10 Tips for Hassle-Free Family Road Trips

Since I’ve been a parent, I have taken very few family road trips.  We fly with our children, for the most part.  However, I’m a pro on road trip advice because of all the family road trips I had growing up.  Having not set foot in an airplane until I was 18 years old, I spent all the time I could handle in a car.

Maybe you’re still trying to decide if you should drive or fly on your next vacation.  Either way, there’s a good chance you’ll end up on a family road trip sooner or later.

Growing up in Wyoming provided lots of opportunities for family road trips.  Our family just didn’t fly anywhere.  Nearly every summer, our family would hop in the car and head to my grandparents’ house in Oklahoma.  The 11-12 hour trip seemed like 11 or 12 days to my brother, sister, and me. 

But I suppose I have lots of memories from those times – even some good ones!

I mostly remember the “lean and switch” routine we had for napping.  We would all lean one way and fall asleep on each other’s shoulders.  If you were lucky, you got a door seat and could prop your pillow up on the door.  Except that meant you were usually the first to get sore.  When one person got uncomfortable, we all had to switch and lean the other way. 

Mom would always say, “Just fall asleep, and when you wake up, we’ll be at Grandma’s.”  I guess it happened eventually.

Dad just wanted to keep driving and driving and driving (with as few stops as possible) until we arrived.

Then there was the “you scratch my back, then I’ll scratch yours” routine.  My big brother would lean forward and get a back scratch until the next major landmark.  Keep in mind, we were driving across places like Kansas and Oklahoma! 

We tried all the fun road games like finding each of the 50 States’ license plates and finding every letter of the alphabet on the road signs. 

But, my favorite memory of all was singing on our road trips.  My family of 5 could sing in (real) 4 part harmony.  I loved it.  This memory, my friends, makes all of those long hours in the car worth it. 

The good news?  Your family doesn’t have to be able to sing a cappella in 4-part harmony to survive (or even enjoy!) your family road trip this summer.  Planning a fun and affordable family vacation with a road trip is possible.

10 Tips for Surviving Enjoying Family Road Trips

1.  It’s not all about the destination.  I’m not sure where you’re headed, but you might as well enjoy the journey.  Make the trip part of the adventure, and make plans accordingly when you organize your vacation.

2.  Pack your own food and drinks.  Before you leave, shop at a grocery store for snacks and lunch food.  Don’t even consider buying something when you stop for gas.  You’ll be paying much more than you should.  If you think the kiddos need a special treat, buy it BEFOREHAND, and pack it for future use.

3.  Give your car a tune-up before the trip.   Make sure your vehicle is road worthy for the long haul.  If you just can’t trust your family car, why not rent?  If you decide to rent, be sure to get insurance or make sure you are covered on your credit card rental insurance.

4.  Stop frequently – especially if you have young children.  If your 2 year old only has a 20 minute attention span at home, you can’t expect him to have a 4 hour attention span in the car.  Stop somewhere and let him run, run, run!

5.  Have a picnic along the way somewhere.  If you’re traveling in the summer, what a great time to stop and enjoy the lunch you brought along with you.

6.   Consider a portable DVD player.  I never, ever thought I would say this.  I grew up in a home without a TV.  (Remember, we’re the family that sits around and sings together.)  BUT, the first long trip we took with our daughter when she was 2 from Cheyenne, WY up to Yellowstone was much more enjoyable because I gave in and let her watch a few DVDs.  It was well worth it.  Thank you, Dora.

7.  Use a GPS.  Getting lost is not the kind of adventure I like to have.  Craig and I have had more than our fair share of moments getting lost.  As frugal as we are, we have opted to rent a GPS almost every time we’ve rented a vehicle over the past few years.  The GPS has saved time, frustration, and possibly even our marriage.  :) 

8.  Follow the speed limit.  If you’re on a strict budget for your family vacation, you don’t need any additional fees along the way.  Besides, speeding is illegal.

9.  Clean out the car every time you stop for gas.  Road trips = messy vehicles.  If you have young children snacking as you drive, your vehicle is bound to be a mess.  Instead of the overwhelming task of cleaning it all at your destination, clean the garbage out little by little on your trip.

10.  Use your favorite childhood memories.  Remember all the games you played as a child on your family road trips?  Revive those and share them with your kids.  These things will help you have an amazing family vacation.  I’m hoping my kids will be singing 4-part harmony with me soon.

Any great tips for enjoying a family road trip this summer?


  1. Amy@Free Family Advice says

    These are great tips. As a blended family, we travel a lot for children’s visits to their other parents. It means a lot of time in the car. I especially like the idea to pack food. I have noticed that people are happier when there’s healthy food to be snacked on.

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