Family Road Trip Survival Guide
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.
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.
Road to Hana, HawaiiHailed as one of the last unspoiled frontiers of Hawaii, Maui’s Road to Hana is a 52-mile highway filled with 620 curves, 59 bridges and too many stunning ocean views to count. The drive takes about 3 hours; you’ll want to leave more time to stop along the way to taste the local seafood. 960 1280
Outer Banks Highway, North CarolinaA drive on Outer Banks National Scenic Byway is the perfect way to see the natural beauty of North Carolina’s coastline. Water is everywhere, with the Atlantic on one side and the Intracoastal Waterway on the other. You’ll feel the invigorating ocean breeze as you take in the beautiful dunes, beaches, lighthouses and wildlife, making this the perfect spring or summer drive. 960 1280
Sonoma Valley, CaliforniaWhile we aren’t condoning the shenanigans that happened in the iconic male bonding/wine tasting (more like guzzling) road-trip movie Sideways, we did like their choice of car for the drive through California's Wine Country -- a Mustang convertible! With hundreds of wineries spread across 3 counties, there’s no shortage of places to stop to sample the goods along the way; we suggest keeping safety in mind and staying the night after a day of wine tasting. 960 1280
Bluebonnet Trail, TexasTake the top down on a spring drive to see the seemingly endless gardens of bluebonnets in Texas Hill Country. For an up close look at these blue beauties, start in Austin, TX, taking US 290 west to Johnson City’s Wildflower Loop. Then drive along US 281 north to the town of Burnet, Texas’s official bluebonnet capital. 960 1280
Scenic Highway 30A, FloridaThe best way to take in Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches? A drive along the Scenic Highway 30A that hugs the Gulf of Mexico coastline. As you cruise along the 28.5-mile stretch, you will see white sand beaches, old seaside cottages, state parks and nature preserves, and, of course, miles of palm trees. 960 1280
Columbia River Gorge, OregonBuilt specifically for sightseeing drivers, the Historic Columbia River Highway is the first scenic highway in the US designated as a national historic landmark. One of the best times of year to drive this scenic road is in spring, when waterfalls are at their maximum flow and wildflowers are in bloom. 960 1280
Great River Road, LouisianaEnjoy the warmer temperatures down South as you get a look at Louisiana’s antebellum past with a drive along its fabled Great Mississippi River Road. Take a ragtop drive on this 70-mile stretch of road between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Hit cruise control as you drive by the Bayou State’s most famous planation homes. 960 1280
17-Mile Drive, CaliforniaThere is perhaps no other scenic road trip in America that calls for a convertible more than a drive on California’s dramatic coastal roads. With the wind whipping through your hair, cruise along the 17-Mile Drive on Pacific Coast Highway that curves along the coast from Pacific Grove to Carmel with jaw-dropping ocean views. Just don’t forget your Hollywood-esque shades. 960 1280
Route 66, ArizonaThere’s not a road in America more synonymous with road trips than Route 66. One of America’s first highways, Route 66 stretches through Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri and Illinois. It takes 5 to 6 days to drive the full byway; you’ll want to make plenty of stops along the way to check out the kitschy roadside attractions. 960 1280
Overseas Highway, Florida KeysDriving a convertible along the Overseas Highway to the Florida Keys sounds like a dream drive, right? The 113-mile stretch from mainland Florida all the way to America’s southernmost point -- Key West-- has 42 bridges, making drivers feel suspended over the sea for much of the drive. The best part? There are plenty of places along the way to pull over and swim, snorkel and fish. 960 1280
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From Boston: Gloucester, MassachusettsOne of the most picturesque spots on Massachusetts’ North Shore is just 35 miles north of the city. The charming fishing community of Gloucester — the backdrop for The Perfect Storm — is full of historical folklore and a thriving arts scene. 960 1280
From Boston: Great Barrington, MassachusettsAn easy 2-hour drive into western Massachusetts, the Southern Berkshires town of Great Barrington spells romance and relaxation. Stroll through the historic downtown area, which is lined with charming boutiques and galleries, or meander along the Great Barrington Housatonic River Walk. 960 1280
From Chicago: New Buffalo, MichiganSituated on Lake Michigan's Gold Coast, New Buffalo has been called the Hamptons of the Midwest and is jokingly dubbed the Irish Riviera, as a lot of Chicago's South Side Irish community vacations here. It's an easy day trip from the city, but the amazing beaches, sand dunes and prime fishing conditions make it a popular weekend getaway as well. 960 1280
From Chicago: Madison, WisconsinSure, everyone knows that Wisconsin stakes a claim to glorious cheese and beer, but what's less well-known is that Madison is the perfect family- or gay-friendly weekend getaway. Earning countless accolades for its eco-friendliness, this picturesque university town is progressive and has a burgeoning dining and culture scene. 960 1280
From Dallas: Glen Rose, TexasSouthwest of Dallas, the quaint town of Glen Rose is home to Dinosaur Valley State Park, which is famous for its visible, well-preserved dinosaur footprints. If dino hunting doesn’t interest you, the park also offers trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, as well as campsites, playgrounds and access to the Paluxy River. 960 1280
