Oh how we love to go on family road trips. They can be so much fun. From taking fun stops along the way, trying out new foods, and exploring new destinations, you are for sure to have a memorable time. However, planning for a road trip may not be so fun. It can even be a bit overwhelming. Where to go? What’s the best route to take? What should I pack? Well in this guide you will learn how to plan for a road trip, what to pack, how to budget, and so much more.
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Why You Should Take a Family Road Trip
Family road trips are a great way to take an adventure to a new destination. It provides quality time with the whole family as well as an opportunity to bond and get closer together. Some of my favorite vacations growing up were from our family road trips. All the delicious snacks, drinks, movies, music, and fun destinations. My brothers and I definitely made sure we all had fun during our trip.
I remember back in the days before tablets and phones were even a thing, my dad would put a small TV on a board in between the two front seats of our mini van. My brothers and I would grab all of our favorite VHS movies and put them in a bag to bring with us on the trip. We would also bring all of our favorite music CD’s and our MP3 players to listen to music. Sometimes we would even burn a new CD just for the road trip.
Those were some fun times and though times have changed since then, I hope that through our family road trips my kids can create their own fun memories to remember for the rest of their lives. Road trips can form not just amazing memories and fun stories to tell but also a great bond between siblings.
How to Plan a Road Trip with Kids
Planning a road trip may seem stressful at first but once you get the hang of things, road trip planning can be a breeze. Let’s break up our planning strategy down below and take it step by step.
Questions to Ask When Planning a Family Road Trip
When planning a road trip you should ask yourself a few questions first to get started. Some of these questions may include:
1. Do we have enough leave time to take a road trip? If so, how many days and where can we go in that time frame?
Once you know the timeframe you have available for your trip you can better determine where you can go according to how long it takes to drive there and back, how many overnight stops you want to make along the way, and how many days you want to spend at your destination. This leave time also includes your kids if they are in school. If they do attend school, will they miss days of school? Many schools will not be okay with a child being absent from school for so many days without a valid excuse such as health or emergency.
2. Do we have a good road trip budget?
Doing a road trip can be budget friendly if you do it right. There are many ways you can save money during your road trip but once you have a budget in place for food, gas, emergency, accommodation, entertainment, and attractions then you can have a better ballpark on whether the destination fits your budget or not. I will go more into detail on how to budget during your family road trip below.
If you have pets please consider the cost of their boarding or a pet sitter if needed or veterinary care for the road trip if they’re traveling with you. Cost of a pet coming on a road trip or staying in a boarding facility or a pet sitter can cost you some money so it’s definitely something to consider when budgeting for your road trip.
3. What kind of destination do we want to travel to?
It’s important for the family to all be on the same page for the trip. You can make it fun by including your kids on the travel planning. Get ideas together to choose a destination. You can start by choosing a place that’s warm or cold. Or you can even choose a place that is near or far (depending on the answers to the previous two questions). You can even have everyone throw a list of destinations to visit that are parent approved into a hat and pick one out.
4. Do you we have the resources to make this trip?
Making sure you have a good vehicle that is up to date and running smoothly is very important. It is something to greatly consider before going on a road trip with your family. If you don’t have a reliable vehicle, are you planning to rent one? If so, does it meet your budget? However, if you do have a reliable vehicle but needs minor fixes like new tires, an oil change, etc., does it meet your budget?
There are many more questions that you can ask but these are the main ones to help you get started on your road trip planning.
Tips on How to Create a Budget for Your Family Road Trip Expenses
Now that you have an idea of what to plan for, you have to start planning your budget for the trip. You need to break down your budget to different sections. These sections include:
- Attractions and Entertainment
- Splurge Money (for shopping, extras, etc.)
- Emergency Fund
Some people already have a separate emergency funds but if you don’t, then this is something you should consider.
See what your total budget is and start breaking off your total budget into the different sections. I would start off with gas and food since these are pretty big.
Next section would be your accommodation. This can be a mix of places to stay or just a specific hotel, campground, or even resort. Depending on your budget, you can do a resort for a few days and then a more budget-friendly hotel or if you really want to save some money, you can just stay at a campground.
Now that you know how much you have left over you can see what attractions you can fit into your budget without going over.
