THE BLOG

How to Prepare for Family Road Trips With Kids and Pets

06/01/2015 04:08 pm ET | Updated May 30, 2016

Let's face it. Every time you go on a road trip, you pack way too much stuff - especially if you have children, pets or both. At times it seems better to overpack than underpack because at least you have everything on hand. The downside: dragging everything with you is a pain. Wouldn't it be nice to travel with nothing more than a backpack? Absolutely, and if you can, certainly go for it. However, I've found that whenever I pack too little, something almost always happens. Someone gets sick and we need to get Tylenol at the next rest area and pay twice as much as what we'd pay at Target. If someone gets hungry and no food is on hand, we're stuck waiting in line with all the other travelers at fast food places, wasting more time on the road and packing on more calories than we would like.

So do you overpack or underpack? How do you travel with children and pets? I've learned to go somewhere in the middle. Whether the destination is a 2-hour or over 16-hour trip, planning, organization and flexibility are key to keeping one's sanity.

Give yourself at least a week to prepare.
I usually start packing a week in advance, that way I'm not rushing at the last minute to get everything together. It's not even perfect but I do something as ridiculously simple as getting the suitcases out and laying them in the spare room or some open space and just start with one or two things I know I'll need.

If time permits, I'll try to get half the suitcases filled up with what's needed, or do a little every day until the night before, or whenever I have a free moment. Then the night before the trip, I'll either fill in the rest of the suitcases, or I'll pretty much be done and ready to go after having packed a little every day.

Write a checklist.
I also have a checklist with boxes to tick off on Evernote. Those I use for the longer trips. By now I have it down pat though, so a mental checklist works too. If you're not sure where to get started, head over to Pinterest and search for "packing" or "travel lists" where there are many great detailed checklists you can then either use as is or tweak to fit your needs.

Pack food and drinks.
Pack enough food that you're not hangry (hungry/angry) but not too much that you're overloaded. Pack healthier foods to eat on the road so you don't have to rely on junk food. We bring those coolers with wheels that you could put ice packs in and they'll keep food and drinks cool.

Bring your own coffee in a thermos, or get those bottled Frappuccino drinks at the grocery store. Sure it might not be the same as freshly brewed but it sure as heck will save you time waiting in line.

Pack enough for emergencies.
I've found having an emergency first kit, extra diapers/pull-ups, clothes, plastic bags, snacks and water bottles on hand is always a good idea. For pets, we keep meals, snacks, plastic bags, water and dishes handy. We also have hand sanitizer, wipes, paper towels, toilet paper and an empty jar for other emergencies.

Pre-charge all devices.
Get all devices like cell phones, tablets, Kindle readers, charged cell phones ready to go. Also have extra batteries or chargers on hand.

Allow yourself plenty of time to get to your destination safely.
If you are able to, travel during off-peak hours so you're not neck-to-neck in traffic with other road travelers. Have Google Maps or other traffic apps ready for review so you could seek alternate routes in case you're stuck in traffic.

On the road:

  • Opt for safety above all things. Err on the side of caution and keep a good following distance if at all possible.
  • Take breaks if you need to, especially if there are scenic points with picnic benches where you could eat.
  • Make sure you, your kids and pets get your bathroom breaks. There's even an app that locates the nearest pit stops.
  • This is a great time to catch up on audio books and new music downloads. Make it fun with a playlist.
  • Enjoy the ride and the time spent with family. Think of the memories you create from traveling with those you love.

These are what I've learned about traveling on the road with family. Do you have any tips that helped you on your family travels?

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