The Best Family Road Trip Ever

The Best Family Road Trip Ever  10 Ways to Truly Enjoy the Journey.  Great travel tips and tons of insight from a mom who just finished a 29 day, 4,000 mile road trip with her kids.  Don't even think about taking a road trip until you read this post!

If you follow along on Instagram or Facebook, you probably already know that my family just got back from a whopping 29 day road trip.  We drove more than 4,000 miles, visited 15 different states, visited lots of friends and family along the way, and made lots of fun memories that I know will cherish for years to come.  After our ill-fated first attempt at a road trip back in May, we were frankly just happy to finish our journey in one piece.

Throughout our trip we had more than a few people tell us in love that they thought we were absolutely crazy, usually declaring that they could never spend that much time cramped in a car with their family.  And while I must say that so much “quality” time on the road does not come without a few speed bumps, we genuinely enjoyed our time together.

As I’ve been pondering the trip and what made it so much fun, I realized that following a few important “rules” throughout the trip really helped us keep our sanity.  If you are planning a road trip in the near future, or even in the distant future, here are our 10 tips for making the most of your time on the road:

Family Road Trip

1. Preparation begins at home

As far as our actual trip agenda was concerned, we couldn’t have been less prepared.  We didn’t make a single hotel reservation, we didn’t let friends or family know we were coming ahead of time, and we had very few set-in-stone dates along the way.  We literally took it one day at a time.  We wanted much of our trip to be spontaneous, and for the most part it was.

But we did prepare in other ways.  The first, and most important, way is just in our general philosophy of parenting.  Taking their toys away last year was one of those pivotal moments that has forever changed us.  At home they watch very little TV and instead spend most of their time coloring or reading or using their imaginations.  For the most part, they don’t get bored easily and don’t constantly need to be entertained.  In the car, this translated to two kids who were pretty content hanging out in the backseat.  They had books to read, coloring supplies, a few figurines, and their American Girl dolls to play with, and, for the most part, that was enough.

From a work standpoint, I also spent a lot of time pre-preparing all my blog posts and finishing other assignments ahead of time so that I would have less to do on the road.  I am blessed to be able to work from everywhere, but I also didn’t want to spend my entire vacation on the computer.  Getting a lot done before we left helped take a lot of pressure off.

Road Trip Groove

2. Take it slow

While we did have a couple of power days where we were in the car for ten hours or more, we generally tried to give ourselves lots of time and leeway to make it to our next destination.  We found that keeping our daily mileage to 300 or less was usually best.  In our fast-paced world where we are seemingly always late for something, it can be hard to just slow down and take it easy.  It definitely took us a few days to get into the groove of not being in a hurry.

Road Trip Road Sign Traditions

3. Create family traditions

Husband and I have traveled cross-country several times, and one of our favorite road trip traditions is that we always (at least when it is possible) stop at the state lines to take a picture with the state welcome signs.  We’ve now passed this tradition torch to our girls and have made it our goal to get the two of them in front of every state sign by the time they turn eighteen.  Although we knocked out quite a few on this latest trip, we’ve still got a long way to go!

Road Trip Pie

4. Always stop for pie

Small towns and out-of-the way places are the best.  Our other road trip rule is that if we happen to see some small diner or cafe along the way, one of us will say, “I bet they have good pie,” and then we have to stop, just to check.  Sometime’s it really is great, sometimes not so much, but it is just one of those fun and silly stops that makes a road trip memorable.

Road Trip Friends

5. Try to visit everyone you know along the way

Husband and I have both lived in many different places, and now through blogging I have been blessed to meet friends who live all over the country.  (Including Crystal, Edie, and Patty pictured above.)  Thus, when we travel, we make every effort to see as many friends and family as we can.  Because this trip was so minute-to-minute, that often meant calling people the day before and saying, “hey we are going to be passing through, do you mind if we stop by?” More often than not, that spur-of-the-moment meet-up was better than anything we could’ve ever tried to plan ahead of time.  For the girls, meeting up with other kids along the way was definitely the highlight of the trip.  They made lots of new friends and reconnected with others they hadn’t seen in a while.  When all is said and done, all they really want to do is play!

