These can then be discarded at each rest stop, keeping the level of unsightly litter in your family vehicle to a minimum.
  • Entertainment - Perhaps it's finally time to get the kids those portable DVD players they've been asking for?  Well, maybe not - but chances are that even the most Brady-esque family will not have 18 hours worth of happy conversation for the road trip.  Now is the time to purchase the books, puzzles, video games, and music that will keep them relaxed and happy during the long journey.
  • The Weather Channel - If you are travelling a very long way, you should be prepared for weather changes.  Will you be prepared for a 20 degree change in the weather?  Dress in layers, and have jackets, coats, umbrellas, sunscreen, etc available within easy access (at the top of the trunk if possible) in case the weather changes significantly.

 Before You Go - Pack Your Travel Bags

Your family members will enjoy the road trip more if they can pack a small travel bag with a few favorite things. Items that come highly recommended are travel pads and colored pencils (never markers!), handheld game devices with headphones, music players, paperback books, magazines, and puzzle books such as Sudoku and crosswords.  Children in elementary school may enjoy having their own copy of the travel route/map - they can read road signs and distance markers along the way, and know exactly where they are at any time. 

Full-sized bags and duffels really aren't convenient or comortable in the passenger areas on a road trip.  Smaller backpacks, 10" duffels, or tote-style bags are perfect sizes for each child's travel bag. Small, digital or disposable cameras are also a terrific idea for keeping kids entertained.  When you finally arrive back home, your children will be able to share their own special and unique collection of memories with the rest of the family.

Finally - It's Time To Hit the Road!

Family road trips can be a great opportunity to expand your childrens' horizons and encourage their sense of adventure.  Adequate preparation can mean less hassle and forgetfulness on the morning of departure, and more enjoyment for everyone!  So whether your road trip is 7 hours or 7 days long - Research, plan, and ultimately - ENJOY!