From Dallas: Grandview, TexasWell-heeled Texans mosey on over to Beaumont Ranch for a weekend spent in small-town, pastoral splendor. Swanky but unpretentious, this working ranch — which has 26 rooms and cabins — is the place to go for cattle drives, roping or shooting lessons, and relaxing trail rides. The real treats, though, are the traditional Chuck Wagon Meals. 960 1280
From Los Angeles: Ventura, CaliforniaMidway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, Ventura is home to a vibrant Main Street, mom-and-pop antique stores, wine bars and the historic San Buenaventura Mission. The town tends to attract a hip, sophisticated crowd. 960 1280
From Los Angeles: Laguna Niguel, CaliforniaDrive in to Laguna Niguel along Laguna Canyon Road from Interstate 405, winding through a canyon until you reach the ocean. In addition to providing top-notch views, this coastal community strongly supports the arts. The Laguna Art Museum showcases Californians, while dozens of crafts galleries, clothing boutiques and jewelry shops dot downtown. 960 1280
From Miami: OrlandoAll signs point toward spending lots of vacation dollars at this popular tourist destination, but you don't have to blow your budget — or visit Disney — to have a good time in Orlando. Seek out everything else the city has to offer, including great shopping, museums, restaurants and golf courses. Or, for a more reasonably priced park experience, dive in to a water park such as kid-friendly Wet ’n Wild. 960 1280
From Miami: Everglades National Park, FloridaTraveling the 25-mile route from downtown Miami to the Everglades along US Route 41 is like taking a step back in time, with kitschy billboards and signs along the way. Once you arrive, don't miss the opportunity to hop in an airboat and explore the middle of the swamp. There are plenty of operators that offer tours of varying lengths and costs. 960 1280
From New York: Montauk, Long IslandIt's tough to come by deals in the Hamptons, but if you've stashed some cash and are looking for a luxe weekend away, Montauk is close by and the way to go. After hitting the waves, stay at the renovated Surf Lodge, a 32-room boutique hotel located on the shore of Fort Pond, just half a mile from the beach. 960 1280
From New York: Long Island Wine Country/North Fork RegionThe complete antithesis of the uber-trendy Hamptons, the North Fork region has retained its rural appeal despite increased interest in its winemaking efforts. Think New England charm, breathtaking water views of both the Long Island Sound and the Peconic Bay, with a healthy dose of relaxed wine-country living. 960 1280
From Philadelphia: Atlantic City, New JerseyThis Jersey Shore town may seem as though it’s past its prime, but it still offers 2 things that never get old: beaches and casinos. Whether it’s a family trip, a romantic escape or a friends’ getaway, Atlantic City is always a safe bet. If you crap out at the tables, check out the live music venues and exciting nightlife options. 960 1280
From Philadelphia: Bucks County, PennsylvaniaCity dwellers flee the demands of urban living for the leisurely idyll of Bucks County, home to the arts-filled town of New Hope. Wander among the tree-lined roads, or try nearby activities such as tubing on the Delaware River, seeing a show at the Bucks County Playhouse and taking an art class at the Mercer Museum. 960 1280
From San Francisco: Half Moon Bay, CaliforniaTucked between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Half Moon Bay is one of those relatively untouched stretches of California coast that is frequently overlooked. Investigate the tide pools at Fitzgerald Reserve at Moss Beach or go bird-watching at the Pescadero Marsh and Pillar Point Marsh preserves. 960 1280
From San Francisco: Sonoma County, CaliforniaJust 1 hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, budget-minded travelers can find lots to do in Sonoma County. Enjoy vineyards, orchards and redwood-covered mountains, not to mention big events such as Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, which takes place over Labor Day weekend. 960 1280
From Seattle: Mount Rainier National Park, WashingtonOnly about 85 miles from the hustle and bustle of Emerald City rises majestic Mount Rainier. Around it are endless sights and activities for outdoor enthusiasts — miles of hiking trails, camping, lakes, streams, wildflowers and incomparable views. If you’re not brave enough to try to reach the peak, take a walk through the meadows of Paradise or Sunrise. 960 1280
From Seattle: Westport/Olympic Peninsula, WashingtonNorth of the Long Beach Peninsula, on the outer edge of Grays Harbor, is Westport. Learn about the history of this small fishing community at the Westport Maritime Museum and the century-old Grays Harbor Lighthouse. The town also sits along miles of beaches that offer some of Washington's best surfing. 960 1280
From Washington, DC: BaltimoreBaltimore’s usual tourist destinations — the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, Fort McHenry and Fells Point — are popular for good reason and are definitely worth a visit. If you’ve seen all of those, branch out to some of the lesser-known (and lower-cost!) spots, such as the Baltimore Museum of Industry, a favorite for kids. 960 1280
From Washington, DC: Old Town Alexandria, VirginiaWith its art galleries, boutique shopping, historic sites and restaurants, as well as access to miles of scenic trails and bike paths just 6 miles from DC, Old Town Alexandria was made for impromptu weekend getaways. After exploring King Street, walk down to the riverfront to catch a sightseeing tour or dinner cruise on the Potomac. 960 1280
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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.