My childhood is filled with memories of road trips around Europe and the joy of long journeys never really left me. Now that I pretty much road trip for a living, I’ve got the planning down to a fine art.
If you want to teach your kids map-reading and research skills as well as give them a sense of the wider world, get them involved in planning. You might end up with a lot of playgrounds, theme parks and zoos on your shortlist of places to visit but I’d say that’s a good thing.
Here are some tips for planning a road trip with kids.
We all get on better if we know what’s coming so if you usually plan crafts or activities for your children, add in some road trip planning. Whether you use a chart or simply tell your kids that you’re going to be sitting down and looking at some exciting travel stuff, make sure you plan it into your day.
You might be road tripping from one specific place to another, or you might be road tripping for the joy of it. Either way, start with where you want to go and how long you’ve got to do the journey.
If you know you’re going from New York to San Fransisco then the world (well, the USA) is your oyster and you can start to think about where you might like to stop along the way.
If all you know is that you’re hiring a car in Berlin and have two weeks to drive and explore before flying home, then you’ve also got a lot of flexibility.
Your children might want to get involved in this part too. My road trips tend to be a mix of places that I’ve wanted to go for years (Dubrovnik springs to mind) and places that have cool names (hello, Kalamazoo!).
Gather up suggestions and then start to think about the logistical side of getting from place-to-place. How long will it take? How many miles is it? What are the roads like?
Of course, it’s totally possible to drive for six hours a day to keep your trip short but it’s not fun, especially for the children sitting in the back. Whenever I road trip, I try to keep most days to three hours of travelling or less. I might have the odd day where I drive for five hours or so but only if absolutely necessary.
With children in tow, you’re not going to want to be travelling for more than three hours a day. A road trip isn’t about getting from A to B as quickly as possible, it’s about exploring places along the way.
This means that you need to give yourselves ample time to explore a place. Aim for two nights in each stop as you’ll then have a full day to really fall for a place, experience its culture, eat its food and refuel for your next driving day.
I’m not saying you should charge into a road trip with no car or accommodation booked but keep your options open. Maybe don’t book accommodation past the first week of your trip, or look for hotels that offer free cancellation so you can change your plans if it suits. This how real adventures are created.
It takes a lot of knowledge and confidence to get to this level of road tripper. If you want to experiment with this kind of flexibility, do it in your home country first.
While a comfy chain hotel might seem like the safe choice, it’s not always the most exciting. Airbnb is the best tool for family road trippers as it gives you the ability to rent full apartments, houses or villas. Not only will you have a lot of space and privacy but you can find some really amazing, quirky properties this way.
It doesn’t hurt to have a backup. When I road tripped around America, we drove onto Manhattan through the Lincoln tunnel, which wiped out our navigation signal. Thankfully we had a map that helped us to navigate this tricky, busy city.
If you’re going abroad, it’s possible to hire satellite navigation that has all the correct maps. This can be cheaper than buying your own or upgrading the maps on an existing device.
If your kids are restless in the car, make sure they’ve got plenty to keep them occupied. Car games that take in the outside world are a great way to get them involved in the travel but if you need to focus on the road, you can’t go wrong with a portable DVD player or iPad – just make sure to take these away when the read adventuring starts.
Blankets, car sickness medication, favourite teddy bears, snacks and a first aid kit are all important. You should also consider what items you need to keep in your car by law. For example, France requires you to have two breathalysers in your car at all times and Germany requires you to carry a hi-vis vest and a fire extinguisher.
In short, take your time over planning your trip and use it as an opportunity to get excited about where you’re going and what you’re going to see.
How do you plan family road trips?
Jess Shanahan is a road trip journalist and motorsport consultant who loves high heels, V8s and the open road. You can find her on Twitter @Jetlbomb.