Road trip! What childhood memory comes to mind when you hear those words? Chances are your memories are either about great fun, or hours of misery fighting with your sibling in the back seat of the car. For me, it’s a little bit of both!
Now that I’m older and have learned a lot about traveling with kids of all ages, I realize as long as you take the time to plan ahead on some things, and are wide open to change on others, a road trip can be a fun part of the whole adventure. Here are some great road trip hacks for the whole family.
1. Make Behavior Expectations Clear Before Leaving
Image via Flickr by Kim Davies
This often overlooked hack sets the tone for the whole trip. Talk to your family about trip rules and expectations before you leave. Print them out so you can refer back to the rules if necessary. The last thing you want to hear is, “You didn’t tell me that!”
The rules should include things like, “Everyone uses the restroom when we stop, even if you don’t have to go,” and “When we stop, everyone stays together.” Also relay expectations about how often you will be stopping, when you will eat, what reward will be given for good behavior, and what is taken away if behavior is not up to par. By going over these simple rules and expectations beforehand, your family will know what to do.
2. Hang a Backpack Full of Activities Over the Headrest of the Front Seat
Image via Flickr by MTSO fan
This hack works for all ages and there’s nothing to buy since just about everyone owns a backpack. Items inside the pack can be customized based on age.
Hang a backpack over the head rest of the front seat, then roll the flap of the backpack down and secure it with a binder clip. Once secure, fill the bag and mesh compartment inside with age-appropriate activities and snacks. This hack can be super simple or very creative. For little ones, you might want to wrap up a few dollar store toys and put them in the bag as a special surprise.
3. Fill Fido’s Kong Toy with Peanut Butter
Image via Flickr by OakleyOriginals
Dogs get bored just like kids. When traveling with your four-legged kid, fill a Kong toy with a tasty treat such as peanut butter. I know, it sounds gross but it really does work! He will be able to smell the treat even after licking all he can out of the center. This keeps him busier than a normal toy would and it doesn’t splinter all over your car like a bone.
Once you reach your destination, just rinse the toy thoroughly inside and out to remove any leftover treat still inside. Most of the Kong toys have a larger opening that makes cleaning easy.
4. Play Games that Promote Working as a Team and Avoid Games with One Winner
Image via Flickr by Vastateparkstaff
Face it! Kids are competitive at all ages, and they will fight if given the chance. A game that requires everyone to work as a team will help everyone get along better. You can play a game of scavenger hunt and offer a prize for everyone once all of the items are collected, say, “If you get everything on the list, we will stop and have ice cream!” That would work for me!
It may be best to avoid some of the more traditional games like license plate bingo if you are traveling with competitive kids. Games like these can backfire and cause fights when someone doesn’t believe you actually saw that license plate from Ohio.
5. Create a Moving Scrapbook
Image via Flickr by Bunches and Bits
Assign everyone a different task. Someone can be in charge of pictures, someone items for the scrapbook, and someone keeps a journal. The idea is that each person works on their part while on the trip so that when you return home from your destination, you have everything for a scrapbook. The collaborative work becomes a meaningful souvenir everyone will appreciate.
6. Stay Connected While On the Road
Image via Flickr by Sidartha Thota
An easy solution for staying connected to the internet on larger devices such as a tablet is use your smartphone’s hot spot or tethering capabilities. This hack comes in handy for the whole family. Full views usually offer more information than a mobile view so it’s easier to find maps and other needed information faster.
Remember, if you don’t have unlimited data you will want to either purchase more data before you leave, or monitor the usage closely while on the road to avoid overage charges.
7. Schedule Pit Stops Where Everyone Can Burn Off Excess Energy
Image via Flickr by lulginter
Bring action items such as a football or Frisbee so that you can encourage everyone to burn off excess energy during pit stops. If you forget to bring something family members can chase, no worries, foot races or tag will get you the same result.
