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Challenge: Summer Fun

How to plan a road trip with kids without losing your sanity, kind of

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2021 is the summer of road trips. After the or so months, many families are ready to venture out but aren’t yet comfortable with flying or being in busy airports or train stations. If ever there was a great time to road trip, it’s now. Here’s how to enjoy this time without losing your sanity. Mostly.


Why road trip?

Road tripping gives kids their own familiar space while traveling. Travel broadens our horizons but it can be overwhelming for kids. Having that anchor spot and familiar items can be a game changer, especially with inexperienced travelers or more anxious kids.

Plus, it’s less expensive than flying and it allows you to enjoy the journey.

Here are TK tips to help you plan a road trip with your kids and come back home with all of your marbles intact. At least that’s the goal.

Get Your Kids Input

Ask your kids what they want to do and incorporate their input into your trip planning when possible. Taking their input on big things, such as your destination, might not be practical but letting them help choose activities along the way or where you stop to eat will give them ownership. If kids feel they’re a part of what’s happening, they are more likely to be enthusiastic about it.

And remember, the golden rule of road tripping: no matter how cool trip is or how crappy the hotel pool is, the hotel pool always wins. Every. Single. Time.

Involve Kids in the Planning

This works great for kids of all ages. Even if it’s just showing your kids your driving route on a map or showing them pictures of the hotel pool you find online, not having the trip be a big adventure into the unknown helps kids feel secure and gets them excited about the trip.

I also like having my kids involved in the packing process. My youngest is 11 and I still feel like I have to supervise but having them involved eliminates some of the “Mom, where’s my…” when we’re traveling.



Sit down with your partner (or other adult who share the responsibility of the trip with you) and sketch out all of your expenses. If you’re not used to road tripping, some expenses might sneak up on you.

Some common things to budget for are gas, hotel rooms, food (this one is easy to underestimate), activity fees such as park entrance fees, and souvenirs.

Don’t forget cash for tips, toll roads or places that might not take credit cards - rare nowadays but always be prepared.

A word about souvenirs.

Your kids will probably want absolutely EV-REE-THING they see from a light-up necklace at a theme park to jerky at the gas station. It won’t matter if you have the exact same jerky in your snack bag, your kids will want something from the store because it’s the store.

Decide ahead of time what you’ll spend and communicate that.

Expectation Management

Expectation management is for everyone. How long will you drive each day? Are you going to do planned stops or wing it? Are you a “Push through” kind of road tripper or a “Look, a giant ketchup bottle, let’s stop!” kind of road tripper?

Get the adults on the same page and then let the kids know how it’s going to go. When everyone is on the same page with what’s happening, things will be so much smoother.

Relax Your Rules

If you’re a stickler about screen time, eating in the car, or taking a nightly bath, a road trip might be the time to ease up a little bit.

It’s frustrating to be driving along a beautiful, scenic byway and have your kids’ nose be clue to their tablet. I get it. The flip side of this is that a kid who is engrossed in something is less likely to whine, fight with their siblings or ask the dreaded “Are we there yet?”

We let our kids have liberal screen time while we’re en route but when we’re in a national park on on the “active sightseeing” portion of our trips, we don’t allow screens. I’ve also been known to let a dip in the hotel pool count as a bath. These things work for us.

And we can all agree not to discuss what might be lingering on our kids’ skin from that pool, right? Chlorine kills all the things, y’all.

Pack fun things to do in the car

Preferably things that won’t drive the grownups in the front seat bonkers.

Google road trip games. Go to the library and pick out some audio books that everyone will enjoy. Find a podcast. Make a playlist with everyone’s input.

Let the kids have some choices on the toys and comfort items they bring to play with in the car. I recommend a lunch box sized container for each kid with a few items they select. If you can find the old school metal lunch boxes, you can use magnets inside. Check the dollar store or thrift stores for cheap toys. Anything your kid hasn’t seen before works.

And...y’all are going to think I’m crazy but a roll of blue painters tape can keep kids entertained for hours. They can make things with it, cut out letters, or roll it up into a ball. Since it’s not really that sticky, it won’t damage anything it gets stuck to and it doesn’t hurt when you pull it out of someone’s hair. Much.

Use a good packing list...but don’t overpack

There are tons of packing lists online. Find one you like, print it out and use it. Have school-aged and up kids help you check stuff off as you stage it for packing.

A lot of road trippers, myself included, have the tendency to overpack because you can. You’re not dealing with an airline weight allowance or having to pay for bags so it’s tempting to just shove it all in there.

But, don’t do it. Just because that extra bag of stuff you maybe probably kind of not really but maybe need will fit in your car doesn’t mean it should be in your car. Really work to pack what you need and no more or less.

Think about what you’ll be doing each day, what the weather is likely to be, and what your access to laundry is. Get out of the mindset of “Just in case” packing. Your odds of needing formalwear and back up eyeliner on a trip to Yellowstone National Park are pretty slim. I mean...think about it. You’re probably not going to embark on a road trip with your kids with zero idea what you’re going to be doing so pick out appropriate clothing and pack it.

If you’re packed efficiently for a road trip, your car will perform better and loading/unloading and finding things in the back seat will be much less stressful. Trust me...the second or third time you’re having to root through that extra bag of whizbangs you brought for just in case to find the tote with your the snacks, you’re going to wish you hadn’t brought so much stuff.

Something will go wrong. Accept it. And then move on.

You might get lost. The hotel that looked awesome online might rival the Bates Motel. Someone will melt down. Maybe several times. Maybe that someone will be you.

When things go wrong, roll with it, take a deep breath, fix it or get past with it and keep on truckin’. One little (or even big) wrinkle doesn’t need to define your entire vacation so don’t let it.

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