Family Road Trip
I feel like there are two strong opinions about family road trips, either you hate them or you love them ha ha. If you love them, GREAT! If you hate them, my best guess is that you probably had a bad experience as a kid or maybe even as an adult. Or maybe you've been scared away from movies depicting road trips in a horrible way.
My family didn't do too many road trips, at least not in the way that I like to do them now. Usually a road trip for us was driving from Fresno, CA where I grew up, to L.A. where my grandparents lived. I did have some fun times offroading with my grandpa but those weren't road trips, just day trips.
To say I enjoy road trips is an under statement. In the last 2 years I've put 65,000 miles on my Jeep. Some of those miles are around town for work or to my local mountains for hikes and such, but many of them are from road trips.
Now there are two kinds of road trips; road trips with your friends (woohoo) or with family (my favorite although slightly more challenging with kids but also soooo rewarding). Both kinds are so much fun, but very very different! I'll be focusing on the family style road trip and sharing tips we've figured out from our extensive amount of time on the road packed into a pretty small space of a 4 door Jeep Wrangler. I'm going to break up the tips in to a few important sections, based off things we've figured out the hard way and from questions I was asked recently from a post I shared on Instagram.
Route planning is pretty important, especially when it comes to traveling with kids. As you probably know (if you have kids), they aren't the most patient form of humans. Within 10 minutes of hitting the road, you are likely to hear those 4 horrible words... "ARE WE THERE YET?" And though there's not much I can do to help them from saying that, I would like to help the trip go as smooth as possible.
I"m going to use one of my trips from earlier this year as an example of how I plan things out. Starting in Seattle, I wanted to visit a couple places along the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. I opened google maps on my phone with a destination of Alabama hills. From the route it gave me, I considered a couple details; planned breaks and drive times. The route down is roughly 17 hours and I have no desire to spend 17 hours driving in my Jeep especially with two kids in the back. So what other places do I want to see that might be close to our route down that would aid as a distraction from the drive and also add to the journey itself? So for a drive like this, there are many places you can stop depending on your time frame for the whole trip. When my kids were younger I would try to not drive longer than about 4 hours at a time without some kind of good break, and this always seemed to work out well. As they have gotten older and more used to these road trips we have been able to stretch them longer making it easier to travel greater distances in one day and to destinations further away in less time.
Breaks could be a stop for lunch or maybe a quick stop at a park along the route to let them play at a jungle gym for 30 minutes. Although you might be ok listening to your music or podcast while driving, they are not for that long, and these little breaks really do help quite a bit. So between breaks like those, and designated stops at cool attractions, we slowly made our way to Alabama hills.
I try to plan these stops ahead of time. I do it in two ways; I'll have places pinned in my google maps (helpful tip; be sure to download maps for the areas you'll be driving through ahead of time just in case you lose service), but I'll also write out a schedule for each day of the trip to help keep things on track. That's not to say that things can't change, but it gives me a base to work off which really helps map everything out, especially if you are running on a certain time frame. There have been many times that we like one area more than we originally thought and stay longer than planned, and that's fine. We will then just look at the schedule and evaluate what we might have to skip going forward to stay on schedule.
The car ride itself does not have to be boring for the kids either. We all know about the license plate games, alphabet games, or Eye Spy, and these are all very good games to play as they really do use up a lot of down time. Everyone has different opinions on electronics and I'm not going to judge if you like or dislike them. But we like them, especially with this many hours in the car. Having an iPad with preloaded games or movies (don't forget the headphones) uses up a lot of time. They don't have to all be just normal whatever games. There are plenty of educational games and we usually will make sure that the kids are playing an equal share of those. Depending on your kids ages, books are definitely a great choice as well (unless they get car sick).
Another thing that my wife puts together for our kids are fun booklets. She purchased scrapbook boxes, they are great for storing coloring books, crayons or pencils, small toys and other small things. Not only does this help keep things organized for the kids but it also doubles as a desk for coloring on or playing with their toys. Another thing my wife included was a map of the part of the country we would be traveling through. So as we would drive into new states we could then have the kids color in the new state. They would start watching for passing cars that had license plates of the next state we were going to in anticipation of coloring in once we crossed the border.
FUN BUCKS!! This is entirely all my amazing wifes idea and it's great! At the beginning of the trip we would give each kid these fake dollars (Monopoly money or felt money when they were really young) that we called fun bucks. Each kid would get $5 to start the trip and could earn up to $2 per day if they were good, but could also lose money if they were bad (and there were definitely days where are kids would lose more than they gained). But usually this was a great incentive for them as they could then trade in these fun bucks for real money from mom and dad when we got to cool places where they might want to buy something.
