When taking a family road trip, you need to know basically two things: 1) where to go and 2) how to get there happily.
First, I’ll address the “where” for your family road trip.
Based on my experience, these are some of the loveliest destinations for United States destinations. There really is beauty in the journey.
For a west coast trip, it’s hard to beat a trip down the state of California:
- Make sure to include Big Sur and San Francisco (or at least its environs) on your road trip. Stop near Carmel for a break to stretch your legs at Point Lobos state park. You can walk
the park in “regular” shoes while seeing some of the most breathtaking sights in the country. The Carmel area is a great day trip along your route.
- San Diego. There’s so much to see whether you’re coming from the north near Los Angeles and “upwards,” or east from Arizona (extra points if you’re coming from the west or south). 😉 The weather is wonderful year-round, so it’s hard to go wrong driving here.
For a family road trip just a bit farther east—with some breathtaking national parks:
- Bryce Canyon. Less popular than the Grand Canyon (which I do recommend seeing, too), this is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s otherworldly, really. Do go when the weather is warm to avoid slippery roads and treacherous hikes (especially for kids). Plus, it’s clo
se to other state and national forests that should be on everyone’s “must see” list. Make sure to check out Zion National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
- Route 66 has a reputation for a reason. A good one, that is. Although it’s near very little, seeing Meteor Crater was among my favorite stops on any road trip, anywhere. It’s surreal and humbling. Plus, it’s fun to stop nearby and catch yourself “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” if you’re an Eagles fan. (The band, not the football team.)
What about something different, like one based on visiting natural hot springs?
Most of the west coast is covered in natural hot springs, but this interactive map shows the best “hot spots” (no pun intended, well…maybe) across the entire U.S. Lots happen to be along some pretty interesting and centrally located spots, too.
Family road trips even farther east—think purple mountain majesty:
You could combine visiting hot springs with driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is what some people call “America’s favorite drive.” Here’s the route many drivers follow. Note that if you go
during Spring Break, some portions might still be closed due to weather. Always verify ahead of time.
Family road trips all the way east (coast):
Colonial Williamsburg makes a fantastic starting point for family road trips. Not only is it educational, but it’s a great midway point between New York and the Carolinas. So, you can drive
either direction along the coast and see some amazing sights. Drive north to New York if you want to experience more “big city life.” Drive south if you’d like something a bit slower paced.
Of course, Florida can be a road trip in and of itself. From theme parks to beaches to the Florida Keys, there’s something for everyone—and enough to keep a family entertained for quite some time. Check your weather before hurricane season and enjoy the benefits of traveling off-peak if you can (although beaches will be colder, or much hotter, then).
How to survive a family road trip happily.
As with all things, know your audience (in this case, the people who’ll be in your car). Younger kids often, although not always, need a lot of movement. It may seem counterintuitive, but I plan to reach our destination as quickly as possible–and that might mean less movement in a single day. It might mean a single uncomfortable day, but then it’s over. If you plan too many stops to “get wiggles out,” it can become increasingly difficult to get back into the car every time. Drive the maximum amount you can handle before that mandatory wiggle time.
Alternatively, and what works especially well with older kids, is to make the journey part of the adventure. There might not be much between Albuquerque and Las Vegas, for example, but spending half a day to walk around Meteor Crater would be a really memorable adventure for the whole family!
What do other travel experts have to say?
Family road trip suggestions from Captivating Compass
“Road tripping internationally only comes with one tip…Know before you go. Things you need to consider if you’re planning an international road trip are:
- Will you need a special license, permit or insurance?
- What will it cost? Parking, tolls, and petrol are costs you will need to consider above the cost of the car, van or camper rental.
- Distance vs. actual drive time. The cultural dynamics of driving in a different country are so varied. Knowing that it will likely take 45 to 60 minutes to drive 30 miles in Scotland is incredibly important if you don’t want to spend your entire trip driving. Give yourself ample time to get from point A to point B when you are in an unfamiliar place. It will almost always take longer than expected.
- Become familiar with local road signs and what they mean before your trip. Some are funny, some are confusing. You may even find the same signs or street markings mean something completely different than what you are familiar with.
- Have a co-pilot, if possible. It’s less stressful if you have a co-pilot to help navigate, read road signs, and manage the phone, snacks and music selection.
- Have a good mapping app or offline map that you can use without incurring international data charges.
These simple, plan-ahead tips will help ensure a more enjoyable road trip through most international countries.”
Family road trip suggestions from World for a Girl
“…We’ve done some epic road trips in the last five years including driving the ring road around Iceland with a baby, driving around Cyprus with a toddler and this week, we’re driving the entire length of Taiwan by car.
We’ve learnt a lot on our long car journeys. [Among what we’ve learned], we’ve had disasters, adventures and a lot of vomiting! Some of our top road trip tips are:
- Pack lots of smaller bags so you can leave the ones you don’t need in the car boot overnight.
