The weather’s warming up, spring break is long in the rearview mirror, and summer vacation doesn’t seem quite so far away anymore. Thoughts turn to family vacations and that time-honored tradition: the summer road trip. A well-planned journey on the open road can create cherished memories that last a lifetime. But leave it to chance and you may come home with unforgettable stories—but for all the wrong reasons.
Put in the planning time now, and you’ll help ensure smooth sailing once you officially hit the road. Here, insider tips for planning the perfect summer road trip with your family.
One of the best ways to keep the troops happy on the road is to bring them in on the trip planning early in the process. With young kids, set dates and use online tools like KOA’s trip planner to research routes and campgrounds. Then gather everyone together to vote on favorites and finalize plans.
With older kids, you can work on planning and budgeting skills by getting them involved earlier in the process. Let them research various types of campgrounds and differences between tent camping, cabins, RVing, and specialty options like yurts and treehouses. Mix free or low-cost activities like hikes, bike rides, and festivals, as well as and pricier options like restaurants and amusement parks. Set a budget, let the kids prioritize activities at each stop, and encourage them to research discounts like non-peak attraction tickets and campground discounts. You’ll be happy for the extra help and they’ll feel privileged to contribute—as well as far more invested in the trip once you hit the road.
As departure day approaches, be sure to schedule time to go over the rules of the road. Setting expectations for behavior ahead of time is the best way to head off squabbles. You can also delegate some duties in advance, like the morning dog walk. Think through a typical day, especially your campground routine. How should chores be shared? What are some rules that will help everyone be comfortable in the limited space of your tent, cabin, or RV? Also be sure to talk through processes that will make packing up smoother and take some of the stress out of moving from one stop to the next.
Routine is your friend on those never-ending drive days. Even the most harmonious of families can come apart at the seams after hours on the road, when everyone’s getting hangry and you’re still miles away from the campground.
But you can head off some potential conflicts with savvy strategies. Start with assigned seats: Let the kids set up their space with favorite entertainment options, like videos, music, games, and books, along with a personalized stash of healthy snacks and a water bottle. Keep driving distances as short as possible and build in plenty of rest breaks. If it looks like you’ll be covering a lot of ground between stops, talk about it while you’re mapping out your itinerary so everyone knows what to expect (and there’s still time to research alternative options).
Instead of the parents always being in charge of running the show, why not give everyone a turn at being the leader? Let each family member choose one or two activities to own. Younger kids can help organize something simple like a hike, while older kids can handle more complex activities like a national park outing or a museum or zoo tour. Once your kids get a taste of what it’s like to be in charge, they’ll understand why cooperation is essential (as well as give them a new sense of appreciation for how much parents do).
No matter where you go, a little solo time can go a long way when you’re spending a week or more in close quarters. If your daughter wants to visit a museum and your son wants to go hiking, parents can split up for the afternoon and get back together later to share experiences. If there’s biking and mini-golf at the campground, make everyone happy by letting the older kids and adults take turns chaperoning young ones. You can meet back up at the end of the day for a swim and dinner on the grill.
You’ll discover so many cool attractions and activities to pack into your road trip that it’s easy to forget about a hugely important goal of your vacation: relaxation. But a few days into the trip, when tempers are flaring, the importance of downtime will hit home. Make it easier on yourself by scheduling free time into each day. You’ll have time to regroup, relax, and recharge for the next day, and everyone will be better off for it.
Once you’re on the road, it’s easy to get focused on maintaining the schedule that you don’t stop to enjoy new discoveries along the way. Keep things spontaneous (and the fun going) by staying flexible. Stay longer at places that are holding everyone’s attention; you can always put off scheduled activities to the next day or take something off the itinerary. Those under-the-radar finds sometimes make for the best summer road trip memories.
Written by Ann Gibson for Matcha in partnership with Kampgrounds of America and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.