Road trips are an ever-popular way for many American families to take vacations. In fact, the overwhelming majority of American families prefer to shun the airport and hop in the car for summer getaways.
However, although a long summer road trip can be a great bonding experience, too much time together cooped up in a car definitely has its challenges. Younger children often bored and restless sitting through long stretches of dull, flat scenery; eating a fast-food-only diet for too long can make any person feel lethargic and cranky.
To make sure you and your family have the best road trip possible, though, there are several tried-and-tested tips parents have used for years to make their vacation more affordable, less stressful, and a lot more fun.
Mobile Apps for Planning and Entertainment
Having the right apps in your toolbox can take your vacation from meh to marvelous. These indispensable apps can help you build an itinerary, find a last-minute hotel, locate cheap gas, and customize your in-car entertainment.
For parents, apps like DealNews and Foodspotting can help you find new restaurants that local guidebooks and "top 10" lists might not have included yet, and apps like Hotels.com can help you pick and book a place with attractions for kids down the road. On the other hand, you can select from thousands of kid-friendly songs on apps like Spotify and Youtube to play in the car.
For children, there are several mobile games and apps that provide hours of entertainment on the road. Road Trip Travel Games on the Google Play store, for instance, introduces kids to over 20 classic road trip activities families have been playing in America for decades.
Classic Car Games (No Signal Needed)
Families around the world have been taking road trips long before the advent of the cell phone or iPad, and parents have always found ways to keep their kids entertained to avoid any backseat squabbling.
One way to do this is playing classic car games like "I Spy," the guessing game where the first player says "I spy with my little eye something..." then gives a clue to something they can see. Another popular game is the "Alphabet Game," where each player tries to find something of each letter.
For cross-country trips, playing the State License Plate Game is a great way to pass the time and help school-aged kids learn the names of all the states. To play, make a list of all 50 states in the United States, then have your kids try to spot a car with a license plate from each state.
Toys and Tools for Kid-Friendly Travel
Although fighting off backseat boredom can be a big issue when road tripping with children, finding ways to avoid messes and excessive noise can also be challenging. Fortunately, there are many new products on the market each year to ease the difficulties of traveling with kids.
From popular pen and paper games like mad libs and travel bingo to mobile art stations like the Crayola Color Wonder Markers Mess Free Activity Set, these must-have travel toys and games for family road trips keep that boredom in the backseat at bay.
There is also plenty of great organizational gear you can get for your road trip to help cut down on spills and other messes. Several companies make seatback pouches and organizers where you can store all of your kid's snacks, games, and toys.
Eliminate Risk Factors for Car Sickness
Speaking of messes, if your kid is prone to car sickness, road trips can definitely be challenging. However, thanks to research in the last several years, more is known now about what can trigger motion sickness.
There are even several tried and true ways to prevent motion sickness in children, including medicinal products that prevent motion sickness, but it's important to remember that other things can make car sickness worse. Feeding a child ginger or peppermint can help settle a stomach, but spicy foods can irritate them further.
Crowdsource the Smartest Road Trip Hacks
When it comes to innovative parenting, websites like Pinterest have connected thousands of parents with one another's brilliant ideas for hacking road trips with kids.
From using shower caddies to enjoy meals on the go to putting cupcake liners to keep your car cup holders clean, these handy hacks can help cut down on messes and keep your children entertained on long cross-country drives.
Find Alternatives to Fast Food
Fast food chains are quick, relatively cheap, and everywhere, so it's so easy to fall into a fast-food rut when you're away on vacation. However, with just a little planning, you can track down healthier, just-as-inexpensive options that are sure to please kids. When your family is on the go, put these healthier dining options on your go-to list.
On travel days, keep a cooler packed with picnic provisions, healthy snacks, and low-sugar beverages. You won't be at the mercy of whatever roadside food stops available and you'll save money if you pack some snacks for the trip. You can then pick a great scenic pull-off where you can stop with your family and enjoy a roadside snack while stretching your legs.
Get Out of the Car and Cool Off
The key to a successful road trip is choosing your fun wisely and stopping to let your kids get enough exercise. While roadside parks make for great destinations for a quick picnic, you might want to head to a theme park or other attraction for more fun on your trip.
On a hot summer's day, there's nothing better than getting out of the car and having some splashy fun. Whether you prefer to float down a lazy river, splash in a wave pool, or zoom down water slides and speed coasters, there's a water park in almost every state where your family can cool off in style.
Get to Know America the Beautiful
The best family road trips introduce your children to the natural beauty of America, taking you and your family to gorgeous places you just can't get to by plane. Called "America's best idea" by the historian Wallace Stegner, the national park system offers families an affordable way to visit America's cherished landscapes, view wildlife in their natural habitat, learn about geological and cultural history, and appreciate the great outdoors. Check out national park vacations with kids for ideas.