Tuesday, July 5, 2022
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Planning a road trip with kids

I’ve always got a string of road trip route ideas on my travel bucket list: it’s the perfect balance of adventure and child-friendly flexibility – but if you’re planning a road trip with kids, it doesn’t take long to realise that thinking ahead is key.

Boy with folded arms looking out of the rear window of a silver car with sea in the background - my tips if you're planning a road trip with kids
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Jumping in the car and just hitting the road might seem tempting, but it’s likely to be memorable for all the wrong reasons when you promptly get lost, realise you’ve forgotten half the essentials and have a car-load of small bored passengers.

But you absolutely can have a fantastic family road trip, whether you’re heading off with toddlers and preschoolers, pre-teens, teens or a whole mix – especially if you start by reading my tips on planning a road trip with kids, to help you begin everything from plotting a route to packing. Bon Voyage!

Check out my complete set of road trip planning posts, as well as ideas for routes for a family road trip

Road trip planning with kids: before you go

When you’re going on a road trip with the kids, it requires a bit of planning ahead. You don’t want to wait until the last minute to prepare everything, stressing yourself out and potentially forgetting something you need for the journey.

Instead, get prepared with this To Do list of all the things you’ll need to take care of before you ever pack up everyone in the car and head off on your exciting adventure.

For tips on what to pack for a road trip with kids, check out this post.

Check the car

Do a thorough check of your vehicle before going on any trips with your children. You’ll want to check the oil, tires, and other parts of the car to ensure that everything is in good working condition.

Don’t forget the small things, like making sure you have plenty of wiper fluid and a full tank of fuel, as well as the big ones, such as working lights and brakes, plus a fully charged battery and the appropriate car seats.

Young boy in a stripy top sitting in a retro style green toy car - my tips for planning a road trip with kids

Quite apart from the risk of causing an accident if something goes wrong, you don’t want to remember your road trip as being the family break where you spent a day sitting at the side of the road waiting for a tow truck!

If you’re renting a car for your trip, take photos/video of the interior and exterior, and give it a thorough check – missing something tiny can work out costly if you’re later charged for the damage.

Have roadside assistance

Invest in roadside assistance. It’s often more affordable than most people think, and it’s entirely worth it – especially versus the cost of getting stuck on the side of the road without an easy way to get help.

I’ve been lucky that there are very few occasions where I’ve needed to be rescued from a breakdown, but when my battery unexpectedly went flat in the middle of the countryside, I was never more relieved to have it in place.

Whether you run out of fuel, end up with a flat tire, or experience any other issue on the road, it gives you extra peace of mind when you have kids in the car too.

Keep an emergency kit in the car as well, along with items you’re likely to need for the weather, whether that’s a sun shade for the windscreen or de-icer

Review your insurance policy

Take the time to go over your insurance policy to determine the level of coverage you have – and if you think it’s worth getting any more.

The chances are you’ll have a fantastic, enjoyable trip, but better safe than sorry – and as with roadside assistance, it’s reassuring to know you’re covered in the event of an accident.

Road trip planning with kids: where to go

Plan your route in advance

Work out a kid-friendly route well in advance – when you’re planning a family road trip, that definitely doesn’t just mean deciding how to get from A to B.

Instead, consider stopping places along the way: is there an interesting detour where everyone can stretch their legs? What about places for kids to use the toilets? Or get snacks? (Although do go prepared – I’ve got tips on the best road trip snacks for kids).

Check out itineraries for a road trip with kids to get more ideas as well – I’ve got suggestions on driving the Pacific Coast Highway with kids, as well as places to stop along Route 66 with kids, and ideas for a road trip in the Midwest if you’re exploring the US.

Stack of various travel maps on a open map background - planning a road trip with kids includes plotting your route, with stops and time for delays

Or more ideas for road trips in the UK and Europe, check out everything from driving the Great West Way in England and family road trips in Ireland to inspiration for routes in Spain, Iceland and Canada, for example.

