Mom, he’s on my side! She won’t stop touching my stuff! I have to go to the bathroom! I’m hungry! Are we there yet? If you think family road trips are all sing-alongs and car games, you’ve never been on a road trip. Maybe it’s the cramped car, the sitting still for hours on end, the long stretches between meal stops. Whatever the reason, road trips seem like the vacation most likely to inspire bickering and stress—but all those other moments in between are golden. Luckily, it’s easy to ensure more of those memorable family bonding times with a few simple strategies. Based on her own family’s experiences, Wendy has put together a surefire list of methods for making a road trip stress-free. Here’s a preview, but don’t miss the full list over at TripAdvisor.
And, for more road trip intel, click to Wendy’s essential packing list, and her Keys to Planning the Perfect Road Trip.
Let each kid play navigator.
Give your kids a map of your route before you leave and let each one pick a stop or an activity each day. You’ll give them a sense of ownership over that day’s events that will keep them energized and interested all day.
Make the trip a treasure hunt.
On Wendy’s trips, the family picks something to search for at each stop, creating an easy scavenger hunt: maps, magnets, Do Not Disturb signs from hotels…. Or try giving the kids a camera (nothing fancy needed) and turn the game into a photo-taking mission.
Give each kid his/her own space.
If you are able to set up each kid in a separate row of the vehicle, great. If not, try crafting a divider between them (even if it’s just out of colorful tape).
Agree on how long you’ll drive between stops.
It’s nearly impossible to make sure everyone is on the same schedule during a road trip. Someone is going to get tired before everyone else; someone else will get hungry; someone else will get restless. And if the driver is feeling good, he or she may want to push through…stretching everyone else’s patience. To avoid arguments and meltdowns from stir-crazy kids, set a limit for how long each leg can be.
Whenever there’s a world’s biggest, longest, or quirkiest something on your route, stop and check it out.
Rest stops are more than just a chance to stretch legs and burn off energy. They can be the source of fun memories and even funnier pictures.
Wendy’s family seeks out quirky roadside attractions, like the world’s biggest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas, or the world’s biggest yo-yo, in Chico, California—or the world’s biggest anything, really. School playgrounds and children’s museums not far from the Interstate are other kid-friendly pit stops. That said, even “boring” rest stops can be amped up: bring a tennis ball, inflatable beach ball, or a Frisbee for games. Keep a few picnic basics in the car too so that you can make a rest stop double as a food stop. (For more info on what picnic essentials to stow, see Wendy’s road trip packing list.)
When choosing where to bed down each night, Wendy recommends finding motels with pools. The end-of-day swim will help kids work out any pent-up energy and can even serve as a reward after a long day of driving. A reinvigorating dip can be just as rewarding for tired parents.