Taking time the to see people is important to us because we know what it is like to be on the other end.  We live in Florida, vacation capital of the world, and have often been hurt after finding out that friends or family visited the Sunshine State without bothering to let us know they were nearby.  While it doesn’t always work out, at least make an attempt!

Staying with friends and family is not only a good way to re-connect, is also a great way to save money on food and hotel costs.  On this particular trip, we only stayed in a hotel for 9 of the 29 nights.  We are so grateful for such incredible hospitality!

Road Trip Sights

6. Stop to see the sites

This is a pretty amazing country filled with more sites than you could ever see in a lifetime.  Slowing down the pace of your trip also means allowing time to stop for roadside attractions, historic sites, scenic overlooks, or famous landmarks.  Never be in such a hurry that you can’t stop to explore.  You never know what pit stop could end up being the highlight of your trip!

7. Play interactive games

We do have two Kindle Fire tablets that are loaded with lots of books and a few movies for the girls to use in the car.  For Princess, who is a voracious reader and apparently has a stomach made of steel, a Kindle full of books was more than enough to keep her happy.  Trouble, on the other hand, gets carsick very easily.  Looking down at the Kindle screen for any length of time only exacerbates the problem.

Luckily we discovered the best road trip game app ever, On The Go Bingo, which we loaded onto both our iPhones and the Kindles so that we could all play at the same time.  I am not even kidding when I tell you that we must have played at least a thousand rounds of that game!  It was such a great way to take advantage of technology but still interact as a family, and we had so much fun playing together that even now that we are home we are constantly pointing out “bingo” sightings along the way.

The Best Family Road Trip Ever

8. Take lots of pictures

I love the quality of photos I get from my DSLR camera, but I really love the convenience of my iPhone.  On this trip in particular I ended up taking most of our photos on my phone, simply because it was always close at hand.  Instagram and Facebook make it super easy to share your memories and progress with friends and family back home, too.  The one thing I wish I would’ve done differently is come up with our own Instagram hastag, such as #SoukupsOntheRoad or #LWSLBestFamilyRoadTripEver.  Sigh.  Maybe next time!

Sleeping Well

9. Rest

Travel is exhausting.  Be sure to stop at rest stops while driving.  On longer driving days, we would make the kids run around and do some races and jumping jacks on the grass, just to get their blood flowing.  Getting enough sleep at night is really important too!  Staying up late then getting up early will take its toll quickly, so try to only do one or the other.

Road Trip Food

10. Eat well

The best part of a road trip?  Definitely the FOOD!  We took a cooler along filled with drinks, easy breakfast items, and sandwich fixings.  This allowed us to save some money by eating “in” for two meals a day, then splurging on regional specialties whenever we could.  We enjoyed Shrimp Po’ Boys at Pirate’s Cove in Mississippi,  Beignets at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, barbecue at Corky’s in Memphis and Jack Stack in Kansas City, and pizza at Home Run Inn in Chicago.  But honestly the best–and downright incredible–meals (Bourbon glazed ham! Low Country Boil! Shrimp & Grits!) courtesy of our awesome, talented, and amazingly hospitable friends.

Granted after 29 days of really good eating, we are now in full-blown diet mode!  Oh, but those 10+ pounds were worth every calorie! :-)

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Does your family do road trips?  What are your favorite traditions?  What are your favorite tips for making your trip fun and memorable?

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{ 22 comments… add one }

  • Denise August 19,

    Wow what a trip! That looks like so much fun. Love the tips!

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 19,

      It was definitely a trip to remember! :-)

      Reply
  • Michelle August 19,

    Fun! We are leaving for a road trip to New Orleans tomorrow and I’m so excited!

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 19,

      Oooooh fun! We loved New Orleans, wish we could’ve spent more time there! Have a great time! Safe travels!

      Reply
  • Kelly August 19,

    I loved seeing all your pictures on Instagram! So fun! Love your blog and your cute family!

