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Planning A Family Road Trip Beyond The Map and Packing List
Written by Carol Cain of

I remember the first big trip I took with my kids. Like most families, we were “pushed” to travel in order to spend time with friends and family far away. It was an occasion that could not be missed and though we had reservations about traveling with kids – our youngest ones still 2 and 3 – we took the plunge anyway.

I’m glad we did because even though we had no technology at the time, not even a DVD player in our car, had two kids in diapers, one very hormonal tween, and were on a tight budget, this trip helped to kick-start our life as a traveling family.

My husband and I have always loved traveling, but we fell into that funk of “it’s harder with kids” and just kept telling ourselves we would wait till they were older. I’m glad we didn’t because the adventures and experiences we’ve had in our travels as a family have not only really helped us be better as parents, but also better together and the knowledge my children have gained from our trips is nothing a textbook could have ever provided.

We started planning our road trip about 4 to 5 months beforehand and picked up a few lessons along the way. Here are my tips to help you take that first big trip with your family in tow:

Why Drive

We needed to go to Montana on this first trip, but after calculating the cost we realized that flying a family of 5 to this location would be pretty pricey, so we decided to drive.

If you can allow the time to drive (we took two weeks), you can plan most of your road trip. We got to see so much of the country on this trip, many of the sights we just discovered along the way. Plus, we didn’t have to deal with the hassles that flying with little ones can bring. Driving was like taking multiple vacations all in one, for a lot less money.

Eat Local

Most travelers like to just go with the big chain eateries when on the road because it’s what they know. But it’s not often the most healthy, or even cost-effective option.

If you want to really experience the local flavors of the destination you are in, ask the hotel concierge or front desk to give you some tips on local eateries. I always like to ask them where they like to eat with their friends and family.

You’d be surprised at how much better the food can be, and how much more you get for your money when you eat like a local and not a tourist.

Map Out Stops

We tried not to plan too many of the stops we made, especially because we didn’t know what we would find along the way that we would want to check out. Be flexible with your scheduled sightseeing stops, have a definite hotel stop planned. Remember that hotel cancellations with less than 24 hours notice will result in fees charged.


It’s easy to keep the kids quiet with electronics, music and movies when in the car. Because we didn’t have this we endured 10 hours of insanity. Very loud insanity. However, after the first day, the boys found their pace. They figured out ways to entertain themselves without being completely distracted from all the natural beauty around them. Being stuck in a car for days and days and days is the perfect opportunity to come together as a family and for your children to master the art of imagination and conversation. That’s not to say that they can’t watch a movie or two, but being in the moment is really a huge part of how they will take in the experience.


Stuff is going to happen. You are going to get lost. Somebody will throw a tantrum – might be one of your kids, might be you. At some point, someone will ask you, “Are we there yet?”

Just breathe. Let it slide off your back, let the schedule fall to the wayside, stop the car, stretch your legs, and remember that every mishap (and believe me, we’ve had our share) will only compliment the story when you are retelling it later on.

Let Go

Let your kids try new things, and be willing to try new things with them. Hiking for three hours through a rainforest? I didn’t think it was possible with kids until mine proved me wrong.

The beauty of travel is that it presents you with opportunities that you wouldn’t experience otherwise, and certainly not in your everyday life. Take advantage of those and encourage your children to do the same.

Be connected, be present, and be willing to go with the flow. If you can do this, all else will fall into place – maybe not as perfectly as you imagined, but then again, that’s the fun of it all.

Our sincere thanks to Carol Cain of Girl Gone Travel for sharing her insight. Facebook: GirlGoneTravel

Jay Cooney