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Make Your Family Road Trip a Success with These 8 Tips

Taking a family trip in the car can be hugely stress-producing, but it can also be massively rewarding if planned for in advance. Here are a few tips to help make your trip on the road a success this summer.

So, you’re going to go all Clark Griswold this summer? Get the ol’ Family Truckster shined up and ready to take a family road trip? If so, congratulations—driving cross-country, or at least for a long distance, for a vacation can be a very family-bonding experience. Of course, it can also be a complete nightmare and the ultimate disaster. With a little planning, however, it can be an enjoyable, fun-filled experience.

What kind of trip will this be?

It is important from the beginning that a certain itinerary is established. By that, I don’t necessarily mean that everything must be planned down to the moment, but it is important that travel goals are established. Will you actually make that detailed itinerary and stick to it? Or are you just going to wing it, and stop at whatever looks good along the way? Of course, if you are a “wing it” traveler and your spouse is an itinerary freak, then you may still clash at points, but set out with the mindset of compromise. Work it out BEFORE you hit the road, not when you see that great little record shop on the side of the highway that your wife simply must stop and browse, while you pace nervously outside, worried that the stop is going to put you off-schedule. Work it out beforehand. You won't be able to anticipate every point of contention, of course, but you will be surprised how a little thought and discussion beforehand will make the points a lot more mellow.

Map it out.

Speaking of itineraries, it is a good idea, no matter what type of schedule you hope to keep, to take advantage of technology and look at your route in-depth. The Griswolds just had a map and Clark’s intuition; you have the entire world via the Internet! Check out major roads, side roads, look for rest stops and attractions your family might enjoy and restaurants you might like, and check out this site: America’s Byways. This site is a collection of 150 distinct and diverse roads designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, including the National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads. Just type in a city name or road, and you will get a list of beautiful byways that you may not have considered otherwise.

Also, sites like can help you find those weird attractions that you would never think to just search out on your own, as you would likely never know that they exist. I mean, who thinks, “I wonder if there is a place where I can spin an 11-ton rock in Atlanta?” Well, there is, and this site will tell you how to get there. And, when it comes to GPS? Great gadget, but bring a real map along just in case—you may be really glad you did.

Don’t leave sleep arrangements up in the air.

The last thing you want to do is get to the place you would like to stay and be unable to find a vacancy in that area in a suitable hotel, motel or even campground. It will require you stay on some kind of schedule, to make reservations in advance, but that is why you are having that discussion before you leave about the type of trip this will be, right? Get your reservations made, and be sure to check on them before hitting the road. Bring your confirmation information with you, in case there is a problem, so you will be able to demand that room if necessary, or have them find you a comparable room elsewhere if they truly do not have a room for your family.

Set a firm budget.

Don’t waste time you could be enjoying your family worried about money. Set a budget for the trip and stick with it. Be realistic. Budget a little extra for gas in case you get lost a time or two. Have a food budget for each day, and don’t waste it at convenience store stops when you get gas. Pack a cooler for snacks and at least some meals along your route, and don’t forget: You CAN stop at a grocery store now and then instead of a restaurant to restock cooler supplies. Have a little extra for must-stop attractions that you did not plan for beforehand, as well as souvenirs. If you know you will have tolls to pay in some areas, figure them in, as well. As you should have already made reservations for lodging, that should be easy to figure.

Don't forget to set a little aside for emergencies, and make sure that if you dip into it, it’s for a real emergency. Also, if you don’t already have a roadside service program with your car warranty or insurance, consider joining one.

Plan for pets.

If a pet is part of the family, take the proper planning steps. Make sure your chosen lodging site takes pets before just showing up with them. Take a supply of their food and a favorite toy or two. Take their medical records and any medications they may need. Schedule in regular rest stops for your animals. And make sure they have plenty of water when you stop, but give food and water at least 30 minutes or so before getting back on the road; some animals will get carsick if they eat too close to riding in the car. Oh, and of course: Never leave your pet alone in the car.

Keep the atmosphere happy.

Being in the car for hours can be a challenge, so plan for it. Take some great music. If you have a rear DVD, take along some of your kids’ favorites. Audiobooks are another option. Small pillows are a good idea for resting passengers, and it’s a good idea to keep an empty bag for trash along the way.

Don’t go luggage crazy.

Nobody needs everything they think they just must have. So, pack appropriately, so that the luggage not only is not obtrusive, but it is not a strain and pain to unload to your chosen lodging each time you stop.

Make sure your car can make the trip.

Take your car to have it serviced before your trip. Have your tires, belts, hoses, oil, fluids, windshield wipers, lights, brakes and battery checked, and make sure your spare tire and jack are in place and in good shape. You may even want to mention your trip to a trusted mechanic and ask his advice for your vehicle. If you do not already have one, get a spare key and put it where it will be accessible if there is an accidental lockout. And, be sure to take along an emergency car care kit; here are some tips on how to make your own.

With these tips, your trip may still hit some bumps along the way, but maybe you can avoid huge disasters—like finally getting the Family Truckster to Wally World and finding it closed for business. Good luck!

Image: Wikimedia Commons