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 19,

      Thank you Kelly! :-)

      Reply
  • Roxie August 19,

    I went on many many road trips with my grandparents. I loved it. It was always fun and very educational. My grandfather was a real planner. He had the trip laid out well in advance of the trip. It was good because grandpa shared his knowledge with me.
    One of the things we did (grandpa insisted and I am so glad he did) was keep a notebook. We wrote in it every day. Simple things we did, like were we ate, what we did, what we saw, where we stayed…Now that I am a woman in my 60′s I love looking back at those notebooks. I is amazing what we did…

    Reply
  • Kalyn Brooke | Creative Savings August 19,

    So glad you had a good time! I love road trips, but usually have to plan everything in advance to keep my sanity. That means all my hotels are booked in advance. It takes a way the spontaneity a little bit, but it makes me feel better. Lol. :)

    Reply
  • Amanda Armstrong August 19,

    Just curious how much a trip like that costs??

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup August 20,

      We budgeted about $3000 for our trip, which included gas expenses, hotel, food, and activities. Of that total, gas was about a third! Because I spoke at a conference along the way, I did get a small travel allowance which we applied to the trip, and we brought along a lot of food in the cooler so we didn’t eat out too often.

      Reply
  • JOY August 21,

    enJOYed reading your tips. We are a retired couple and are planning a trip in mid Oct to beginning Nov for Route 66. We already follow all of your tips except “Pie.” We can’t eat sugar, so the pie tradition won’t work, but we do keep an eye out for Mom and Pop diners and unusual places to stay. On our last road trip, we learned to start looking for a place to stay around 4pm. We get a lot more rest, and don’t get cranky and on each other’s nerves so bad by then.

    Reply
  • Renee September 2,

    I did something similar… except I did it on my own with 2 boys (3 &8)! And we spent nearly 6 weeks & went 6,500 miles! My kids went to 16 states they had never been to. We caught up with a ton of friends & family, & we stayed in hotels with kitchens when we weren’t able to stay with family. We ate almost exclusively from grocery store food. I had only a loosely based itinerary… I told people I’d probably be in their area on this day or that day, so we were free to go at the pace we wanted.

    I only regret that I didn’t take pics in front of the state signs like you did!

    Reply
    • Renee September 2,

      BTW everyone said I was completely insane (or would be afterwards) for taking on such an adventure! But actually I had a lot of quality time with my boys. They asked me a million questions as we drove. “Why are so many places named Lincoln? Was he THAT important?” and “Why is it called the Show-Me State?” What I couldn’t answer, I let them use my phone to Google. We all learned a lot!

      Reply
  • MIchelle September 6,

    I traveled with my grandparents when I was young (40+ years ago) My grandfather came up with a way for me to earn a little spending cash for my vacation. For every bus I saw I got a penny and for every airplaine I saw I received a nickel.With pencil and paper in hand, writing down frantically.I was under 12 and when we went from New Jersey to California, I might of earned $12.00. My spending money. I remember playing barbies in the back seat, distracted from much else. And I would here my grandfather clear his throat or say, Hmm I wonder what that is, I would look up and there would be lots of buses in a lot. This kept me busy most of the time and created long time memories of my trips. Enjoy your road trips.

    Reply
  • Kari September 24,

    We did a 15 day road trip this summer with our 4 kids, the youngest who was only 10 months at the time. We drove from KY to Yellowstone stopping at the Badlands and Devils Tower on the way out and Mt. Rushmore on the way back. It was a long trip but we are all still talking about it today! We camped and like you people told us we were crazy to camp that long with such young kids. Well, it was an amazing success for us but like you the biggest thing that made it a success was doing most of the planning before we left. We are looking to do another trip like this in a few years, except this time to southern Utah and the Grand Canyon in Arizona, or to Canada, it’s still up in the air! Great post! I hope it inspires more people to hit the road with their kids!

    Reply
  • Nuwairah Faris October 3,

    Hi Ruth! I’m from Malaysia and I’m writing an article about road trips tradition, I like that you take pictures with the states welcome sign. So, I’m planning to add that in the article. I would be so happy if you allow me to use the pictures of your daughters and the signs for the article. Hope you can give me your consent. Thanks a lot.