I would recommend leaving a good amount of spending money just in case. We usually use our splurge money for souvenirs and spur of the moment occasions but also whatever we don’t use we use for gas, accomodations, and food.
Tips on How to Choose the Best Family-Friendly Road Trip Destination
Before choosing a destination for your road trip you need to determine how far you can travel and for what amount of time. You also need to consider what time of year you are going and the weather conditions. This will play a role on your driving conditions and if it’s easily accessible.
How far are you traveling?
After you have seen the travel distance on your map you can view the family friendly destinations that will fit your road trip. Say you can only do a weekend road trip so you want to drive no further than ten hours. See on your map all the locations that are about 10 hours away from you and make a list.
Do Your Research!
Once you have a list of possible travel destinations in your approximate distance, it is now time to do some research. While doing your research you should look to see what destinations can provide the most for you and your family. I would make a list of what that place has to offer such as museums, attractions, recreation, etc. and see if it fits my family’s travel style.
A few good ways to gather information include:
- Google Search
- Pinterest – My favorite place to find information and inspiration for my next trip.
- Blog Posts
- Travel Companies such as Travelocity, Booking.com, etc.
- Online Travel Guides
- Travel Bloggers
- Travel Magazines
- Tourism board for each specific destination (Ex: Visit Clarksville is the tourism board for Clarksville, Tennessee and they have tons of good information on their website).
- Friends and family
When searching online I would make sure to include keywords such as family, family friendly, kid friendly, etc. For instance, instead of searching, ‘Things to do in Atlanta, Georgia’ you can search, ‘Family Friendly things to do in Atlanta, Georgia or ‘Best Kid Friendly Things to do in Atlanta, Georgia.’
Time to Pick a Destination
Once you have all of the pros and cons for each location you can pick the best one that fits your family. You can pick the top 4 road trip spots and draw out of a hat or just have the family take a vote.
Tips on How to Find the Best Road Trip Route and Stops Along the Way
There are several ways to plan your trip but the best way is using Google Maps. I feel like their maps are the most accurate and up to date one compared to others.
I also use Road Trippers which is a great app for planning your road trip. You can find stops along the way like gas stations, restaurants, accomodations, attractions, and so much more.
How to Plan Your Family Road Trip on Google Maps
I personally like to plan my road trip route on Google Maps because we use this app for all of our road trips on our phone. Here is how I plan our family road trips on Google Maps. I’m going to create an example for a Florida road trip starting in Tampa, Florida and ending in Orlando, Florida.
Creating Your Map on Google Maps
- Go to Google Maps here.
- Click the hamburger icon (the three lines) on the top left corner.
- Click Your Places > Map > Create New Map.
- Give your map a new name.
- Click the Add Directions Icon under the search bar. It looks like a Y with an arrow.
- Enter your starting and ending points.
- Rename your first layer on the left hand side and delete the default layer.
- Now click Add Destination and start adding your stopping points along your route.
- Once you have your route complete we can start adding our must visit areas in each location. We will click Add Layer and create a new layer for each destination. Rename it according to the destination it belongs too. Note: As you are looking for places to add to your map, make sure to do a quick Google search to see if it’s truly a place you want to visit.
- When adding the places you want to visit just go to that destination on the map by zooming in. Click on the location on the map and at the bottom left you will see a button that says add to map. Tip: Make sure the layer you want to add things to is highlighted blue on the left sidebar. You will know by seeing a blue line on the left side of that layer section.
- After you clicked this, on the left sidebar look at the places you just added and click the paint bucket. Change the color and icon so it matches that of the map. For example: An hotel will have a bed icon and it’s colored pink. This will help you see which places are which when looking at your map after it’s complete.
- Repeat steps 9-11 for each destination along your route that you want to explore.
- Once you are done with your map you can click Share and send to anyone who is traveling with you. You can also find it on your Google Maps app on your phone under Saved > Maps .
How to Use the Road Trip Itinerary You Created on Google Maps During Your Road Trip
Now that you have created your map on Google, it’s time to learn how to use it. Here is the step by step guide on how to make the most of your map during your road trip.
- Open your Google Maps app on your phone.
- Find the map you created by going to Saved and clicking on Maps.
- Open your map. Click on the first destination (B) and then click Directions. You can also click on the first attraction or place you want to visit in that destination to get more accurate directions if you plan on doing something before the end of the day. Note: Destination A should be your starting point or your home.