The roadtrippers app also has ideas for ready made road trip routes, plus more unusual places to stop, routes suitable for RVs, an option to create maps, and more. You’ll find themed routes and family-friendly options as well.

Create an itinerary

Once you’ve thought out the route, work on creating your itinerary – the trick is finding the balance of flexibility and actually getting to your destination.

You can come up with a list of different spots to visit on specific days and times, although it’s good to leave some time for spontaneity too – you don’t want to be constantly rushing from place to place with no time to spare.

Be sure to get some input from the whole family to make a list of things you can do plus extra places you can stop and visit while you’re on the journey if you have time.

Plan in stops

With a plan for your route and itinerary, check for different rest stops along the way, whether that’s checking on Google Maps or another app with ideas and reviews.

Depending where your road trip takes you, you could be choosing the one which suits you best in terms of facilities for kids and places to eat, or if you’re heading off the beaten track, knowing where the nearest restroom for miles is.

Whether you’re simply stopping for everyone to stretch their legs, for the driver to have a rest and kids to run around a bit, or because there’s a fun attraction to break up the journey, it’s good to plan breaks every few hours.

Give yourself extra time

When you create an itinerary, be sure to factor in some extra time – you never know how much traffic you’ll end up facing on the road for starters.

You could also find yourself needing more stops than expected, wanting to spend longer at a particular spot than you planned, discovering somewhere unexpected on the road that you just can’t miss – plus all the unexpected elements which come from travel with kids.

So while it’s good to have a plan of what time you’ll reach your various destinations, always remember things might not go entirely according to plan. And half the fun is being in control of your own itinerary anyway!

Pack the right items to take with you

There’s a lot to consider when you’re packing for a road trip with kids – so much that I’ve got a whole separate post on some of the essentials to consider! Click to read.

Check out my complete family travel planner for more ideas of everything you might need for your trip – available in bright colors and more neutral shades

Baby sitting in a suitcase packed with clothes and holiday things, blue sky and clouds behind - a packing list is always worthwhile if you're planning a road trip with kids

But while there are plenty of things which are useful to have (and nice to have), there are some essentials you definitely shouldn’t set off without – here’s what to consider to keep your family happy and comfortable along the road.

The family road trip essentials

  • Comfortable Clothes – No one wants to spend hours in a car while wearing uncomfortable outfits, after all. And make sure to have a change of clothes to hand as well… just in case.
  • Comfort items – From neck pillows to blankets, their favourite stuffed animals, and other items that will keep your kids feeling their best, happy kids make for a great family road trip. If you’re travelling with babies and toddlers, a car mirror means they can see you, while a portable potty and your diaper/nappy kit is equally essential.
  • Electronic devices & chargers – there are plenty of road trip activities for kids which don’t need electronic devices, but it’s always a good plan to have any phones and tablets to hand. Make sure they’re charged up and that you’ve got spare portable chargers/charging stations for their devices and your own, plus a holder for your own phone.
  • Essential documents – from insurance to maps, keep a file of everything you might need along the way.
  • First aid kit – from tissues and wipes to first aid basics, including bug spray and SPF, plus any medication your family needs.
  • A small day bag – handy for keeping your ‘just in case’ car essentials (snacks/change of clothes etc) in one place, and if you’re stopping along the road, you don’t want to be hunting around in a series of bags for everything you need when you can grab this and go. I love my Osprey Daylite daypack for this, usually with a few foldable shopping bags stashed inside.
  • Snacks and drinks – You can never have too many snacks on a road trip with kids, as well as reusable water bottles and takeaway mugs for hot drinks. Non-perishable food is easier than worrying about keeping it cool… and don’t forget to pack something for yourself too.

For more ideas of the best road trip snacks for kids, from healthy options to solutions for picky eaters, check out my top picks

Snacks and drinks

The snacks and drinks are essential – I know I’ve mentioned it above, but I really can’t stress this enough, you can’t do road trip planning with kids without snacks! When you’re packed in a car, a well-timed snack can be the difference between hangry meltdowns and everyone having fun.

