How to get the most out of your summer road trip.
It may have gotten a lot of laughs in the theater or on movie night at home, but nobody wants to experience a “National Lampoon” kind of family vacation. Traveling with the kids can be the trip of a lifetime or a nightmare on the open road, it all depends on your planning, execution, attitude and the ability to expect and prepare for the unexpected. Think of it a little like developing the strategy for a special ops mission, minus the helicopters, night-vision goggles, grenades and M-16s.
Here are a few helpful tips to consider before striking out on a summer road trip with the family.
Be realistic. If your two-year-old wails his head off on an hour drive to grandma’s house don’t expect him to embrace a 6-hour-a-day car trip away from everything familiar and routine. Depending on the age of your children, plan frequent incremental stops for bathroom breaks, lunchtime, mid-afternoon respites and sight seeing along the way to minimize extended periods in the infant or booster seat. Take along favorite DVDs, music and even audio books to make the time on the road more fun. If your crew includes older kids, teens and other adults who will be using electronic devices to pass the time, don’t forget backup batteries for your chargers. As your children get older they will be more interested in seeing new places and learning how to follow a map to the next destination. Research some sights of interest along your route and let them help choose which ones they would like to visit.
Don’t leave the details to chance. You know your family’s schedule best. If you eat dinner at 6:30 every night, make sure your itinerary is in line with when tummies start to grumble. Do your research and if you plan to eat out, don’t leave it to chance, make sure your dining choice has a kid-friendly menu and can accommodate your family in a timely manner.
Choose a hotel close to the activities you have planned to minimize wasted time to and from your accommodations. Allow time for naps or other indoor activities during the hottest time of day to avoid overexposure to the sun and tired cranky kids (and adults). If you are staying at a beach house or condo with a kitchen, identify the closest food market so you can stock up on family favorites for quick lunches and snacks. Make sure your hotel or rental has washer/dryer facilities available unless you plan to pack a couple of steamer trunks full of wardrobe changes for the whole family.
Don’t scrimp on the “provisions.” You may not be heading for the wild frontier in a covered wagon, but you can learn a lot from the pioneers. Make sure you have plenty of healthy snacks and drinks for the road. If you want to avoid fast-food meals, pack sandwiches and fruit and make your lunch break a picnic somewhere everyone can stretch their legs and burn off some steam. Be sure to pack all perishable foods in a cooler with plenty of ice to avoid foodborne illnesses. When you think you have packed enough for an army, it never hurts to pack a few more nibbles and plenty of water to keep everyone hydrated. Don’t forget some simple breakfast foods, such as cereal and fruit for your early risers.
Dress for success. We’re not talking about your business suit and tie, but making sure everyone has the proper clothes and footwear for your plans. Flip-flops are great at the beach and around the pool, but not for the hiking trail. Tank-tops and shorts may be cool when temps start to rise, but after a day in the sun they can spell trouble. Clothing is an important part of preventing sun damage, so be sure to pack light slacks, long sleeve shirts and hats if you are planning to be outdoors when the sun is high. They can also come in handy when night breezes are on the chilly side.
Pack a vacation survival kit. Being prepared for life’s little bumps and scrapes is even more important when you are away from the family medicine cabinet, so put together a collection of things you might need out on the road. Some basics to remember are a thermometer, adult and children’s strength acetaminophen or ibuprofen, bandages, disinfecting wipes, Dramamine, anti-bacterial ointment, calamine lotion for bug bites or poison ivy, broad spectrum sun screen of SPF 30 or greater, Bug spray with DEET, a children’s formula of antihistamine; tweezers, and instant ice packs. Of course always be sure to pack any prescription medications.
Plan for the unexpected. Take frequent bathroom breaks. You never know when a traffic jam will wreak havoc with your carefully prepared schedule. Keep a close eye on the weather forecast and have a back-up activity in mind in case rain puts a damper on your plans to visit a zoo, amusement park or other outdoor attraction. Don’t despair if an activity you planed is unexpectedly closed or you run out of time. Make whatever you do an adventure. Even routine activities like seeing a movie, or going out for pizza as a family can be fun when you are in unfamiliar territory.
Keep it simple. Nobody enjoys a vacation with a schedule so tight it’s like running the railroad. Don’t overbook your days. Planning a few fun activities with time to breathe in between will be remembered far more fondly, at the end of the day and in years to come. If you are on a tight budget, remember there are loads of things to do that don’t cost a penny. Look at how much you have to spend and balance your time between activities with admission fees, and those you can enjoy for free. Want to avoid pricey hotel bills? Consider camping for some nights or all of your trip, but only if you and your kids are seasoned campers and have the appropriate equipment.
Slow down. A family road trip isn’t about making good time, it’s about having a good time. Even if you want to get there as fast as your wheels will take you, the purpose of the trip is to have some family fun and fellowship, not to beat the clock. Besides adding to your vacation pleasure factor, taking it slow and easy on the highway is also a safer way to drive. Avoid drowsy driving to stay on schedule. Choose the route that you will be most comfortable driving. If you are stressed by the fast pace of interstate traffic, opt for quieter routes that may yield more picturesque scenery.
Be democratic. The best vacations are those that include a little something for everyone. Go over your game plan as a family and decide what you all would like to do ahead of time to avoid vacation disappointments. Once you are on the road, if the kids are getting a little testy with each other, there is always the “divide and conquer” approach. Mother/daughter and father/son activities can be just the trick to give everybody a break and some special parent/child bonding time when nerves are getting frazzled.
Have a ball. Once the planning is done, the route is chosen and the car is packed, don’t forget the most important element of a vacation – FUN. A summer vacation is a time to leave the daily grind behind and live in the moment enjoying your family. It’s a time to be present for them and with them and cherish each moment. That’s not to say there won’t be some hiccups along the way, but with a little planning and a lot of luck your family vacation can be the stuff memories are made of.
Surviving a Family Road Trip There’s an app for that. Here are just a few of the apps available that can help you not only survive but thrive on your family road trip and come off looking like a hero!
Roadtrippers This handy app that is available for iPhone and Android can give you turn-by-turn directions to save and share, as well as find scenic points of interest or offbeat roadside attractions along your drive. It can also help you find the closest hotel or restaurant.
TuneIn Stuck in a radio dead zone? This free app gives you access to 100.000+ live radio stations plus on-demand content like podcasts & shows anywhere you go.
Parking Panda Don’t get caught in the circling spiral of death looking for the nearest parking spot. WIth this free app for your iPhone or Android, you can reserve parking in advance, compare real-time prices for thousands of lots and garages and easily access and redeem your parking confirmation.
Waze This time-saving app offers the best in real-time community-based traffic alerts about accidents, roadwork and other delays via voice navigation. It’s free and available for iPhone and Android.
Openbay Nobody wants to get stuck on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. This app can help you find a repair shop near you, get quotes on repairs and compare based on distance, customer reviews and price.