How to Plan a Family Road Trip
Have you taken a summer road trip yet? Are you planning to squeeze one in before the summer is over? Family road trips are quickly becoming one of my favorite things. Our kids are a little less antsy in the car, I'm getting more comfortable with driving solo long distances, and I am loving the opportunity to explore. To me that is the best part. Sure the destinations are important, but to me the joy truly is in the journey when it comes to a road trip.
The year started off great in the goal accomplishing area. I launched our art project, visited another of the 50 States, did some planting, learned a lot about music and singing, and even published a book! This summer I have hit a couple of snags though. My goal for August was to go on a road trip and I had big, exciting plans. Unfortunately, life happens and my health got in the way so our big road trip has been postponed. It is still going to happen and I am still going to share the details when it does, but for now I thought I would share a little about how I plan a road trip (which to me is one of the best parts).
How to Plan A Family Road Trip
Step One: Establish Your Destination(s) and Time Frame
You probably have some idea of where you want to go or some motivation for the road trip. For example, we are planning to visit family and friends in Minnesota and Wisconsin. My general goal is to get from Mississippi to Wisconsin to Minnesota and back home to Mississippi. There are several ways to do this and that is where the fun comes in, but the general goals get you started.
How long do you have? Your situation, job, schedules, weather, holidays, etc will all play a role in determining how long you have for a road trip. We are fortunately with a flexible homeschooling schedule to be flexible about the time and length of our trip. My husband will join us for various points in our trip, but in general it will be me and the kids. I am planning to take about 2 weeks total for this trip. It is important to me that we have at least 3 days in Wisconsin and at least 3 days in Minnesota so that influences how long we take to get to and from the Midwest.
Step Two: Road Trip Stops
Your destination and time frame will help to define how many road stops you have time for and/or need. We have made it 12 hours in the car with two kids with stops only for meals and gas, but it isn't as much fun. If your goal is simply to get there then you will make less stops. If you have time and want to explore then you will plan more stops.
How to pick road trip stops? I go for movement. When my kids are older I can imagine us including a little more history and culture into our road trips, but in this busy movement younger kid phase - when we stop, they NEED TO MOVE. What does this mean?
*I look for children's museums, awesome playgrounds, big open spaces, splash pads, and other places where they can walk or run to their hearts content.
*If I can I plan an indoor and outdoor spot to stop. We generally prefer to be outside, but I like to have a back up plan to get the wiggles out if the weather doesn't cooperate.
How do you find ideas for stops?
*Blogs: Family travel blogs (like Bambini Travel of course!) offer a great place to start. Search on your favorite sites for the cities or states you are passing through.
*Pinterest: I use Pinterest as a search engine when I'm looking for road trip stops. Search for something like: New York City Family Travel or Family Friendly and see what comes up. This is a great way to discover suggestions (often from family travel blogs) that you might have otherwise missed. I usually start a secret Pinterest board for each major trip we take to organize all of my possibilities.
*General Online Search: If blogs or Pinterest don't work, try searching for specific things on a general search engine such as: St Louis Children's Museum and see what comes up.
*Travel Books: I'm old fashioned I suppose in that I adore Travel Guides. I read them cover to cover because they are fascinating (if well written) and I'm odd. Many even have suggestions in the front of road trip routes.
*Ask Others: Ask friends or family in person, on facebook, twitter, etc. Ask them for suggestions for the cities or areas you will be passing through.
Step Three: Accommodations
There are three main options with accomodations; a hotel, a campground/cabin, or a friend/family member.
I prefer the friend / family option. Obviously the price is nice, but it is mostly that you get the benefit of extra time with that person. Our kids go to bed around 7 so if we are staying at a hotel then we have to head back to the hotel around then. If we are staying with friends/family then we can put the kids down and have some uninterrupted catch up time.
When this isn't an option, search the towns or cities you are passing through for convienent hotels or campgrounds. We primarily stay in hotels that are convenient for where we are going. I usually look for one with free breakfast and a pool (another great gross motor option to get out wiggles).
Step Four: Food
As a mama of a boy with a severe food allergies, this is the scariest part about a road trip for me. Before I had kids, we were lazy road trippers on the food front. Generally when we started to feel hungry we would stop at the next place that sounded decent (usually a Subway). If we were feeling more brave, we would stop at a local joint in a small town. This worked out most of the time and this might work just fine for you.
Now we cannot just stop somewhere. There are several chain restaurants that he cannot eat anything at and some with very few options. After carefully reviewing menus I have a list of about five places that I know he can safely eat. When I am going somewhere new, I research restaurants in advance. I search the general area we will be and then read the fine print on all the menus. If a restaurant doesn't list their allergens then I move on to another restaurant unless I'm dying to eat there and then I call.
The other way we avoid allergies and SAVE MONEY is to pack food. We pack lunches like sandwiches in a large cooler in the trunk that we eat when we are on the road. I have also packed hot dogs and buns and used hotel microwaves. Before we head home, or halfway through the road trip, I make a quick run to a grocery store and restock the cooler.
Step Five: Itinerary
The easiest way for me to create a road trip Itinerary is to lay it out by day. I included an example of our Midwest Road Trip Itinerary below to give you an idea.
Day One: Mississippi to Nashville. 6 hours
Day Two: Nashville to Cincinnati 4 hours
Day Three: Cincinnati. Visit: EnterTrainment Junction
Day Four: Cincinnati to Milwaukee. Stop: Indiana Dunes State Park. 4 hours + 2.5 hours
Day Five: Milwaukee.
Day Six: Milwaukee.
Day Seven: Milwaukee to Twin Cities, MN. Stop: Devil's Lake State Park 5 hours
Day Eight: Twin Cities.
Day Nine: Twin Cities.
Day Ten: Twin Cities to Town in MN 2 hours
Day Eleven: Town in Minnesota to Madison WI. Stop: La Crosse Playground 6 hours
Day Twelve: Madison.
Day Thirteen: Madison to St Louis. Visit: St Louis Zoo and Turtle Park Playground 5.5 hours
Day Fourteen: St Louis to Mississippi. Stop: Memphis Children's Museum 4 hours + 3 hours
Step Six: Road Trip Activities and Food
Activities for the car are key to enjoying the trip. Our kids are easier to entertain now than when they were young toddlers, but they are still active kids that get antsy if they sit still for too long. I have written a number of posts (listed below) in the past about ways we keep busy in the car, check them out if you are looking for ideas or list our Waiting and Traveling Pinterest board for over 300 ideas for traveling and waiting with children.
*Road Trip Music
*Art + Travel
*Kindle Fire HD Kids + Travel
*Road Trip Ideas for Every Child
*Top Road Trip Tips (Preschoolers)
*Car Trips with Toddlers
When we travel, I also pack lots of snacks and some basic meals. The snacks help us keep everyone happy during the long hours in the car and the basic meals serve three basic purposes.
One: they allow us flexibility. We don't have the find the perfect place to stop in order to have lunch. A rest stop or park works great.
Two: It saves money if we can avoid eating in a restaurant for every meal.
Three: Our son has a severe allergy to dairy and having meals packed for him means we worry less about finding somewhere he can safely eat.
Step Seven: Pack
Now you know where you are going and for how long. You have picked some fun road trip stops to get the wiggles out and explore a little. You have arranged accomodations with a friend or in a hotel. You have laid out your itinerary and thought about how you are going to keep everyone happy while you travel.
Now you are ready to pack!
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