How to Have an Amazing Family Road Trip Experience

Planning a family road trip this summer? Check out these tips on how to have an amazing family road trip with your kids. Road trips are worth the effort!

Planning a road trip with kids? Follow these tips for a family road trip to remember. #familytime #travel #familytravel #roadtrip #travelblogger

This summer, Mike and I sold our house in Massachusetts, packed up our minivan, and drove from our old home in Massachusetts to Silicon Valley, California! Mike’s new employer gave us a pretty tight moving budget. We could ship our minivan, buy plane tickets, and come out over budget. Or we could drive, stay in nice hotel suites the entire way, and break even – or at least come close. Driving was a no-brainer! Here are some of the benefits we experienced by driving, as well as tips for a successful road trip with kids.

10 Tips for a Successful Family Road Trip

Have I convinced you to try road trips? Or were you already an enthusiast? Here are a few things that can make a road trip go more smoothly:

Pack light.

We packed our kids’ clothes in their school backpacks – a trick I learned from my own parents. You can fit five days’ worth of warm weather clothing in a child’s backpack if you are careful, and this way they can carry their own stuff into the hotels. Plus, backpacks take up way less space than even small suitcases!

Stop when you need to, but drive if you can.

We planned more driving breaks than we actually took, because when the kids were asleep it was much easier to keep driving! We did stick to the hotels we had reserved at the beginning of the trip, just so that we wouldn’t end up looking for a place to stay with tired-out kids.

Spread the trip out as much as you can.

Driving from coast to coast in six days was pretty tight, and we had some LONG days – because, with small children, even a basic bathroom break takes close to an hour. It would have been fun to take more time for the trip and see more fun sights, but Mike had to get back to work.

Bring pillows and blankets.

This made a HUGE difference for my kids! They were able to sleep in the car, and it helped them feel secure during what was a very unsettled time for our family.

Bring books.

We brought more than we actually needed, I think, but the kids really enjoyed having them.

Bring one comfort item per child.

This is something I have always done when we traveled – whether we drove or flew – and it has always made a big difference.

Bring water bottles.

I LOVE these Contigo Autoseal Kids Trekker Cups (Amazon affiliate link) – they never leak! The kids take them to bed at night, and use them in their school lunches.

Bring music.

I have yet to successfully get my kids listening to audio books (I keep trying!), but they love listening to music – especially the younger ones.

Pay attention to holidays and events.

This may feel obvious, but Mike and I didn’t even think about the fact that we were leaving Massachusetts and driving straight to Niagara Falls Memorial Day weekend. We hit a TON of traffic at the border crossing! We also hit some traffic when we stayed in a town near Notre Dame college – right when they were hosting a home football game with one of their big rivals! I’m pretty sure we were the only ones in the entire (packed) hotel who were not there for the game!

Make memories! 

Seeing Niagara Falls was the highlight of the trip for me, but for my kids staying in a particularly large suite in a middle-of-nowhere town was a HUGE highlight – especially after several nights in small rooms! Remember my trip to Mexico? I loved the pyramids, and the beaches, but I also remember ADORING a round green (!) bathtub in a hotel that we stayed in. I still appreciated the cultural and typical tourist destinations, but children see the world through a different lens, and that’s not a bad thing. They loved their hotel room, but they will also remember Niagara Falls – as a beautiful sight their mother adored.

Do you go on family road trips? What benefits do you see, and what tips do you have to share? What road trips should we take, now that we live in Northern California?

MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

15 thoughts on “How to Have an Amazing Family Road Trip Experience”

  1. We are thinking of doing a cross country trip with the kids but wanted to wait until they are little older (and less whiney) but sounds like we should just do it! Great tips … I’ll bookmark for later!

  2. We’ve been blessed with a great traveler! We road trip to Portland at least once a year (12 hrs each way), and he’s been great. In terms of things to see in CA: Redwood trees, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Lake Tahoe, Lake/Mount Shasta. If you feel like venturing up to Southern Oregon, the Oregon Caves and Crater Lake are fun.

  3. I have been anxiously awaiting this post! We are doing a three day drive to Botswana in early November and I knew you would have some great suggestions for us. You didn’t disappoint – thank you!

      1. I don’t think so but we are following up some opportunities! We are going there to hang out with family while we get our next step in order. We are hoping that will still be in Zambia.

  4. We are a Northern California Company and would suggest that you take a road trip to Tahoe. Also Yosemite is a classic outing for the family. Welcome to California!!!!!!!

  5. Elisa | blissfulE

    What a terrific adventure! We do a lot of the things you suggested – and I think the hardest is knowing what the local festival/traffic conditions might be.

    I’m intrigued by that backpack-clothes-packing tip. On our trips we’ve put each kid’s clothes in their own zipper mesh travel pack, plus one other pack containing all the kids’ sleep necessities, and then put all those mesh packs inside a large duffle bag. (We do a similar thing with adult clothes in mesh bags in our own duffle bag.) I can see where backpacks could be helpful.

    1. We actually changed things up for the last two nights and I packed a change of clothes for the entire family in a bag on its own (one bag for each day). Then we ONLY brought that bag into the hotel. Only works if you can predict the weather and your day’s activity, but it sure was nice to only bring one bag in, instead of six!

  6. My kids remember some random hotels really well also. I can quite understand the appeal of a particularly big hotel room.

    You know I’m a big fan of car trips also, we rarely use our DVD player, I think on the last few trips we didn’t even bother bringing it, but we do listen to lots of books on CD.

  7. I LOVE that you made an adventure out of your move and drove across country. Our kids love traveling and love road trips. I will say, though, that my kids love watching movies in the car. We also do the traditional ABC and license plate games. So many memories are made during traveling and I love the learning that takes place!

  8. How long did you drive each day on average? What sort of schedule did you have for stops? We’re planning a relatively short 14 hour drive over two days. We’re trying to figure out how to spread it out since we’d like to have a limited amount of driving the second day so we can enjoy our destination.

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