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Get schooled with tips and survive the summer family road trip

Family on a road trip

School is out for summer and the time is right for all the summertime faves. Like hitting the pool, hosting a barbecue, catching a Royals game at The K, catching fireflies and of course, taking a family road trip! If the road is calling your family this summer, you are not alone. AAA (the American Automobile Association) predicts nearly 43 million Americans will be hitting the road this summer from Memorial Day through Labor Day. This is a 3.6% increase over last summer.   

No matter where the road takes you, these tips can help keep everyone occupied, indulged and happy. To get the most out of your adventure:

  • Think about your passengers. Whether you are traveling with an infant, toddler, tween, teenager or college students, every age and stage requires certain needs­­–and wants.
  • Do your homework. Hey, no fair, school is out for summer. True. But a little research and prep will serve your journey and your passengers well.
    • Plot your destination. With so much information at our fingertips locating and mapping your stops is worth the up-front-time. You can easily plot and locate clean gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, roadside attractions and hotels. Pre-load addresses to your car and phone GPS so you are ahead of the game. Be sure to check and allow for road closures and detours.
    • Time it right. Depending on your destination and the length of travel, you can get ahead of some of the possible chaos by determining the best travel times for departures and arrivals. This is helpful for eating schedules, napping and sleep routines, as well as, busy traffic times such as morning or evening rush hours.
      • Make nighttime and morning travel times fun for little travelers. Tell the kids you are having a PJ party in the car as you drive through the dark of night. Eating breakfast in the car is also a blast for kids and it keeps the pedal to the medal so you can make fewer stops, saving time and money.
    • Be gassed up and be good to go. Car maintenance and safety is key. This is a “no-duh” but it is best to prep for this early in the planning. It will not only save you time, it could save your road trip budget vs. having to add an expensive car repair in an unfamiliar place. It could also save your family’s lives.
  • Pack a good attitude. This goes for everyone in the car–parents and passengers! When you set out on a positive path everyone is moving forward in the right direction. It can make all the difference and can help make the miles fly by.
  • Plan to get off track. The key here is to be okay with getting off track, even getting lost as long as everyone is safe. Yes, it is important to have a plan and a schedule. Children, especially younger ones, need and thrive in routine and schedules. However, you are in a car and on the road. Stuff happens like weather, detours, construction, traffic, car sickness and extra potty breaks. When you get comfortable with all the possible road hazards and distractions you are in a better frame of mind to power through. Heck, a travel hiccup could turn into a treasured experience and memory.
  • Be spontaneous. The open road is just that­–open for exploration. If and when it serves your family, seize the chance to pull over and soak it in. Be sure to capture that spontaneity with photos and video.
  • Screen time could be a life-saver. Electronics are now part of everyday life. That is no different for the road trip. As the parent and the tech warden, you are the keeper of the screen time and content based on your child’s age and what works for your family. Remember these tech tips:
    • Remember to pack phone and device chargers, headphones and small backpacks for safekeeping.
    • Making sure electronics are charged and ready to use at the start of each new travel day.
    • Ensure your content is downloaded and not just in your que.
    • Have non-Wi-Fi games and content also available.
    • Devices demand responsibility. Empower your young travelers to be responsible for the care, keeping and charging of their personal devices throughout the journey.
    • If your family shares devices set the ground rules for sharing BEFORE you get out of the driveway. A timer or a “you get it until the next town” rule might come in handy.
    • Don’t forget, small screens and reading in the car could trigger motion sickness. Be sure to check in with your young travelers, take lots of breaks, and roll down those windows for some much-needed fresh air. It will do everyone some good.
    • And, here is a really helpful tip. Limit gadget time from the get-go. This way there are no surprises and no unhappy campers, or travelers.

Big ideas for the littlest of travelers.

Traveling with little ones is both an art and a science. Here’s some help from what to pack to what to do to pass the time.

