Having just completed our tenth US family roadtrip, I have finally typed up my scribbled notes for you. I receive many pleas for advice on how best to go about a family roadtrip. Is it fun? What do I pack? But how will the kids be if we’re moving every couple of nights? Is it exhausting? How do you entertain the kids on long journeys? What do you book in advance? How do you actually plan your trip? You can find links to all our roadtrips at the bottom of this post. Whilst I do love sunning myself by a pool, roadtripping is my favourite kind of family holiday. I love experiencing a variety of days from museums to beach to city to shopping at the strip mall. I love the freedom of having a car, long drives where I can stick the kids in the back and actually have an adult conversation. Plus a family fave, filling the car with excellent local snacks (we coined the phrase Car-B-Q after pulling over on numerous occasions to buy meat from recommended food trucks!).
- Map out all your routes in advance so you can see how long the drives are
- Leave PLENTY of time for important drives e.g to the airport. We have had a number of hairy drives where I thought we would miss our flight. It’s not worth the stress.
- Factor into the above how far away the car hire is from the airport. You may have to get a trolley/shuttle bus which will add in extra time to your journey.
- I keep a detailed spreadsheet which includes accommodation address, activities for the day and restaurant recommendations.
- Have all the addresses printed (I put on my spreadsheet above), so you can type easily into the Sat Nav.
- Have a rough idea of what you might want to do each day so you can check out opening/closing times.
- Book popular restaurants and ear mark places you want to eat at. Food is a huge part of our roadtrip experience so we do spend a lot of time getting recommendations from blogs, TV shows and friends.
- Download podcasts and music for all the family
- We allow ipad/iphones for certain parts of long journeys but these have to be earned and time is limited. I’ll sometimes set a timer so they know exactly how long they have and won’t moan when it ends. Make sure you bring headphones and splitters.
- Jetlag & Mayhem are happy playing with toys in the back of the car in addition to screens and books. On our recent trip to Hawaii the best entertainment was a box of shells. They spent hours pretending they worked in a shell importing business named Pearly Shells & Co. fielding phone calls….
- If you suspect someone may be travel sick, plan in advance with travel sick bands, sick bags and ginger sweets.
- We aren’t that family who spend hours playing games together in the car (although I do enjoy a spot of A to Z of countries, herbs etc). Quite honestly, I use long car journeys as a way to actually ignore the kids for a few hours and have a good chinwag with Mr Jetlag. Or listen to a good podcast and local radio.
- Keep your valuables to hand in one backpack. That way if you are stopping off for lunch etc with everything in the car, you can exit more safely. On that note, if you are travelling with all your suitcases in the boot, don’t make a big scene as you stop off for meals/attractions. Better to leave the car without opening the boot and signalling to one and all that you have your luggage with you. We were told to pay particular attention to this in parts of Hawaii due to opportunist thieves.
- Pack an extra bag with you that you can fill up for shopping at your destination.
- Don’t bring too much stuff with you, you don’t want to be schlepping about endless amounts of luggage. Firstly you can’t bring food into the US anyway, so be mindful of packing snacks. You really don’t need as much stuff as you think you do, especially if you are planning to do laundry. Stop off at Walmart/Target etc and have the kids pick out fun activities for the car then. That way it may be cheaper and you don’t have to bring it with you.
- Bring an extra charging wire to leave in the car
- Check your car seat needs. Do you need to bring one from home? Or do you prefer to rent one? If you do pack one, remember how much space it takes up in your suitcase (I refer to many an episode at the car hire on the return journey where we are trying to stuff it into a groaning suitcase). We usually bring one booster seat which goes in the suitcase and then a Trunki Boostapak which we carry as hand luggage.
- Pack sunglasses in hand luggage so you can clamber into hire car and drive off easily.
- Check all rooms before you leave. Give everyone a job e.g. hooks on back of bathroom doors. If you’re changing accommodation every few nights, it’s very easy to forget stuff.
- I usually do a mix of hotel and airbnb. For airbnb, put all your hosts numbers into your phone in advance.
- If you’re only stopping for one night, have a smaller suitcase that you can use and leave the bigger cases in the car (if you are comfortable with security in the area).
- Do you really need a car for the first few days of your trip? Perhaps you are landing late and simply want to get in a taxi and spend the first few days chilling. Don’t underestimate being jetlagged and therefore unsafe on the roads! Plus you may save yourself money on car rental and extortionate hotel/valet parking. For example, in Chicago we spent the first 4 days using uber and public transport. Then picked up our car from an in-town rental office and went onwards with our roadtrip.
- If you won’t have a phone with unlimited data for google maps/Waze, order a Sat Nav with your car hire. That said, don’t rely on it to be 100% accurate. We have had problems with limited coverage in parts of Tennessee/Georgia and on this recent trip to Hawaii, the system broke. It’s always worth having guidebooks with you so you have a rough map to hand.
- Join the premium car hire club. They are free and this will mean you can check in at the fancy car hire desk. We recently hired with Hertz and joined their Gold Plus scheme. On arrival we skipped the queues and headed to the bay where our car awaited.
- Before you return your car, double check all the seat back pockets!
- Always keep water in the boot of the car.
- Be mindful of the speed limit (the Sat Nav will likely chime when you are speeding). We have been fined for speeding (albeit not very fast) in the US and Australia.