How to Travel as a Family with Tips from an Experienced Family of Travelers

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I absolutely love to travel. It seems many of my generation have this pull to travelling these days. However it’s not always easy when you have a family in tow.

Before you plan your next travel destination read these tips for family travel from an experienced family of travelers.

Read more about local travel in our Backyard Tourist series.

Some of my favorite family memories were when we traveled somewhere – Washington DC, Quebec, Colorado. Most of our trips had some purpose – visit family, visit the temple, learn history. But some, like most of the trips to Quebec, were purely just to visit and be touristy.

I’ve tried to make some kind of travel a possibility in my adult life every year. Often it’s just backyard tourism, but we get out of our home state periodically too. This year we happened to take a last minute trip to Utah for my Father-In-Laws funeral. Despite the nature of the trip, we still managed to find new things to explore along the way.

We traveled there and back caravan style with my brother-in-laws family. Along the way, my sister-in-law and I talked about writing up this post. They do quite a bit of travelling every year, and so with her experienced help, I’m ready to share some tips to get your family on the road!

Before You Travel

Start with a Clean Car

Starting a family trip with a clean car is vital to your mental health on vacation.

I can’t emphasize this one enough! If your car isn’t clean when you head out on a trip, you won’t be able to enjoy any of the time spent in the car. A lot of time is spent in the car, as you travel from point A to point B, and then around whatever destination you’ve chosen to go to. Getting the kids involved is crucial, so while I prep the house, I send the kids out to clean up the car. They take grocery bags our to fill with trash, and any toys/shoes/socks/books get brought back in the house and put away. Once the stuff is out, I send them back with some cleaning wipes and the vacuum.

Plan Your Route

This is another great way to get the kids involved. With smaller kids grab some paper maps and sit down to draw out the route. Let them help pick stopping points that sound interesting to them. For older kids, download some map apps and together plot your route. My favorites to use are Google Trips and Roadtrippers. Both these apps will search for points of interest along your route.

With small kids finding a park or play area can be key to everyone’s happiness. During the summer, and on weekends it’s usually pretty easy to find a school playground to play at.

Packing the Car

With a clean car and a map of your route, it’s time to pack the car and head out on your travels. The #1 essential Renee got me to buy, and I wouldn’t travel without now, are packing cubes! Holy moly – we have a Honda Pilot, and 5 kids. If you know anything about the Pilot you know that there is virtually no trunk space. Packing cubes have meant we can pack everything we need in the trunk, we can still see out the back window, and we aren’t taking up precious body space around the kids. This is key for happy kid travelers. The packing cubes come in a variety of colors and sizes, so we bought a different color for each member of the family in the large size.

I like to put a grocery sack on the back of each headrest for collecting garbage. This is a clear visual for the kids to put their trash instead of on the floor. As you stop for gas or to stretch legs, take out the filled bags and replace with empty ones. Keeping the car clean throughout the travel is key to my sanity. On that note, I would also bring some kleenex and baby wipes.

Along the Way

Don’t forget the snacks

Unless you plan on stopping to eat a bunch, you’ll want to bring along some snacks. We try to balance out the sweet and savory, along with the junk and healthy. Depending on what our budget is, I’ll pack a small cooler of sandwiches for lunch and dinner. Those small cereal boxes are a great breakfast if you’ll be on the road in the morning, and you can buy small containers of milk to pour into them, or eat dry. Kids love it.

We suggest packing individual snack bags for each of the kids. This keeps them from bothering you for snacks the whole way, and from fighting over the last chip.

Also, make sure you pack everything in disposable. You don’t want stinky tupperware in your car once it’s been emptied. The only reusable item should be a water bottle to keep everyone hydrated. These can be filled up with water at gas stations and rest stops along the way. It also keeps kids from needing to use the bathroom too much from sugary drinks.

What to Bring

Renee suggests noise canceling headphones for the driver. She and her husband switch off driving, so whoever is behind the wheel gets the headphones, and the non-driver gets to take care of the kids needs. If extra noise from the kids in the car tends to drive you a little batty, this will make the actual travelling part a bit nicer.

Coloring pencils and paper are great, just don’t bring crayons. They melt…ask me how I know. Pencils store really nicely in empty pringles cans, and they fit perfectly in the car drink holders too. Or wrap up a few new toys and periodically through the trip, let the kids open something new.

Travel Activities

These days everyone has a DVD player in the car – ok not! We don’t. I’ll be honest, when I travel, it’s because I want to become closer as a family, and time spent in the car away from the TV is perfect for that. So here’s some ideas beyond a DVD player.

Listen to books together. We love the Hooplah and Libby apps for finding free audiobooks. These apps connect your library card, so it’s just like checking out the audio from your library, but on your phone. Sometimes books can be tough to listen to in the car though, which in that case, you might try Podcasts! Some of our favorites for the whole family are Story Pirates, Brains On, But Why, and Tumble Science.

Another fun way to bring the whole family together is with what we call Car Games. Play a little “Would You Rather” or “I’m going on vacation and I’m bringing a….”.

Make this the year that you say YES to more traveling as a family. Even if it is only in your backyard. Get out and see the world, because families that travel together will be closer together.

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