This is a great family activity so Mom and Dad should be running too. Exercise helps release endorphins and that reduces stress. If you are less stressed, you will be better able to handle the hiccups that may happen along the way.
8. Go Old School and Bring a Real Map and a Sharpie
Image via Flickr by StefanAndrejShambora
There is just something about a traditional map that brings excitement to a trip. You can tell the kids this is how Mom and Dad traveled when we were your age. You will sound ancient but the kids usually think its cool!
Allow the kids to trace the route as you go. They will appreciate the visual of how far they have gone and how much further they have to travel to reach the destination. It adds a fun element that is missing in today’s travel.
9. Go Off the Beaten Path
Image via Flickr by Jimmy Emerson, DVM
Another fun activity for all ages is to follow a couple of those really weird billboards you see along the way or Google, “World’s Largest (you fill in the blank).” These little side adventures not only take you off the beaten path, but they add unexpected fun and memories to your trip.
10. Take Advantage of Free and Reduced Price Days
Image via Flickr by Scott Smith
If you want to see something particular in a town, research when they may have free or reduced pricing for that attraction. Many museums and theme parks reduce prices after a certain time of day. Some even offer free admission.
Disney is a great place to find these freebies. Many museums in the area offer free days and Downtown Disney is always free. You will find lots of things to do and see there for all ages.
11. Look into Coupon Books for a City Before you Travel There
Image via Flickr by Schipul
This hack can save you hundreds when visiting a city far away from home. In the US, if I am traveling to a certain area for a few days, I often invest in an Entertainment Book for that area. They tend to be less touristy and using just a couple coupons inside more than pays for the price of the book.
If you want to do more of the touristy activities, many cities have coupon books available for attraction-heavy activities around town. Discounts in these books are usually not as good, but any discount is better than none.
12. Plan Your Trip to Avoid Detours and Rush Hours
Image via Flickr by Derek Bruff
By leaving at a certain time of day, you can avoid rush hour in larger cities and get to your destination faster. If you do happen to hit a rush hour or traffic jam, there are some great apps out there now that can help you detour using alternative routes.
When researching a route, don’t forget to check for construction along the way. Sometimes the fastest route becomes the slowest once you hit construction delays.
13. Use a Gas App to Save Money on the Road
Image via Flickr by Andy Pixel
Sometimes just a few miles makes a big difference when it comes to gas prices. With a gas app, like GasBuddy, you can easily tell when it is a good time to fill up.
If you are taking a rental car on your road trip, beware of high gas prices near the rental facility. Your contract usually requires you bring the car back with a full tank. Recently, I dropped off a car to a rental facility where the gas at the station across the street was priced $1.50 more than I had paid elsewhere. The station was full of people filling up before dropping back their cars. Ouch!
14. Remember the Important Travel Essentials: Rubber Bands, Binder Clips and Duct Tape
Image via Flickr by Lynn Friedman
Rubber bands and binder clips can secure cell phones, back packs, iPads, and many other items. Duct Tape, well, what can’t Duct Tape do? Use it for quick fixes of squeaks inside the car, securing luggage, and even arts and crafts. It is the universal travel essential you cannot leave home without.
Rubber bands and binder clips can be used to hold cell phones in air vents when a holder isn’t available. This is great hack when using a cell phone as a GPS.
15. Use the Coat Rack for Something Useful
Image via Flickr by Josh Ferris
You can use an additional cargo net like the one pictured, but attach it to the clothes handles above the rear windows near the interior roof. This adds more space for storage and utilizes wasted space along the ceiling. For winter trips, this is an excellent place to put coats or other flat items that are needed, but bulky when left in the seat. It’s also a great place to put pillows.
This hack is great for everyday use.You can leave the net there and have an instant storage location to use year round.
If you have used any of these hacks, or have hacks of you own, please share your experience in the comment box below. Everyone loves a great hack! What’s yours?
Featured photo credit: by Massachusetts Office of Tourism via flickr.com