Traveling is a passion of mine and I want to pass that passion along to my kids, what better way than with road trips. Road trips aren’t for everyone, especially when there are kids involved, but they can be a great way to see the sights and spend some time together. Here are some of my tips and tricks when it comes to planning a road trip.
Deciding Where to Go
The first thing you need to do with any trip is decide where to go. As with any trip there are many decisions involved but for me the key thoughts that go into deciding whether to fly and visit a place vs. doing a road trip come down to how much time you have, if there are things to do between where you are and where you want to go, and who will be traveling with you.
My husband would DIE if I announced over dinner we were going to Yellowstone via road trip, that is not the idea of a good trip for him but when my sister mentioned it after our mom decided she wanted the family to go to Yellowstone this summer I didn’t even hesitate. “Sure, we have a 3 month old that doesn’t care for car rides but by next summer she will be fine” I told Chris over dinner when I announced I would be gone for an additional 9 days and wouldn’t be flying out with him on this family trip.
The year we did our Great Lakes Road Trip, my sister came up with the idea to drive around and see all of the Great Lakes. My mom and I thought that sounded pretty cool so we kind of jumped in the car with her and rode along. I can’t remember if we were invited or not but I’m leaning toward us having invited ourselves. There were so many places to hit along the way, it just made sense to make a road trip out of it.
Our trip to Acadia National Park several years ago was a road trip from the start since my sister and I hadn’t visited several states in the northeast and it seemed like a good time to check that off our list while also visiting coastal Maine. We had a lot of fun on that trip but actually ended up finishing Acadia early and hitting the road to see way more than we initially planned, which wouldn’t have happened if we had flown up to visit.
You get the picture here. If you can make fun stops along the way, have the time to spend driving, and have travelers who don’t mind the ride a road trip can be an exciting way to see the country.
Divide and Drive
When you sit down to decide how far to drive in a day there are two main things to consider
- How long can the people in your car stand being in your car?
- Where are you going and how long will your trip be?
For our Yellowstone trip we are leaving on a Friday and will need to meet our family outside of Bozeman, Montana 8 days later. Our main stop along the way is Mount Rushmore so I sat down with a map (google) one night and looked up the directions from here to there.
Once the directions are pulled up I will scroll in and take note of the major cities along the way. For this trip the cities I wrote down were Nashville, St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha, Sioux Falls, and Custer. After that I mapped the distances from city to city in a timeline.
So based on these drive times and the fact that we know we want to drive further than Nashville on our first day I will look between Nashville and St. Louis for decent sized cities. We typically don’t book hotels in advance unless we are staying a few days in one place, have somewhere specific we want to stay, or know the town is a small town and might not have many options available when we get there. For this trip the goal for day one is to get somewhere between Nashville and Paducah, Kentucky. You basically go along like this for the whole trip, keeping in mind places you want to stop and how long you think it will take for you to see the sights.
The itinerary below is the almost final draft for our trip. You can see we have booked places to stay for some nights but other nights it’s a general area and we will grab a room with an app when we get close to our area and are tired of driving. We are also keeping in mind with the current pandemic and rioting we may not be able to see places that aren’t open and we may need to avoid larger cities along the way.
For the return, I mapped the route and divided it by 3 getting the total number of hours we will have to drive each day to make it back to my sister’s house by Sunday night. Ada will be flying home with Chris and my parents and Christopher is a car ride pro so we will be able to skirt home in no time…because 3 days of driving is totally “no time” LOL
For years my family has picked on me for planning trips with my spreadsheet but I’m telling you, it really helps maximize the time you have and having a general idea of when you need to leave point A if you plan on seeing point B is key.
Supplies and Packing
Packing smart is one of the best ways to make your road trip smooth sailing. If there are things you need regularly make sure they are on top and easily accessible. One of the things I like to do for a trip is pack multiple bags based on where we are staying and how many nights, this way I don’t have to unload the car completely on night one somewhere we are just pulling into sleep and pulling back out again first thing.
An example, for the Yellowstone trip, is that I will pack a large suitcase which will be pulled when we get to Custer but for the 3 nights before I will pack a separate smaller bag with everything I need for what is essentially a “weekend”. The place we are staying the 3 nights in a row has laundry so I will wash everything before we leave and repack my bags again so I won’t have to remove the big bag again until we get to the week long rental in Montana. This also means I am only packing approximately a week’s worth of clothing and will wash and rewear outfits.
For the supplies we need, food pouches, diapers, wipes, etc. I will pack what I think I need accordingly for Ada for part of the trip. Along the way, probably once we get to Montana I will visit a grocery store and restock on the items I’ve run out of. For my sister and I we will grab some snacks for the road but mainly pick up food as we drive. I also like to carry 2 gallons of water with me just in case we can’t find somewhere to refill our cups, this helps not to have to buy 100 water bottles from gas stations along the way.
Stops Along the Way
You know there are ALWAYS unplanned stops along the way, gas stations, meals, someone has to potty, you smell that someone has already gone potty, you see the world’s largest carrot, etc. so how to I maintain a schedule while also including these situations?
The first rule of road tripping – when you stop for gas or food EVERYONE gets out and goes to the bathroom, there are no exceptions to this rule. This is the #1 way, in my opinion, to cut down on extra stops. I’m not saying we won’t stop if someone has to go along the way but knowing they went at the last stop helps with the annoyance factor.
When we do trips and see interesting billboards or signs along the way, sometimes we will stop in and see what the fuss is about especially if we are in need of a break but sometimes the world’s largest blue sticker just needs to be googled. You also have to watch for things like Exit 127 on I-16 telling you Magnolia Springs is an attraction. Magnolia Springs is a cute attraction on the way to Augusta and it makes a nice stop to stretch to let the kids run around but it’s probably 45-50 miles from the interstate so not exactly an “attraction” right out of Statesboro.
One of the places we always stop is a state line welcome center. For restroom breaks mostly, but also because there are usually signs that make a good photo op. Growing up this is something we did and it’s always fun to go back and look at the photos from those trips.
Don’t Forget to Have a Good Time
Between planning and executing your trip don’t forget, it’s about having a good time and spending time with your family! If you know your kids or your significant other can’t hang in a car for the better part of 8 hours 7 days in a row start small and do a weekend or a day trip, don’t plan a week long drive to California and back. If you think you’re up for a good road trip you can download a few great itineraries below! Safe travels and share your trips with me!