  • Snack, so there are no attacks! Snacks are a key road trip survival tool. They can pacify, serve as rewards (yes, reward-based behavior may be in order and we are good with it), and it is an easy and economical way to add smiles over the miles. Consider the following as you prep snacks and treats for your carload.
    • Pack smart. Pack a cooler. This sounds like a given but when you are packing the car, make sure you have easy and safe access to it from within the car’s cabin so you don’t have to make a lot of unnecessary stops. Nobody puts a baby’s snacks in the corner.
    • Healthy, variety is key. Be sure to include options.
      • Fresh fruit (apples, pears and bananas)
      • Protein (peanut butter if everyone is allergy-free, dried jerky meats and cheeses)
      • Grains (fruit bars, crackers and chips)
      • Dairy might be harder in the summer months, so a cooler is always in order for baby formula, fresh milk or yogurt, and water–lots of water.
    • Plan for a backseat picnic. Make it fun and think about brown bag lunches with finger sandwiches. Have fun with the way you package your snacks and food. Decorate the bags, include little surprises and prizes like stickers and small toys.
    • Play spot a snack. Keep an eye out for local and roadside farm stands. It makes for a fun adventure and a fresh, healthy snack.
    • Ration your snacks. If you know you are traveling for several hours, hold your snacks and disburse them in chunks of time so the kids don’t gobble all the goodness too soon.
  • Car games and entertainment. We covered off on electronics. That is just part of the road trip these days. But a good old-fashioned car game can make your trip fun and memorable. Put these favorites and new ideas into play as you head out.
  • Sing-alongs. From “Baby Shark” to “This Land is Your Land” and everything in between, sing-alongs can be fun and funny, and most certainly, an ear and eye-opener for all involved.
  • The quiet game. After the family sing-along this old gem can come in really handy. It’s pretty simple. The person who can be the quietest for the longest amount of time wins! And, on a long road trip, everyone is a winner.
  • The license plate game. Try to find a license plate from every U.S. state.
  • The ABC game. As you are driving each person in the car takes a turn spotting an object that starts with that letter. Play in alphabetical order.
  • The movie quote game. Each passenger takes a turn doing a voice or character’s famous line from a movie or TV show as everyone else tries to guess its origination.
  • Be the DJ. Everyone in the car gets a turn at picking the tunes.
  • You can find lots of online and traditional forms of trivia games for all ages and interests. Put a twist on your car trivia game and make the questions specific to your destination or the towns, cities and states you are driving through.
  • Pack the fun.
    • Books are a must for all ages. End of story.
    • Game on. Travel games like Connect Four, tic-tac-toe, magnetic games (so you don’t loose pieces), stickers and color books are a kid’s best travel companion.
    • The comforts of home. Don’t forget to bring along your child’s favorite stuffed animal or security blanket. But be forewarned. If you lose or leave behind a precious item, you run the risk of complete and total road trip failure. And, no matter the age, comfy clothes, easy-to-slip-on-and-off-shoes and pillows and blankets make it much more comfortable.

Make it a big opportunity for the bigger kids.    

Children grow up fast, so hold on by letting them take hold of parts of the big trip.

  • Let them drive. Perhaps not drive the family car but let them drive the conversations, some decision-making and some planning. When they have a strong voice in the family road trip your whole family can go the extra mile.
  • We know, strange concept, huh? If you feel your babies slipping away, now you have them in your grips. They are in a small space and cannot escape to their room, the basement or to their gadgets. Use this time to connect, reconnect and find out what’s going on in that amazing head of theirs. But play it cool. It’s not an intervention but rather an invitation to learn about your teen or young adult from their point-of-view and interests.
  • Listen, together. If your road trippers are age-appropriate, the audiobook or podcast is a fantastic way to pass the time and take in a great story. Listen individually or listen as a family and log some serious together time.
    • Showing a genuine interest in what interests them shows unity, respect and go figure, hints of coolness on your part.
    • Take it up a notch and do a post podcast or audiobook car discussion about what you all just heard and experienced together. It’s like car book club.

Document it for future trips down memory lane.

That family photo of you next to the largest ball of twine or in front of a wax museum statue may one day be priceless. Be sure to capture and share your road trip experiences and memories. You will be glad you did. Here’s a couple tips to make it a success:

  • Create a shared album in iPhoto or Google Photos so everyone can add their photos in one place. This makes creating photo albums easier when you get home.
  • Make sure you have plenty of photo storage available before you hit the road.
  • Appoint the kids as the “official” road trip videographers and photographers of the trip.
  • Create a family Instagram page and invite friends and family to follow your adventure.
  • Host a family photo contest. At the end of the trip or perhaps at the end of each day cast a vote for best, funniest or worst photo.
  • Have each family member do a summer road trip journal. Or, co-create a family journal where each family member documents an experience or a day. It will make for great collaboration and a great keepsake.