Road Trip Ready Tips

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When we backed out of our driveway for a 10-day road trip that would take us from Phoenix to the streets of San Francisco, I wondered how it would go with my family of four.  I’m happy to report that yes, I would do it again and no, my family didn’t kill each other!  So here are some tips that worked well for our road trip…as well as a few snafus that didn’t work so well! 

Pre Trip Planning

Make It A Family Plan:
The best surprise of this road trip was how much we bonded with our kids by inviting them to help plan and navigate our travels.  Two months before our departure day, we sat down with our tween and teen and looked through maps, hotel sites and local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVBs) websites for each city that we planned to visit.  Not only did they help to find us some good deals, but they also realized how much planning and expense goes into taking a family trip…and that made them appreciate us as parents!

Plus, looking up the different CVB websites for each city gave us ideas of which attractions to visit and even included a list of free stuff for families to see like the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. 

We also asked our kids what they wanted to experience in California and they both had great answers!  Our teenager wanted to take a day train trip on Amtrak, so we encouraged him to present us with a proposal of what that would entail.  Sure enough, he researched Amtrak routes, ticket prices and destinations and he came up with a wonderful plan.  In fact, that train day trip from Oakland to Sacramento became one of our favorite vacation days.  Our son had also planned our activities in Sacramento that included touring the California State Railroad Museum in the Old Sacramento State Historic Park.   That was a highlight that I definitely recommend!

My daughter’s request was a day at a hotel pool, so we could swim and she could have a spa day with me.  Most spas don’t allow kids to come into the facilities unless they are 16 years old, but we found one that let us both wear robes and have our nails done with a cupcake served to us afterwards.  Plus this resort also enabled my husband and son to golf together.  Carmel Valley Ranch Resort in Carmel, California had all of this, plus beautiful scenery that included deer, mountains and even wild turkeys! 

My husband needed properties that would enable him to work while we traveled, so we used our American Express card membership benefits to upgrade to rooms with extra space at no extra charge.  So, check with  your credit card, your AAA card or a travel agent to see what travel benefit packages are offered before you book your trip.

Consider a Practice Run
If you are taking a long road trip, take a practice run first if you can.  We took a smaller trip to see family several weeks before our big road trip to test out how my husband’s truck would work for such a long trip.  We soon realized that trying to create our own tarp to cover our luggage in the truck bed was not wise, as we had to pull over several times to fix it.  So we bought a back truck cover from our local dealership before we embarked on the long road trip.

Get A Road Trip Check
Take your car in to the shop for a road trip check.  Our service department wanted to know the exact miles that we would travel, so that they could check all systems from bumper to bumper.

Create a Family Friendly Travel Box
We packed an easily accessible box filled with travel documents, magazines, DVDs, cell phone chargers and a travel folder that housed our hotel confirmations.  Having the confirmations printed out ahead of time resulted in a quick and easy check-in once we arrived.  I also called each hotel several hours before our arrival time to reconfirm the room, the rate and the benefits we were promised at booking.

Entertainment Ideas:
For entertainment, I tried something other than 2-hour movie DVDs.  I purchased several television show seasons on DVD.  Laughing at sitcoms in 30-mnute increments made the time pass by and was a nice change from the typical long movies that we usually watch when we travel. This also cut down on the temptation to purchase over-priced room movies.

We also played family games like who can name a state capitol fastest or identify a song by a musical line.  These ideas came from my daughter, so playing her games gave her an ego boost, not to mention a good review of her summer geography studies.  I found some great educational travel games at my local Lakeshore Learning Store. 

Know Safe Areas in Advance:
Another thing to remember is that your GPS may tell you how to get there the fastest or the most scenic route, but it won't tell you which dangerous areas to avoid.  Driving through LA with my daughter protesting that she had to go now was stressful, but it gave her the patience she needed when we explained that the next few exits were places that we didn’t want to be in.  Know those areas ahead of time.

Trip Time Tips
Pack healthy snacks and lots of water.  Sugary beverages will hype kids up, making it harder for them to sit still.   And it is important to keep everyone hydrated, as you visit different climates. 

My healthy snacks of choice is a line called Good Health Natural Foods that include items like Apple Chips, Avocado Oil Potato Chips and Half Naked Popcorn.  The Avocado Oil chips are my personal favorite because they are kettle cooked in all natural avocado oil, which is high in antioxidants.  They are also gluten-free and have monounsaturated fats, which are the good fats.  As a mom, I love this line!  Sold at Trader Joe's, Sprouts Farmers Market and other grocery stores. 

I also found a unique ice pack device called Icy-Cools Reusable Ice Mat that is like having a full cooler of ice without the mess.  It is reusable and stays cool for up to 8 hours.  Sold at Cost Plus World Market for $4.99.

Once you reach your destination, take a bus tour on your first sight-seeing day.  Not only is this interesting for the entire family, but the tour guide shares ideas of which attractions to visit and which areas to avoid!

What Not To Do   
Beware of winding roads.  We overdid the scenic route and ended up with a very nauseous daughter!  I was glad that I packed Tums, ginger ale and a sickness bag, just in case.  Fortunately, we never needed the bag, but having it there calmed her.

Don't solely rely on your car's GPS.  Take a cell phone that has a navigation app.  Our truck GPS failed on day #3 of the trip, so it was great to have my Droid’s voice navigation system that worked well.   And of course, always pack a good old fashioned road map, too.

Don't assume that attraction tickets you want to purchase will be available.  Purchase all of your tickets in advance through the CVB websites.  We wrongly assumed that we would be able to easily purchase tickets to take the kids to see Alcatraz once we arrived in San Francisco, but there were no tickets to be had.  It turns out since the 4th of July was five days after we arrived, everything was sold out.

If you sign up for a travel benefit package, understand how it works ahead of time.  For example, we used our American Express card benefits that gave us a complementary breakfast at the hotels we stayed at that participate in the program.  However, some hotels only offered this on the first day and others offered it daily, but you had to use the coupons that were distributed at check-in or the offer was only good in the hotel restaurant and not if you ordered through room service.  So know before you go exactly how your travel benefits work.

So, after hearing about our adventures, are you ready for a road trip?  Check out my website at for more articles and pictures about the different cities we visited and the attractions that we recommend. 

Happy Travels!