When planning a road trip with kids, the most successful outings take into account more than the chosen locale.
The endeavor will be more fun for everyone if parents take the time to map out the car ride as part of the vacation, said Kimberly Schwind, senior public relations manager for AAA Ohio Auto Club. “Don't just focus on the final destination,” she said. “Think about your stops along the way. Take the time to plan it out.”
Children will be more eager to hit the road if they have things to look forward to along the way, Schwind said. She suggested parents enlist kids' help to get them more engaged in the trip. Give them maps and travel guides and let them choose what interests them, she said. If you intend to limit screen time, set the parameters in advance. “Make sure the whole family understands the rules and plans before you set out,” she said.
It's a good idea to have a strategy for time in the car, said Kathy Walsh, author of joyohboy books, a series dedicated to mindful parenting. She recommends limiting screen time and incorporating a mix of quiet activities and rowdier times.
Chances are parents are taking a family vacation because they want to make memories, Walsh said. Why not make the ride a part of that? “You are all taking this trip together,” she said. “That time in the car can be so special.”
It's important to create a rhythm to the day so kids know what to expect, Walsh said. Let them know when they will be able to watch movies or play on their devices, but also find other things to keep them entertained. She suggests having parents tell stories about vacations they took as a child, listening to music (create a play list that reflects everyone's tastes) and playing games.
If possible, give kids a few new items—puzzles, books or coloring books—to use in the car. “It's hard to just be put in the backseat and ignored,” Walsh said.
When you stop, give kids a chance to stretch and run a bit, Walsh said. Finding time for physical activity is helpful, agreed JaQualia Leonard, a mother of two. She and her husband, JR, usually pack the car and head to a park near their Pataskala home before embarking on a trip. Their boys, ages 18 months and 5, always do better in the car after playtime in the park, she said. “They usually fall right to sleep.”
After the boys wake up, they might eat a healthy snack, watch a movie, sing along with the radio, play a game such as I Spy or use a device for a bit, Leonard said.
Brandy Grieves, principal at Groveport Madison Middle School North, also limits screen time on road trips. Her family, which includes two boys—ages 13 and 14—makes regular trips to visit relatives in Denver. They've found books on tape are a good way to pass the time, with each boy picking a book or two.
Grieves and her husband, Darrin, also try to get the kids moving when they stop the car. They pack drinks and snacks so they can take bathroom breaks at rest areas rather than fast-food restaurants. The family often will take a few minutes to throw a ball or just walk around to get some outdoor, active time, she said.
The family also looks for new places to eat along the way, Grieves said, which has become a fun part of their trips. About an hour before they're ready to stop for a meal, they pick the type of food they want. Then they research options, reading restaurant reviews and travel articles.
Good or bad, the stops always make for great memories, Grieves said. “We will talk about the places we liked best and laugh about the terrible ones,” she said. “It adds to the memories of that trip.”
If daring dining isn't your family's thing, look for quirky tourist attractions, ice cream shops or quaint towns that appeal to your group, Schwind said. “Make the journey part of the trip.”