Ah, the family road trip. A summer tradition and rite of passage for families across the nation. Audiobooks, music playlists, backseat squabbles, and calls of “Are we there yet?” and “I have to go to the bathroom” add to the mayhem (er, magic). Traveling by car offers SO many benefits—like being able to stop along the way to see roadside attractions, having a comfortable space of your own, and making the journey an important part of the trip, not just a way to get to the destination.
Here are seven tips to add more fun to your trip and help ensure your next road trip goes down in the family history books as one to remember (for all the right reasons).
1. Find fun, quirky places to stop along the drive
Don’t spend your entire road trip in the vehicle! Get out and explore all the places you drive through. Gregory Mountain Products
To make your drive more engaging, plan on stopping at off-the-beaten-path roadside attractions, natural sites, or historical markers that may happen to be along your route (a giant ball of twine, looking at you Kansas, or an airplane-sized fish sculpture…ahem, Wisconsin). You can plan these stops ahead of time by doing a little research and including them in your itinerary. Atlas Obscura is a great place to find lesser-known yet totally unique sites.
You can also choose a more spontaneous approach and take backroads instead of highways the whole time and just see what you happen to come across along the way. If you choose this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method, be sure to agree ahead of time that whenever you come upon something a bit quirky or entertaining, you’ll stop and check it out and not just drive by.
Not only will these wonders break up the long drive, but they can make for some pretty fantastic family photo opps as well.
2. Let nature guide your route
Exploring parks, chasing sunsets, and finding little-known hikes are all a part of the fun. Gregory Mountain Products
There are so many ways to integrate nature into your drive. Do a little research and create a plan that incorporates at least one outdoor activity or adventure for every day on the road. Look up national and state parks, great trails, and green spaces in cities and states you’ll be driving through. Find swimmings holes, best spots to catch a sunrise or a sunset, hot spots for stargazing, and anything else that suits your outdoor fancy. Once you have your list, create your driving route (and loose schedule) using these outdoor adventures as landmarks or checkpoints along your journey making sure you hit each and every one.
3. Say goodbye to regimented schedules
Make your drive more than just a way to get to your destination, make it a fun part of the journey. Gregory Mountain Products
In order to really embrace the freedom of tips #1 and #2 you have to let go of an overly planned timeline. While forward progress is necessary, forcing the crew to stay buckled in for a certain number of hours per day is a recipe for boredom and rushing through fun, unexpected pit spots just to stay on schedule may bring on meltdowns from people of all ages. Leave your family some wiggle room as far as timing goes and allow space for scenic detours, off-road attractions, or the special afternoon treat at a local bakery.
And it’s worth mentioning that no matter how much planning you’ve done, something could still go awry. Giving yourself a looser schedule means less stress if you end up with car trouble, run into traffic, or need to make more stops than you had planned.
4. Go old-school with games
A long road trip can be an excuse to stay glued to a screen for hours on end, but try to limit screen time and stay busy with these tried and true old school, no-tech games. Not only are they unique and fun, but they help everyone engage with their surroundings. Next time you hit the road, try out Interstate Highway Bingo (free downloads on the Travel Channel), the roadside sign Alphabet Game, or the classic license plate tracking contest to see if you can spot all the states.
5. Try sing-a-longs and storytimes (with all ages!)
Don’t roll your eyes! As cheesy as this may sound, you need to carve out some time for a family storytime and/or music time. Before you pull out of the driveway, sit down with your crew and agree upon at least one book that holds some interest for everyone. There are plenty of options out there no matter how diverse your tastes may be—start with this list from Audible. Even though your kids may have their own devices, listening to a story as a family can open up great conversation and get everyone in the car together on the same page rather than having each individual looking out their own window with earbuds in. As mentioned above, Audible is a great place to download books and most public libraries have audio books for download for free if you have a library card.
Likewise with music, create a family playlist. Have each member of the family download 5-10 songs to the same playlist.When you’re in the car, hit shuffle and everyone is guaranteed to hear songs they like, a true family creation. Or, if your kids are a little older, play Battle of the Bands where someone shouts out a theme (romance, city life, dance) and then everyone chooses a song from their playlists they think best represents that theme. Everyone plays their song and the car votes on whose fit the bill the best. You get a point every time your song wins.
6. Hit local spots for on-the-road fuel
Having your own food and drink prepped and ready will help avoid fast-food temptations. Gregory Mountain Products
There’s no doubt that hitting up rest areas on the side of the highway is an easy and fast way to fuel up (car and body) and hit the restrooms. Taking a little more time to head into the small towns off the highway for refueling can offer more opportunity. Not only does stopping at a local spot instead of a chain give you a better vibe of the area you are traveling through, but also gives you a chance to talk to locals about anything cool in the area they recommend seeing while you’re there. You never know, you may even drive by a quirky, little fun spot (see Tip #1) that you didn’t know existed on your way in or out of town.
Farmers’ markets or local grocery stores are also a great way to not only feed you in the moment (with healthier food than a rest stop), but to stock up on goods for later in the ride or for a picnic in a park (see Tip #2) at a later time.
7. Make a “favorites” bag for everyone in the family
When you are packing, give everyone a bag that they can fill with favorite things that will make them happy during the drive: a favorite snack, a special treat, a loved stuffed animal, a comfy hoodie, a new book, or whatever it is that keeps your child’s interest and brings a smile to their face. Having these bags easily accessible during the ride will help quell meltdowns, declarations of boredom, and constantly grumbling tummies. You can always re-up the goods when you hit the local cafe or farmers’ market (Tip #6).
The tips above will keep you happy in the car, but remember, the real beauty of a road trip is the freedom to do what you want when you want. Get out of the car as much as possible and explore those little towns and unexpected treasures you come upon along the way. Road trips are about the journey, just as much as the destination.
Written by Matcha for Gregory Mountain Products.
Featured image provided by Gregory Mountain Products