Don’t forget to have something for everyone – check out my picks for the top road trip snacks for kids. Toddlers might love smoothie/yogurt melts, dried fruit, rice cakes, snack bars and fruit pouches, but you also want to have snacks for your older kids (and yourself).

Blond toddler in a stripy top against a green background with a big green and red apple at his mouth - you can never have too many snacks if you're planning a road trip with kids

If you have the space for a cooler, you can pack homemade sandwiches, fresh fruit and dips, which means you won’t have to make as many stops for food and can save money on your road trip adventure, too.

You can find small portable coolers as well as plenty of bigger coolers if you have space for a full-size option. Don’t forget ice blocks and a picnic blanket.

Keep plenty of water to hand, as well as any other drinks, especially if you’re packing salty snacks. But remember that extra drinks will likely equally extra stops!

Activities for the kids

While you might love soaking up the scenery and marvelling at the new places you’re discovering, it pays to have plenty of different activities for your children to do while in the car.

From games and activities to toys and other entertainment, right from crayons and drawing books to action figures and audio books, the key is to have plenty of entertainment options for them so that you won’t have to worry about listening to your children say, “I’m bored!”

Check out my complete set of tips of the best road trip activities for kids

Consider activities for the whole car to enjoy as well – old-fashioned car games are still fun to play, or line up some music to listen to on the road for a sing-along with kids.

It doesn’t matter what your favourite tracks are, the memories of everyone belting out a tune is something you’ll always remember – for better or worse! And there’s nothing better than having a special road trip playlist where the songs will always remind you of the journey.

After all, making memories with the kids is the best part about going on road trips with them.

Top tips for planning a family road trip

So you’ve worked out your packing essentials for a road trip with kids, you’ve planned your route, and come up with ideas for activities that will keep your children entertained and busy throughout the journey – so you’re ready to go! Well, nearly.

Three smiling children poking their heads out of a car window against a blue sky - my essential tips for planning a road trip with kids

Before you set off, a final reminder of a few key tips to save time and frustration on your family road trip adventure.

  • Check the electronics are charged – of course there are plenty of ways to entertain kids without electronics but you want those bad boys ready to go if they’re needed, plus portable chargers if the battery does start dying.
  • Keep car sickness remedies to hand. If you have children that tend to get a bit car sick, always have some fast-acting kid-friendly remedies available.
    There are different options depending on the age of your kids and what works best – everything from pressure point wrist bands to ginger sweets or over-the-counter remedies. But whatever your family chooses, if your kids say they’re feeling nauseous, you don’t want to realise it’s packed in the suitcase and you need to stop. Car sickness waits for no-one…
  • Always pack spare clothes. You never know what could happen, whether someone has an accident or something spills inside the car. Keep bags of spare clothes in the vehicle too because then you won’t even necessarily need to pull over to get changed, depending on the situation at hand.
  • Create a playlist before you head off. Not just a fun way to keep everyone entertained along the way, it makes for fantastic memories of your family road trip – whenever you hear that track again in future, it’ll transport your straight back.
    If you have Spotify or Amazon Music, you get access to millions of different songs so there’s guaranteed to be plenty of choice for the whole family.
  • Keep the car organized. Car organizers are your friend – you can use them to keep all the essentials, such as wipes, tissues, entertainment, snacks, and other items in one place instead of having a pile of stuff throughout the vehicle.
    It’s safer too than having items loose, in case of an emergency, and means you don’t finish your road trip picking up dozens of odds and ends scattered under seats and on the floor!
  • Extra bags are your friend – both garbage bags for clearing out the trash that accumulates, and foldable nylon shopping bags – these waterproof, washable versions are ideal, as they won’t take up much room but you can throw anything into them.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a small commission

Images courtesy of Depositphotos


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