15 Essential Tips for Your Next Family Road Trip

15 Essential Tips for Your Next Family Road Trip

Little Pim Founder and CEO Julia Pimsleur reports on her family’s recent road trip. She returned to us with lots of stories and some great tips for busy moms.

road trip familyWhen we decided to go on a two-week road trip this summer through Oregon, Nevada and California many of our fellow urban parents with kids exclaimed “we have always wanted to do that!” But they still packed their brood off to Maine, grandma’s or sprung for that extra week of summer camp. To our surprise, we are among the first in our circle of friends to actually take a bona fide road trip. Our findings seemed blog-worthy and a great way to honor this amazing country and Independence month to boot! Both my husband and I have fond memories of summer car trips we took with our parents, and while this very American tradition may be going the way of the dial phone, if records can make a come back, why not road trips? We decided to find out whether 11 days of two adults, two boys (6 and 9), 1250 miles and imposing on far flung family and friends in three different states would make for a great time or a failed attempt at old fashioned fun, like trying to bring back square dancing. Happily, it was a huge success!

nature walk road trip
Looks like we didn’t get unanimous buy-in on this nature walk…

The trip included breath-taking views as we wound along Highway 101 on the Oregon coast, which really can’t be captured with any camera or smartphone. We only drove a few hours a day (maximum 4, and never more than 2 at a time) and had a great time in the car comparing hamburgers at our various stops, counting red cars, and playing French music. We did have rain the first couple days and we did have moments of total meltdown (the main one on a nature walk that did not get sufficient up front buy-in). In less than two weeks we saw three states, visited cousins in two states, ate in countless charming roadside restaurants, explored great zoos and aquariums, tasted local peaches and watermelon, heard our kids exclaim in delight over bugs they had never seen, took walks on bridges made by famous architects, and created opportunities for our third grader to show off his Native American history knowledge. As a side benefit, now we can all name which states are part of the Lewis and Clark trail! Can you?

Here is my list of Do’s and Don’ts for when you plan your own road trip. There is something deeply satisfying about moving your family unit through America and reconnecting with how vast and grand this country is. It is also a way of slowing down time and enjoying time together far from tech and TV. These tips are most pertinent if you have kids in the 5-11 age range – we figure we are in that short window when they will actually WANT to do this kind of trip with us. I also think setting yourself up for success means having at least one real driver in the family who thinks it will be fun to take on the lion’s share of driving.

DO:

  1. Set up hotels and an intinerary a few weeks in advance. Book at least half your hotels up front so you have some anchors. Ask friends you haven’t spoken to in years where to go in their areas, you’ll find people are excited to help!
  2. When planning the trip look for friends and family who have kids roughly your kids ages. And an extra bedroom. Lacking either will be sub optimal.
  3. Stay at the nicest hotels you can and alternate with camping or cabins if you want t go more natural. (Shout out to my husband for agreeing to stay at “Marriott Town Suites” with eat-in kitchens and outdoor pools in lieu of the camping he requested.)
  4. Let each child have his or her own iPod. Major sanity preserver and they can still hear you and look out the window.
  5. Make a “Summer Road Trip” song playlist in advance with music everyone in the family likes (this takes some advance research). Let your kids make their own playlists too; they will love that.
  6. Spend two nights in one place when you start feeling like if you have to rummage through your bag one more time to find your toiletries you might scream.
  7. Map out the trip but don’t overplan. One of our favorite places was in a town we had no intention of going to (Redding) that was recommended by our hotel receptionist.
  8. Have strict rules about “tech time” on smartphones or tablets (ours got 30 min a day in the car and listening to music on iPods did not count).
  9. Start traditions! Every few days at a dinner we went around the table and each said 3 things we are grateful for. It’s a great way to get kids to reflect on the generosity of friends hosting us. And sometimes they even thanked us for planning this trip!
  10. Use the road trip to learn new facts about America. We became Lewis and Clark Expedition experts.
  11. Have a designated bag you bring with you to restaurants with entertainment for the kids. They color in those placemats way too fast and service is not always speedy. Inside the bag – coloring pad, markers, lego guys, Lewis and Clark kids book, stuff like that. Keep it in the back seat for easy grab and go.

DON’T:

  1. Be too attached to the plan. But do have one.
  2. Let your kids ask servers for things directly. Trust me on this one.
  3. Settle for bad coffee.
  4. Tell your kids more than once a day “look out the window, this is so beautiful!” You didn’t care about that when you were a kid, and chances are, they don’t either!

Here are some of my favorite shots from the trip: