It seems that people love or hate road trips. I love them. Packing up the car and hitting the road for a long drive makes me happy. I grew up taking road trips with my family in the days before GPS, handheld video games and in-car movie systems. Traveling is easier now, but a good trip takes some thought and preparation, especially if children are involved. Read on for packing tips to make your next road trip epic.
If you're actually trying to get somewhere, make sure you have directions and addresses. There's nothing more frustrating than not knowing an address when you are trying to get somewhere. We went on a trip this summer with about 10 different stops, so I typed up a document with the order of our stops, so we didn't have to waste time looking for addresses. I also put in estimated mileage and drive times so we could plan the legs of our trips appropriately. Of course, some of the best road trips have no set timeline or destination.
GPS devices (sometimes called satellite navigation systems) are very helpful for finding your way to and around unfamiliar places. Make sure your maps are updated, and realize that even high tech devices aren't perfect. If you use your smartphone for navigation, be sure to have a way to charge it. Running the navigation app on your phone uses up a lot of battery and uses data.
When it comes to music, the more variety, the better. Load up your MP3 player or iPod with several playlists and albums. My family chooses music based on our mood - folk or bluegrass for long quiet stretches, classical for nighttime, movie soundtracks for scenic routes, dance hits for when everyone's bored and classic rock whenever the kids will let us listen to it. We like to listen to music as a family, and we always sing a few songs together, too. Camping songs are great to sing in the car.
In my opinion, food can make or break a trip. Having the right snacks can keep a toddler happy until the next pit stop, help a driver stay focused and keep the mood in the car upbeat. I always buy a few "banned" snacks like fruit snacks and candy to make the trip special. If we are on a long trip, I bring a cooler with fresh fruits and vegetables, pre-sliced and ready to go. Eating real food makes everyone feel better.
Skip messy foods like cheese-coated chips and chocolate that might melt. I also try to avoid food that I don't want spilled in my car. Give kids cups with lids and watch toddlers closely. Never feed small children foods that are choking hazards while in the car. This list includes hard foods like pretzels and round foods like grapes and hard candies.
There are many ways to be entertained in a car. Besides movies, handheld video games and music, I always pack trivia card games, paper and crayons for coloring and small toys. I've kept kids entertained for 30 minutes at a time with stickers and paper. My husband and I like to listen to podcasts while the kids sleep or do their own thing, so we always load a few onto the iPod. Classic road trip games like "The Alphabet Game" and others (like these offered by Spoonful.com) can also be played.
We have a standing rule that no media devices can be used until one hour into a road trip. This rule helps the kids from getting tired of their devices before we've even reached the freeway. It also gives us time to talk and bond while traveling.
5. Emergency supplies
If you're traveling more than 100 miles away from home or through rural areas, it's a good idea to pack some emergency supplies. Have enough food and water on hand for several hours in case you get stranded. A spare tire, extra blankets and a first aid kit are also good to pack. Think about the weather you'll be traveling through and what might happen. Many freeways go for miles between exits so gas and food can be limited. A little preparation can save a lot of trouble.
6. Comfort items
Packing a few items to make you and your family comfortable is smart. Small children might want to travel with their favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Neck pillows are nice for those trying to sleep, and loose layered clothing is most comfortable. Consider the needs of older family members, too. Perhaps a lumbar pillow or a lap blanket might make them more comfortable.
Someone will always declare "I'm bored" during a long trip, but planning ahead and packing the right stuff will go a long way to ensuring your trip is a fun adventure, not a horror story.
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.