Tackle Family Road Trips the Right Way

03/13/2015 12:40 pm ET | Updated May 13, 2015

As summer looms and vacation plans start to happen you might be considering taking a family road trip. It's fun, it's flexible, and a potentially affordable way to travel. Even better, it's a great way to bond with your family and experience one-of-a-kind moments you'll remember forever.

As with every vacation, there are good road trips and bad road trips. Here are a few tips to ensure yours is one of the good ones.

If you fail to plan, you should plan to fail.

Yes, it sounds romantic and fun to just pack the car and go, but it could leave you stranded on the side of the road, miles from any possible rest place, too tired to drive any further. Turn the planning into a family affair. Pull out a map and discuss how far you're willing to go each day and then see where that gets you. You can always decide to go a little further or stop a little sooner, but having a possible destination will give everyone peace of mind.


Same logic goes for planning where and when you'll stop for meals. Nothing derails a road trip faster than a car full of 'hangry' people.

Packing small overnight bags ensures that you don't have to unpack the whole car every time you stop. And making sure that you bring along all necessary device chargers means no one will be left with a dead battery for a camera, GPS, or DVD player at a crucial moment.

While you're at it, take a look at everyone's school curriculum for the coming year. Are you going to be passing landmarks or monuments that might be covered? It would be a shame to miss key photo opps!

Give yourself a little leeway.

You might be hellbent on driving another hour before stopping, but if you suddenly see a sign for a roadside attraction you really can't miss, you really should take the time to stop. It's not every day that you get to see the World's Largest Peanut or the World's Largest Tooth. Yes, it might delay you a bit, but the memories made will be well worth it.

2015-03-13-1426222135-4598576-WorldsLargestTooth.jpgA tooth this big makes for a great photo opp!
Courtesy of Findery note by @OnTheRoad

After all, what good is driving somewhere instead of flying if you don't take advantage of being in control of the journey?

Embrace entertainment, both in and out of the car.

There are as many arguments for in-car entertainment systems as there are for banning them to the darkest circles of Hell. It's really about personal preference. You might be the kind of family who loves playing license plate games, roadside bingo, or even singing show tunes all day. You might be the kind of family who much prefers listening to endless books on tape or watching movies on whatever screens you might have on board. Or you might be the kind of family who enjoys a healthy mix of both interspersed with mindless looking out of the window. As long as you know who you're traveling with and what they need to be able to sit in a car for hours on end, you'll be set.

And the best way to keep your passengers happy? Plan lots of entertaining stops along the way. Fun restaurants, intriguing roadside attractions , hotels with pools. Whatever it takes to keep your people excited about the current leg of the trip and its destination. The ideal amount of time between stops is about 3 hours. Just long enough for a movie or a good nap, not long enough for participants to get overly antsy.

Choose where to sleep wisely.

After a long day sitting in a car, you cannot underestimate the pleasure of splashing around in a hotel pool. Bonus? Instant bath for everyone!

All joking aside, there is a lot to be said for not forgetting that on a road trip the journey is an integral part of the vacation and therefore pit stops and rest stops should be just as carefully considered as the end destination.

There are many great options from quaint bed and breakfasts to hotels or even AirBnB rentals. Some might need more advance planning than others, but if you check enough online reviews you should be able to find places that will please even the most discernable in your travel party.

Make smart food choices.

It is so tempting to throw all reason to the wind and just binge on candy and junk food when you're traveling. If you give in to temptation though, you risk ending up with a carful of people mildly nauseated and really cranky.

Pack a good assortment of sweet and salty snacks as well as easily munchable raw veggies. Bring along plenty of water and maybe forgo the sodas or sports drinks. Aiming for hydration is a good plan, sugaring up trapped children is not.

There are, most likely, amazing restaurants along all the roads you plan on taking. Check online reviews or even poll your friends to see where you should stop. You might be surprised to discover a new favorite eatery somewhere along the way!

Enjoy, and don't forget to immortalize the event!

Yes, road trips can be long and challenging. But they can also be an incredible source of joy for everyone involved. You'll discover things you never thought you'd see, learn about things you never knew existed, and probably get to know everyone along for the ride better than you ever imagined possible. Just... you know... don't forget to pack a vomit bag or two. Just in case.

Take photos whenever the mood strikes. What might seem like a silly shot today could be the photo that always reminds you of this memorable trip. You might even consider keeping a running journal of your vacation. Assign a "reporter" for each day and enjoy the varied points-of-view in the end result. You can choose to keep a paper log or share your adventures online.

But most importantly, embrace the adventure, keep an open mind, and let your expectations go. The best road trips are the ones that are a little less structured than planned.

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