There are a number of ways to do a road trip and a great difference on how much one can cost. The distance you go and the kind of gas mileage your vehicle gets will greatly effect the total price. I will typically map out the entire trip on google maps to get an idea of how many miles we will be driving, I can then figure out my rough gas cost based off that mileage. There's also the choice of getting hotels vs. camping which will change the overall cost quite a bit.
We usually do a mix of camping and hotels. But lets start with camping and how that looks. If you follow me on IG than you likely know that I drive a Jeep Wrangler and I have a roof top tent from ikamper. We chose to purchase a roof top tent because they are quick to set up, all of our sleeping bags can stay in it, and it doesn't take up any space inside the vehicle like a ground tent would. With a Wrangler, space is a premium as they aren't that big so this was the best option for us. Roof top tents are expensive but if you plan on doing these types of trips very often they end up being worth the investment from the hotel cost you end up saving. We find ours to be very comfortable and end up only wanting a hotel for a shower. We usually will get a hotel every 3rd night or so, to wash up and will use that opportunity to wash clothes. Also for looking up hotels, I've been using Hotels.com for years (not sponsored). I love their app because if you have an account (free), after 10 stays you get a free night valued at the average cost of those previous hotels you booked. I've redeemed many free nights through the app which is incredibly easy to do and have had values as low as $90 but also as much as $220, it just all depends on how much you pay for the 10 stays. The longer you use the app the higher status you get and then the app will show you better pricing which is great!
You're next question might be about hygiene, but that's pretty easy. I buy biodegradable body wipes off amazon and will use one every night before going to bed (or first thing in the morning when we get dressed for the day) and they honestly do a great job of making me feel clean and getting rid of any dirt and foul smells from the day. But going back to tents, if you don't have a RTT, that's totally fine! Any ground tent will work just fine, and this is how I did it for years before finally getting a RTT. Either way camping is fun and kids almost always love it! We also make sure to bring small camp chairs, a small propane fire pit and extra blankets for camp time. These times at camp are honestly some of our favorites. I'll put on some music (of course being mindful of any neighbors) and we'll roast marshmallows, sing songs and just have fun!
Continuing on with budgeting is meals. You can go more expensive and eat out a lot but we choose to make most of our meals at camp or on the road. I purchased a fridge (a cooler will also work, but might be tougher if you're trying to stay off grid for more than a day or two) for my Jeep along with an auxiliary battery to power it, and this way we can store a good amount of food in our Jeep even if we stay off grid for a few days. Often for breakfast we will have eggs, bagels and fruit. Lunch usually is while on the move so it ends up being meat, cheese and crackers or PB&J's. We usually have fun with dinner and are more involved. Sometimes it will be something as simple as grilled cheese, but often we will make tacos, fajitas, burgers plus so much more. As far as how to cook, there are lots of options. For the last couple years I've used a Tembo tusk skottle (pictured below), but recently switched to a similar but better system from ikamper. I like this system for it's small size (again every bit of space is precious in a Jeep), along with it's versatility. But if you have a good ole Coleman stove those work great as well!
We try to not eat out too often, again to save money. But it is fun while traveling around to experience new restaurants or breweries in other cities. We don't usually set a budget for how often we eat out, but that's definitely a number that you could determine before the trip. We have a 45 liter fridge, and this is big enough to pack up food for around 3 days and then while on the road we can replenish when needed. They do make larger fridges though if your vehicle allows. One last tip about food is that we will put together a snack bin that we can keep easily accessible in the Jeep with healthy snacks that we and the kids can enjoy while on the road. This helps (but does not eliminate) the constant request at gas stations to go buy unhealthy snacks... although I will admit to buying the random bag of cheddar popcorn ha ha. It's just so good and hits the spot while driving.
Road trips really can be a lot of fun if done right, but can also just end up being a lot of hours in the car. It's crucial as the parents, to stay positive, and keep reminding the kids where you are going and what you're going to see! Looking up photos on your phone to show them is a great way to hype them up for that days adventure. I will say one of the most important things though is to not focus solely on the destination but really try to make the journey just as much fun. Just this last year of 2021 our family embarked on 4 large road trips; one to eastern California, one to Utah, one to Colorado, and a final trip to Southern California and we have made so many great memories! Like I said earlier, one of our favorite times is camp time. This is our down time to just enjoy each other, enjoy roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, tell stories or just enjoy the beauty of the creation around us.
I think road trips are a great way for a family to bond. At first it might seem like a huge undertaking, so start off with shorter trips to places nearby where you live. Try out weekend trips at first where your destination is only a few hours away at most, and as you fine tune your system you can start to lengthen your trips to destinations further and further away. Just remember, have fun and enjoy it. Don't worry too much about the details or the schedule, instead use the schedule as a fluid map that can be altered as needed. Of course if you have any other questions please don't hesitate to reach out!