- Throughout your trip you can repeat the above steps to better help you navigate via GPS to each destination on your map. This will give you real time traffic predictions and updates.
Best Road Trip Planning Apps to Use
Before heading out on our road trip I make sure to have a few apps on my phone to make our trip easier. Here’s a few that I really enjoy using during our trips along with a few others that you may find convenient for your trips.
- Google Maps (Waze is another good traffic app and route app) – Helps with gps navigation, road trip planning, traffic updates, and more.
- Gas Buddy – Helps you find the cheapest gas in your area.
- Road Trippers – Free and Pro Plan – Perfect for planning your road trips including stops, attractions, hotels, camping, and more.
- Insurance app – Or you can use whichever app is for your car insurance.
- Bank apps – You can use the app for your bank. It helps you keep an eye on your accounts while on the go.
- iOverlander or Dyrt – Free and Pro Plan – Helps you find free or cheap campgrounds and places to stay at during your trip.
- Flush – Google and Apple– Toilet Finder – This app is good if you are looking for a bathroom while on the road and there are no gas stations nearby. We personally stop at a gas station like Buckees, Flying J – Pilot, or Love’s. We have also stopped at Publix to grab food, snacks, and drinks while also going to the bathroom during our stop.
- Hotel Tonight – This app helps you find last minute hotel availability to stay the night.
Tips on How to Budget During Your Family Road Trip
Taking a road trip can be budget friendly or very expensive. It all just comes down to how you spend your money and the type of trip you choose to do. Here are a few tips on how to make your road trip budget friendly.
1. Plan meals ahead of time
You can save money by making meals or bringing things to make food on the road such as sandwiches, MRE’s (meals ready to eat), and other easy to make foods. Also bring your own snacks and drinks versus buying them from a fast food restaurant or gas station along the way.
2. Choose budget friendly accommodations
Choose to go car camping during long road trips instead of staying at hotels and resorts. If you are doing a long road trip and need to make overnight stops along the way, car camping is the best option. You can bring a tent and air mattress with you to set up during your trip. Most campsites don’t go over $40 a night versus an hotel that can easily cost you double or even trip that. There are also places that let you park overnight for free as well. More on free overnight camping locations below.
Places to Stay for Free or Cheap Overnight During Road Trips
As mentioned above, a great way to save money is on accommodation. You would be surprised how much money goes towards accommodation and food alone. By staying the night at free or cheaper options versus hotels and resorts could save you hundreds of dollars. Here are a few budget friendly and free options for overnight parking and car camping that you can stay at during road trips.
- Cracker Barrel – If you are traveling in a van, 5th Wheel, Camper, or RV then Cracker Barrel is a great place to stop at. They let you park overnight for free. Just make sure to call the manager of the restaurant ahead of time to make sure there is enough room for you.
- Planet Fitness – This is a great option if you have a membership with them already. You can take a shower while on the road and also stay in their parking lot overnight since many of their locations are already open 24/7.
- Campgrounds – Going car camping is a great option. You can always bring a tent and some bedding with you to camp overnight. Some places have free campgrounds while many state parks do charge an overnight price. Regardless of the cost, it still comes out way cheaper then paying for an hotel room anywhere. Most campgrounds also provide bathrooms and other resources. However, the free ones are less established and don’t provide any amenities. When going camping please always follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles.
- Flying J (Pilot) – Pilots and other truck gas station allow overnight parking (not all) and can be a good option for you for getting some sleep while on the road. This is a better option for families traveling in a van, 5th wheel, camper trailer, or an RV as you can get more privacy and feel more secure.
- Rest Stops – Some don’t allow overnight parking but if you are very tired then you can definitely stop at a rest stop and get some shut eye for a few hours before hitting the road again.
3. Have a daily spending limit
Have a daily spending limit. Take your overall budget and split it to a daily spending limit. Include things such as gas, food, accommodation, attractions, emergency, and spending money. Get an overall budget and then divide that overall budget for each into a daily limit for the number of days you will be traveling. Overall budget divided by # of travel days = total daily limit. Do this for each category mentioned.
