Long weekends and public holidays have forever been synonymous with vacations. Memorial Day, Labor Day, and July Fourth have been known to draw hordes of tourists to the coast whereas Christmas and New Years beckon folks to travel to their family members' homes. According to AAA, more than 100 million Americans travel for the end-of-year holidays alone, and many of them travel by road. Riding in a car with family members for prolonged periods of time can be stressful, especially when some of those family members are kids, but there are a few things that you can do to make the best of holiday road trips.
Long drives can be relaxing, but when you factor in the stress caused by holidays, they often become more of a burden than a break. In order to embark on the journey with a clear head, you might want to write some of your stressors on paper. Make a list of things to do before leaving or on arrival, whether it be buying last-minute gifts, calling the house sitter, or picking up a party favor for the host of your family get-together. Likewise, write down your hotel check-in information or the names of new family members you may need to remember. Write down your holiday schedule with driving times, if you're unfamiliar with the area. Make a packing list so that you don't forget something essential, and a car maintenance list if you're going on a long trip.
Plan Your Route in Advance
Whether you're familiar with the route or traveling it for the first time, it would be wise to create a tentative road trip itinerary ahead of time. Research the different routes, then choose based on which is fastest, most scenic, or has more facilities. Know where to stop for the cheapest fuel, or food, or bathroom breaks, especially if you're traveling with kids. Better yet, make trip planning a family activity. This is a great way for kids to develop navigation skills and learn how to read maps.
Pack Your Snacks
You're bound to hear lots of hunger complaints from the back seat, even if you're only traveling an hour from home. Take at least a few healthy snacks to keep everyone happy, but for longer trips, consider packing a cooler with picnic supplies. Fast food is a cheap and easy option, but it can often leave you feeling lethargic, sleepy, or sick. That's no way to arrive at a destination, so try to keep the energy levels up with whole foods like pre-cut fruits, vegetables and hummus, and peanut butter crackers instead.
Keep Essentials Nearby
Don't make the mistake of putting everything in the trunk. Keep must-have essentials like wet wipes, snacks, changes of clothes for younger children, electronics chargers, and coins for toll roads in an accessible place, like under the front seat. You won't want to be stopping every time you need one of these things.
Make Room for Presents
When you're preparing to pack up the car, don't forget all the room you'll need for holiday gifts—not only the ones you plan to bring, but also the ones you'll be taking back with you. Often times, the car ride back home is uncomfortable due to being overstuffed, so try to pack light and leave ample room for presents of all sizes.
Surprise the Kids With New Toys and Games
The kids may have no trouble entertaining themselves with the toys they're bound to receive from relatives, but you'll want to prepare for the drive there as well. Cue up the game apps and movies on a well-charged tablet or hit up a toy store for some cheap and mess-free playthings (like magnetic bingo and tic-tac-toe). Bookstores will have children's stories and activity packs, too, but make sure they don't come with markers that can stain clothes or the car. Better yet, make it a surprise and give your kids their new road trip gadgets when you're getting ready to go.
Take Frequent Breaks
Road trips can wind up feeling very rushed, and the stress of getting from origin to destination often compromises what has the potential to be a fun family experience. Leave plenty of time to make stops at roadside attractions, parks, pull-offs, and rest areas. The kids will be all-around happier if they can get out and run around throughout the trip.
Be Prepared to Sit in Holiday Traffic
No holiday weekend road trip would be complete without sitting in traffic on the highway. You most definitely won't be the only one traveling, so prepare yourself emotionally for potential accidents, road works, and general congestion. Losing your cool and getting road rage could ruin the fun for everyone, so try to remain calm and pass the time by playing I Spy or striking up interesting conversation with your kids.
As much as it's important to plan for things ahead of time—bathroom breaks, traffic, road trip games—it's also important to leave a little wiggle room in the itinerary. Too many expectations is a recipe for failure, so maintain a little bit of flexibility in case things go wrong or something comes up along the route that looks exciting.