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Every once in a while, I like to throw some content on here about that time our little family of 4 went on a cross country road trip. We hit 17 states in 2 weeks with 2 kids under the age of 4 in a tiny Mazda 6 sedan. I know that sounds incredibly painstaking, but to be honest it wasn’t that bad.
I’m not going to sit here and claim we are experts (if you read my Yellowstone post, you know we made MANY mistakes). But what I do know is we learned a lot of valuable information about what works and how we could improve the experience next time. Since we learned so much on our journey, I thought it would be really helpful to share our tips on how to plan for a long family road trip. Let’s dive in.
Plan Your Road Trip Route
I know you’re probably thinking “well DUH Casey!”, but hear me out y’all. There is a lot more to planning a long family road trip than picking points on the map and going for it.
Side note: I’m totally being hypocritical because that’s exactly what we did. Let me tell you from experience, when you have kids along for the ride that is not the smartest decision.
When I say plan your route, I mean try to plan out the important details before you hit the road. What is the final destination? How many days/weeks will your road trip take? How many hours a day will you drive? Where will you be taking rest stops/fueling up the car? What hotels will you stay at? Where can you get food? Will you stop at any roadside attractions? How often will you stop to “smell the roses” vs. just driving through the state?
With all of that being said, it’s also important to leave some wiggle room in these plans. Things change. You might hit a detour or decide you want to try to squeeze in a new destination. If that happens, take the time to redesign your route and work out the details listed above before you head out.
Once you have planned your route, I would HIGHLY recommend going old school and printing out maps or downloading the map of each route to your devices.
Why? Because there is a distinct possibility you will be traveling on roads that have no WiFi/GPS signal. Trust me when I say there is nothing scarier than when your GPS craps out on you in the middle of the desert on your way to get more gas.
If you decide to download the map on your phone or tablet, I recommend taking a screenshot of the directions. When you download a map on Google, it’s not permanent. The download duration will expire and delete so it’s always smart to have it backed up somewhere else just in case.
If you decide to print maps, highlight your routes and any stops you plan on taking along the way. This will help you clearly see what roads and exits you will have to take. It could also be fun to get the kids involved for this and have them help you highlight and plan.
Book Hotels In Advance
I can not stress enough how important it is to book your lodging arrangements ahead of time! This is especially important for the extremely touristy towns and attractions. You might think there are a lot of hotels in busy city, but if the tourism is high chances are they are all booked up and can’t accommodate a walk in. If you know you are going to a popular destination, plan your lodging as early as you can.
As I mentioned before, when you plan for a long family road trip you have to leave some wiggle room. You may find yourself in a completely different state than you originally planned. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend booking EVERY room months in advance.
As soon as you know you’re route is changing, call hotels in the area you are going and find vacancy. Most small towns won’t give you any hassle with finding a room in the same day, but it’s still wise to call ahead to secure your spot.
Get Your Car Serviced Before Leaving
I would rank this as the most important step when you plan for a long family road trip. Sure, knowing where you’re going and how to get there is important and all, but arriving safely is paramount!
Before you leave, be sure your oil change is up to date. Have your battery checked to ensure it has enough life left. Check your tires and rotate them if necessary. Make sure your spare tire is full of air and you have the proper tools to attach it if necessary. Replace your windshield wipers (I know that sounds small, but trust me you will have SOOO many bugs on your windshield during the drive).
Have your mechanic perform a multi-point safety exam to ensure everything on the car is in tip top shape! If anything is in need of service, get it fixed before you go.
Bring An Emergency Road Side Kit
No matter how much effort you put into preparing your car, there is always the possibility something could go wrong while you are on the road. In that case, it is extremely important to have backup safety measures in hand.
I highly recommend getting this Excursion Road Kit by AAA. Priced at just over $70, you are more than getting your moneys worth with this 76 piece set. Not only does it come with the essentials like jumper cables and an air compressor, but it is super compact so it will fit among your luggage easily. (I want to throw in this is not a sponsored post, I just firmly believe in this product).
This meme makes me laugh so hard every time because this is literally me! I’m totally the girl that’s like “well I really should bring 14 pairs of shoes in case we miraculously go to a fancy restaurant EVERY NIGHT of our trip.”
