Travel Tips

How to Plan a Great Family Road Trip

An amazing family road trip is easy to plan.  Using a simple formula, you can create a trip that is memorable, fun, exciting and relaxing.  A bit of extra preparation will ensure that everyone has a great time and that you enjoy the experience as much as your kids. 

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Packing Travel Tip:

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Family Road trip step 1: Figure out your options

family road trip planning tips
Family Road Trip – New York

A traditional family road trip itinerary often starts at home.  However, you don’t need to limit your vacation to your immediate area. If you want to take a road trip somewhere further away, take a look at easy and short flights from your closest airport. For instance, in New York, I can easily and inexpensively access many locations such as Charlotte, NC, Seattle, WA and Montreal, Canada.  Unless you live in NYC your list will likely look different.  The key is to find flights that are simple and direct. You probably don’t want to invest a ton of time or money just to get to your road trip.  However, a well-chosen short flight can put you in a totally different area.  For instance, my family and I recently took a road trip that originated in Montreal. Our flight was only 54 minutes and it cost close to $100 per person roundtrip. Once you do some research,  make a list of 3 to 5 easy to access locations.

Family Road Trip Step 2: Let the highlights be your guide 

family road trip planning tool
Consider major urban areas as your highlights

A vacation should always involve great memories.  Now that you have some ideas about the areas you can get to easily (see step 1), time to find some attractions your family would enjoy in every location. When narrowing down your highlights list don’t just stick to “major attractions.”  Your vacation doesn’t have to involve Mount Rushmore or Yellowstone National Park (although it certainly can).  Consider your family’s unique interests and read up on the less known attractions in the area that might be a perfect fit for your family. I use the recommended places feature on Vero Social Media, TripAdvisor, other bloggers and Pinterest boards to research.  Consider major metropolitan areas as highlights.  For instance, when planning my family’s recent trip to Montreal, we came up with this list of highlights:

After you have a good highlights list for each area, sit down with your family. Figure out which attractions appeal the most to you, and settle on the area you will visit.  Our options involved North Carolina, Atlanta, and Montreal. We picked Montreal because it seemed to offer more of what we wanted to do.

Family Road Trip Step 3: 

Now that you know where you are going, and the major attractions you want to visit, time to plan your route.  I find it easiest to plan a trip using MapQuest’s route planner tool.  Using this tool, first, enter your place of arrival and departure (for us both were in Montreal).  Next, enter the major attractions and use the trip planner to arrange your stops in a driving order that makes sense. Aim for one major attraction per day (and 2 full days per big city). An ideal road trip should look like a circle so that you are seeing new things every day. We added a couple more stops and arrived at our complete itinerary (see picture).

mapquest route planning tool to help plan a family road trip
My favorite route planning tool from Mapquest

Family Road Trip Planning dos and don’ts:

  • Do pick a reputable company to rent a car. I use discovercarehire.com to compare dozens of car rental companies in one place.  Then I pick the companies with the best reputation and book the best deal from that list.  Its good to comparison shop but don’t try to save money by renting from a third-rate shop. The last thing you want is car trouble on a family road trip. 
  • Don’t plan for more than one major attraction per day. Chances are your kids will be tired enough after just one big stop, doing two is going to create a ton of pressure and perhaps unnecessary stress.
  • Do stop by a supermarket at the very beginning of your trip and pick up enough snacks to last the trip. Ensuring that you have food and water on hand at all times saves a ton of time and stress for everyone involved.  I like to buy one plastic bottle of water per family member and refill it in restaurants each time we make a stop.
  • Don’t eat every meal in a restaurant. One of the big pleasures of a family road trip is picnicking (it saves money too). Pick up food in supermarkets or at roadside farm stands and enjoy a lunch or dinner in nature. Many areas offer designated picnic sites, but you can eat almost anywhere unless there are signs posted that say otherwise.
  • Do pick hotels with amenities. Even a small pool can give you a great filler activity and a place to relax after a day well spent. I find that I spend far more time in the hotel on a family trip than I do on a solo trip. A breakfast included in a hotel stay can save both time and money.  
  • Don’t spend more than 2 nights in any one place. The point of a road trip is to keep moving.  Having lots of different things to see means you’ll need to change locations often.
  • Do take advantage of national parks, hiking trails, and wildlife activities. One of the great joys of a family road trip is all the incredible nature you’ll get to see.  This is a perfect opportunity for at least one age-appropriate hike (find a ranger to get suggestions) and of course another great time for a picnic.  Always set a great example for your kids by cleaning up after yourself and leaving the area spotless. 
  • Don’t buy attraction tickets in advance if you don’t have to. Locking yourself into an activity means you can’t change your plans in case of inclement weather.  I usually try to research the attraction in advance, and if I find I can wait to purchase the tickets, I will purchase the ticket either the day prior or on the spot.  This way if the weather doesn’t cooperate you can always pick or find another activity. When it comes to family travel, flexibility is definitely the key to success.  
  • Do take advantage of free things to do to fill up your day. Find the tourist information centers and ask for free/cheap attractions and suggestions. 
  • Don’t drive more than 1 to 4 hours a day. In general, I find this is a great rule of thumb for trips with children of any age.  So, my 1-week circles tend to be fairly small and tight.  This is why visiting an area with lots of family attractions is ideal.  If the attractions are spread too far, the road trip becomes more hassle and less joy.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and find it useful.  Please feel free to comment and do share on social media!  Please check out my artwork for sale and help suppor this blog! Thank you and see you next time

Viktoria aka Traveltipster

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