Family Road Trip Survival Guide

Here are 6 tips for getting from Point A to Point B with as little backseat moaning and groaning as possible.
family hangs out in parked blue van during the day, shot from outside of car

family hangs out in parked blue van during the day, shot from outside of car

Photo by: Cultura RM / Axel Bernstorff / Getty Images

Cultura RM / Axel Bernstorff / Getty Images

Summer road trip season is here, so pack up the car, juice up the gadgets and grab the paper maps. Yes, even if you have a favorite GPS device or navigation app on your smartphone, a paper map is a must-have. You do not want to be driving through an unfamiliar area with a weak signal — which is bound to happen when the kids are at their hungriest and/or crankiest — so go a little old-school and bring along a paper map.

If your goal is getting from Point A to Point B on your family road trip with as little backseat moaning and groaning as possible, here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Fill a Backpack

School may be out for the summer, but a backpack in the car for each child goes a long way toward keeping the peace. Work with your kids to fill each backpack with travel games, coloring books, crayons and favorite snacks. For older kids, try including a travel journal so they can keep track of favorite places and activities along the way. Don’t forget comfort items too, such as favorite blankets and teddy bears.

Advanced Tip: Bring along backup items, such as extra crayons and coloring books, and make sure your child can carry his own backpack. The last thing you want is to fill each backpack to the top and then have to carry them all yourself.

Make sure the kids can easily access the snacks on their own.

2. Bring Snacks, and Lots of Them

A 2013 survey from Choice Hotels and FamilyFun magazine found that 73% of families considered snacks to be the No. 1 way to keep kids happy on a family road trip. So pack a cooler full of them. Include a mix of healthy choices, such as raisins, carrot sticks and grapes, as well as treats, such as cookies and chocolate-chip granola bars. Don’t forget water bottles and juices boxes, too.

Advanced Tip: Make sure the kids can easily access the snacks on their own. Don’t put the cooler in the back so you need to stop the car every time you hear “I’m hungry, Mommy,” which can be as soon as you turn off your street and then about every 30 minutes on your drive.

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3. Gather the Gadgets

You’ll probably bring several gadgets on your road trip, including smartphones, tablets, e-readers and portable DVD players (don’t forget to rent DVDs at the library). So gather them up, and then power them up. There’s nothing worse than getting an hour into an all-day trip and having the iPod Touch in the backseat run out of juice. And it’s even worse when it’s one of 2 that powers down (let the backseat gadget tug-of-war begin!).

Advanced Tip: Bring along one or more portable chargers for the car, and make sure they work with the devices you plan to charge. Despite what’s written on the packaging, not every charger will power up all the devices they claim they can charge.

4. Get the Right Apps

We all love our smartphones, and fortunately, with the right apps, your smartphone will help you make it through any family road trip. A few must-haves include Waze, which helps you navigate around traffic jams and construction delays; iExit, which gives you the scoop on gas stations, grocery stores and coffee shops to be found at upcoming exits; and GasBuddy, which finds the cheapest gas near you.


Advanced Tip: Some apps, such as travel guides, require a Wi-Fi connection to download to your phone, so make sure to add your must-have apps before you leave the house. It’s also a good idea to sign up ahead of time for accounts, if necessary, so the apps are ready to use when you need them.

5. Learn About Your Destinations 

To engage your kids before, during and after the road trip, pick up some children's geography books. One to check out is the colorful National Geographic Kids Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas, which goes state by state, sharing cool things to do, roadside attractions and even wacky traffic laws. For example, did you know that it’s illegal to hum on the streets of Cicero, IL, on Sundays?

Advanced Tip: Give children their own cameras so they can document the journey in a vacation scrapbook. They can take pictures of fun places they see along the way, collect sightseeing brochures to glue in, add up distances covered each day, and even draw pictures inspired by their favorite destinations.

Make sure the kids can easily access the snacks on their own.

6. Don’t Forget Screen-Free Time

Sure, we all love our gadgets, but don’t forget about classic travel games, such as I Spy and the License Plate Game. Kids still love these, and they’re a great way to enjoy some screen-free time and connect as a family while hunting for letters, objects and license plates along the interstate. Mad Libs and BrainQuest cards are great to have in the car, too, since they teach kids about parts of speech and fun, educational facts.

Advanced Tip: Try to work learning into road-trip games. For example, little ones may love Count the Cars, in which you pick a car color and have kids keep track of how many they see at a rest area or during a certain leg of the trip.

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