4. Plan ahead
Do your research and make a list of all the free and budget friendly attractions and plan to visit the ones that interest you most. Depending on your budget, you can then fit in the more expensive attractions into your budget. It’s best to buy tickets in advanced before your trip so it’s easier to budget for your daily expenses.
Note: I’m not saying you can’t splurge on your trip. However, being conscious about your spending will allow you to spend more on the things that matter most. For instance, if you make food for breakfast and lunch then for dinner you can go out to eat somewhere fancy instead. Or say you visited 3 free local attractions or parks, now you have a little extra money to go to a very nice amusement park or museum. This will help you make the most of your money and your road trip.
How to Get Your Vehicle Road Trip Ready
Before heading off on any road trip it is important to make sure to have your vehicle road trip ready. Here are a few things you should do before hitting the road.
How to Prepare Your Car, Truck, or Van for a Road Trip
- Change the oil in your car if needed.
- Inspect the fluids in your car such as oils, gas, and water.
- Inspect your tires and make sure they are good to go for a long trip.
- Make sure your car is aligned.
- Have a spare tire and an emergency car kit in your trunk for emergency situation.
How to Prepare Your Camper Trailer, 5th Wheel, or RV for a Road Trip
- Make sure everything inside is secure and TV’s are not mounted on the walls.
- Make sure your grey and black tanks are empty.
- Inspect the tires and make sure they are road trip ready.
- Make sure you have your hoses for your tanks, electrical cables that you may need, and other important items.
- Check all the seals around the doors and windows and inspect for leaks.
- Inspect bolts and screws on awnings, doors, panels, etc.
- Make sure the refrigerator, AC, and other electrical items are working correctly.
- Make sure your vehicle is ready to hitch and haul your camper trailer, pop up, or 5th wheel.
What to Have in Your Vehicle For Emergency Situations
Earlier I mentioned having an emergency kit in your trunk. Some items that I recommend you have handy for emergency situations include:
- Spare tire
- First aid kit
- Tire plug kit incase of a nail in your tire
- Jumper cables or a portable jumper
- Ice scraper
- Cat litter
- Extra phone charger
You can also just purchase a car emergency kit here that has everything that you need and more.
What to Pack for a Family Road Trip
There are many things you should bring on your road trip to make it more enjoyable especially with a family with kids. Here is a list of main essentials and items to bring on your trip.
- Entertainment: a tablet, music, books, games, headphones, cards, activity books, etc.
- Extra set of clothes – kids can be messy so it’s best to be prepared.
- Something to clean up messes with.
- Extra small trash bags to collect trash in.
- A pillow and blanket for sleeping.
- Snacks and drinks for on the road.
- A jacket
- Car chargers for your electronics.
- Your wallet
- Insurance and car registration.
Tip: The best way to organize your food and snacks for a road trip is by placing your kids favorite snacks in a caddy so they are easily accessible. The other snacks store in a bag or in the cooler. If there are favorite snacks that go in the cooler, place this towards the top of the cooler so it’s easier to grab during the trip.
Preparing Your Home Before You Leave on a Road Trip
Before heading out on any road trip it is important to make sure everything at home is good to go. Here are a few things that you should do before leaving your home for a long period of time.
- Wash all of your dishes and clean all your counter tops.
- Get rid of any left overs or foods that will go bad during your trip.
- Take out all trash in the home and set it up by the curb for pickup if needed. If so, ask a neighbor you trust to bring your trashcan back in on that day.
- Put toilet bowl cleaner or a little bit of bleach in your toilets to keep them smelling good and from accumulating mold over time.
- Make sure there are no spills on your floors or furniture to avoid unwanted visitors such as roaches and bugs.
- Make sure all windows, doors, and gates are locked.
- If you have a security alarm system in place, make sure it’s working correctly.
- Unplug all appliances and electrical devices except the AC and fridge.
- Make sure someone you trust has a spare key or access to your home so they can routinely check the home for you for unusual activity, leaks, and to make sure your fridge and AC are still running in your home.
- Have a security camera setup and a spotlight for extra measures if needed.
- Put your mail on hold. You can do this through the USPS website here.
Start Planning Your Next Fun Family Road Trip
I think that recaps just about everything. I’m sure I can cover a lot more but this is just the basics of planning a road trip with your family. What other tips can you share about planning for a family road trip? Share them in the comments below.