    Reply
  • Rachael October 16,

    Did you blog where you stopped??? Would love to know some of your favorite spots. Driving from wis to fl in December with a 3 and 4 year old

    Reply
    • Ruth Soukup October 18,

      I didn’t blog specifically about our stops, but some of our favorite places were the Field Museum in Chicago and the huge children’s museum in Indianapolis. We also loved Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, and Savannah, Georgia was absolutely beautiful. The kids were happiest when we were stopped at friends’ houses along the way and they had new friends to play with!

      Reply
  • Sharon November 13,

    That looks like a fabulous trip! We are about to do a similar one around the Deep South, very excited! Thanks for the great tips

    Reply
  • Sarah December 16,

    I realize that this post is now slightly dated and Pinterest has just led me to it, but I felt the need to 1.) commend you and your family! and 2.) praise you for showing how amazing a trip can be when done in the car! My husband and I live for the spur-of-the-moment roadtrip. We drove 25 hours to Las Vegas on a whim and got married, and here we are, still going strong! Since then, we’ve been back to Vegas and beyond-In the 3 years we’ve been married, we’ve been to 20 states together, and have probably spent more time in my tiny, 2-door Honda Civic than anywhere else. I’m originally from Pennsylvania, which is an 18+ hour drive from Arkansas, but that will always be my home, so we’ve made that drive as well, 3 different times! Our son Carson is now 13 months, but when he was only 2 months he took his first roadtrip to Pennsylvania. The thought of our normal in-car adventure with a baby in tow terrified me…at first. But we left in the evening (if your child can sleep in the car, leave in time for the sunset! Yes, it will SUCK for you if you’re the driver and everyone else is out like a light, but its worth it!) Carson literally slept for nine hours straight, we only woke him so I could feed him and stop my own discomfort! He loved getting out of his seat, getting a little cuddle time with Momma, a full belly and a clean butt, and then drifted right back off again, no matter what. Now there are THOSE moments when a meltdown commenses and I am climbing between the seats and wedging my butt in a 2 inch space just to hold his hand as he drifts off again (you can’t exactly pull all the awesome kid roadtrip tricks when they’re super young!) But always keep in mind that it may seem like a daunting nightmare, a roadtrip with a kiddo is a great experience-for everyone! Plus, its so American traditional to load up the car and stare out the windows at all the random scenes that whiz by-EMBRACE YOUR INNER GRISWOLDS, PEOPLE! :)

    Since that first trip at 2 months, we’ve traded our Civic (bye bye, amazing gas mileage!) for a 4-door Charger that feels like we’re travelling by yatch compared to our previous vessel. And Carson is older, and full of life and hilarity and trouble! We’ll be heading to Pennsylvania in 2 weeks, and we are open-minded about how much fun he’ll have squealling at the people we pass and jammin’ like a rockstar to his Momma’s music! So thank you for sharing your adventure with us; those of us with inner wanderlust appreciate it! :)

    Reply
  • Cindy Cole February 10,

    What a fun trip. We are doing a 35 day/ 19 state road trip this summer w/ our boys ages 11 & 13. Did you use any apps to locate the State Welcome signs or restroom breaks?

    Reply
  • Jennifer Tankersley February 26,

    Your post caught my eye from Facebook because our family just finished a road trip from Maine to Florida (and back) last week. I LOVE road trips and would gladly drive for a living, if I could figure that out :-) This past summer, my family made a trip similar to yours: a big circle around half the country. We started in Maine (of course, because that is where we live), drove to Kansas (where I am from originally), drove to west Texas (my husband’s hometown), across Texas to San Antonio and Houston (where my sister lives), over to New Orleans (where my husband and I lived for 3 years), and finally home (by way of Virginia where our good friends live). I hope to make a trip all the way across the country within the next couple of years. Loved reading about your trip! Wish I’d thought of stopping at state signs. That is such a great tradition!! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

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