The truth is when you plan for a long family road trip you need to focus on essentials over extras. You can pack extra clothes for the kids, but for the adults you really only need about 3 or 4 days worth of outfits. There are so many hotel chains that have a laundry accommodation so you can easily clean your clothes while you’re resting up. Also, the less clothes you pack, the easier it is to move your stuff in and out of hotel rooms without losing anything.
Other essentials you will need to consider are diapers, food, jackets if you are traveling during fall and winter, proper footwear for hiking, a pack n play if you have a young child, pillows, and other comfort items. One thing I would HIGHLY recommend packing is a roll of trash bags. Be it for your dirty laundry or to store trash that accumulates, it really is a game changer having those handy. I would also recommend saving extra space for any souvenirs you might pick up along the way.
Have Back Up Clothes Easily Accessible
If you’ve had kids for any length of time, you know how messy things can get. This is especially true when you’re trapped in small quarters for an extended period. Between blow out diapers and diva daughters that can’t possibly wear a shirt that has water spilled on it, having a set of clean clothes handy is essential!
Being packed effectively means that getting to the clothes inside of your suitcase can be a little bit of a challenge when you are on the road. I highly recommend leaving one set of clothes out for each child just in case an accident happens. We stored our back up clothes in the pockets on the back of our seats so they were within arms reach at any given moment.
Bring Activities…And More Activities
Aside from having car trouble, the next top factor that will ruin a good road trip is not having enough stimulation for the kids. I doubt even the most patient parents want to hear “are we there yet” 100,000 times an hour.
When you plan for a long family road trip, plan to bring as many car friendly activities as possible. Some of our favorites were a tablet (obviously), audio books, scavenger hunts, and activity books. If you want to save some money, the Target dollar section is usually loaded with car friendly activities.
If you want to go Pinterest parent level, there are thousands of ideas floating around on car friendly travel activities. For a great place to start, check out my board kid friendly road trip activities (and follow me while you’re at it 😉 )
PS: Don’t forget to pack activities for yourself too! I wanted to add this reminder because it can be so easy to forget about yourself when you have so many other people to worry about.
Pack. All. Of. The. Snacks. (And A Cooler)
If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you really shouldn’t be surprised to see snacks on the plan for a long family road trip. Snacks will be your best friend on the road…and in literally every other situation with kids. They keep the kids happy and it keeps you from having to stop a million times for food. Try to pack snacks that are filling and not very messy (yeah, I’m talking about those deliciously crumbly Nature Valley bars).
I also added to pack a cooler because it will save you so much money on food. We would go to the grocery store and pick up sandwich fixings and water bottles then store them in the coolers. This way we always had real sustenance and cold water with us in the event we were starving in the middle of nowhere. Plus, it’s nice to be able to have an impromptu picnic when you want to stretch your legs.
Keep Your Kids Minds Engaged
Whether your plan for a long family road trip involves going cross country or just traveling a few states over to visit family, I guarantee you will be passing some sort of history or natural beauty along the way. Instead of passing these things by without talking about them, why not take the time to teach your kids?!
Not only will engaging with your kids teach them about history, but it will keep the conversations flowing. If you’re kids are asking questions about how Mt Rushmore was formed, they won’t have time to ask you whether or not you are there yet.
If you really want to go above and beyond, you can plan your road trip activities around what destinations you will be visiting. Again, this is where Pinterest really comes in handy. There are a lot free downloadable printouts that are also educational.
Go Plan For A Long Family Road Trip!
I truly hope my tips for how to plan for a long family road trip have been helpful. These were all things that helped our family along the way. I hope they will do the same for you. If you still have reservations about traveling with your kids, check out this article on 7 things travel teaches our kids.
I would love to hear if you have any other tips for how to plan for a long family road trip in the comments below. If you have ever been on a long haul trip with kids, I’d love to hear where you visited and what route you took!
As always, please share this post if you love what you’ve read or think a friend will love it. Don’t forget to follow me on social and subscribe to my email list for some fun behind the scenes photos and stories. Thank you so much for taking the time to read about our adventures out in Our Happy Place 🙂