- Try to plan each segment of a long drive to last around 2 hours (about the length of a kids movie!) Use Google Maps to locate local parks where you can pull over and play.
- Picnics are a wonderful way to experience the outdoors with young children. They are also a great way to break up long drives. Even busy motorways can have attractive rest areas. Plan ahead, bring a cool bag and enjoy some memorable lunches.”
Family road trip suggestions from State By State (a full-time RV traveling family)
“…We are in the car all the time and have learned how to make it a better experience for everyone. The best advice I can give is to break long trips up whenever possible.
When we first started traveling full-time we would drive five or six hours at a time. This made for some really long days. We all felt tired and cranky by the time we arrived at our destination. Now our travel days are only two or three hours. This means we are all in a better mood when we get to our destination and we have time to enjoy it too.
Shorter trips are not always possible for family’s on vacation. You may need to get to your destination in one day. If this is the case you can still use this tip. Make sure you stop every two or three hours and let the kids out. When you stop for gas or a bathroom break, let the kids run around for a few minutes. It might make the trip longer, but it will be better for everyone to get out and stretch their legs.” More at https://statebystate.net/holiday-road/
Family road trip suggestions from World Wise Kid
“…Listening to audio tracks is entertaining and educational. While road tripping through the Peloponnese region in southern Greece, we listened to interviews of Rick Steve’s free audio guides on the Eastern Mediterranean. While exploring Hawaii, we tune into hula music on the radio or a CD. When we toured Florida, we listened to Hoot, Flush, Chomp and Scat by Carl Hiaasen – youth fiction that takes place in the Everglades and Keys. We download Podcasts to listen together: KidsNuz, StarTalk and RadioLab. [Or] we sync to the car speakers with Bluetooth or an audio cable so everyone can hear clearly.
We love a very loose agenda when road tripping – with time and freedom to stop in an interesting looking shop or cafe, or run across a field. [Often, we] take breaks in small towns to get coffee and snacks, interact with the locals, learn about their town culture and history and to download another audio track!…”
Family road trip suggestions from Disabled Disney
“…Take good old favorites like the license plate game…but give them a twist. Make up rules just for your family like the first person who spots three different states gets to choose the music for the next (fill in time parameter). Or the next vanity plate or even choose a letter or number and the person who spots the most of that…wins! Third tip is choose music your whole family likes to sing along to!…Kids and adults sometimes like to snuggle and take naps on long car rides. Don’t think of the drive to your destination as “before the vacation” try and make it fun and “part of the vacation..”
Family road trip suggestions from Full Time Field Trip
“…Here are my favorite tips for road tripping with the kiddos.
We love to connect where we’re going and what we’re doing to what we’re studying in our homeschool. Audiobooks make for both great learning tools and road trip entertainment. In addition to audible.com, we like the kid-specific tales3go.com and our local library as resources.
- Are We There Yet Map.
Sick to death of the endless “when will we be there” and “how much longer” questions kids naturally ask? Buy or print a map of the area you’ll be traveling. Next, draw on it each leg of your trip. Pin it on the ceiling of your car for all to see. Or place it on a clipboard to be passed around. On a clipboard, I assign kids to be in charge of this sacred item for an hour or two. A responsibility they look forward to. Not only is this educational and makes a nice keepsake; it truly reduces that ever-so-annoying question.
You can never go wrong with extra snacks. When you can’t find a restaurant or you’re stuck in traffic it will be snacks to your rescue every time. We skip anything sugary or messy and always have wet wipes and a towel within reach.”
Family road trip suggestions from Mommy and Me Travels
“…We have mastered road tripping and ensuring that the ride is enjoyable for all. Start by thinking back to when you were a child and there were no electronics. How did your parents entertain you? Some of those tried and true games really work. To entertain my 6 year old our favorite is the alphabet game. For this game all you need is your eyes and signs or licenses plates. To play, everyone starts at A and whoever finds all the letters A to Z in order, wins. It’s a race and you can’t use the same “a,b,c…” as someone else. For my toddler, his favorite game is trying to get the semi-trucks to honk their horns. You play this game by moving your arm up and down as if you were pulling the string for their horn. He gets a big kick out of it and also is focused on finding “another big truck”…”
Family road trip suggestions from Tips from a Typical Mom
“…Here are my best tips for road trips with kids:
- Only bring water. Do not bring flavored drinks. If you do, your kids will chug them and you will be stopping to use the restroom every 30 minutes.
- Have plenty of movies (if you have a dvd player), or downloaded movies on the iPad to give to the kid who is making the most trouble.
- Coloring pages, small toys, word searches are all great for when they need a break from electronics.
- Put everything away and play games together. I have post with 15 Road Trip Games For Kids on the blog. Save the web page on your phone and open in when you need a break.
- Have everyone pack one backpack with everything they need. Most of the time these fit right under their seat or under their feet. This leaves the trunk open for coolers to bring along food to help save you money…”
Drive safely and have fun!
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