We love a family road trip. In fact, some of our best memories as a family have been when we’ve headed off on the road in search of fun, adventures, new places and new faces.
You could take a campervan for a family road trip, or you could hire one. If you have a car, you can take a tent or find accommodation along the way. With internet connectivity and plenty of apps available, you really can make it up as you go along.
A little planning and preparation before a road trip is important though. Here are some essential tips to make your family road trip enjoyable and hassle free. We’ve also highlighted some links in bold so you can research resources, product prices and availability.
Travel Cool Guide to Planning a Family Road Trip
Prepare your vehicle in advance
You want to try and avoid issues with your vehicle break down on your family road trip. Make sure that it has been properly taxed, serviced ( & MOT’d if needed). You can carry out a lot of pre-trip checks yourself.
These should include checking the oil levels, inspecting the tyres (including the spare tyre) to make sure that they are legal.
Make sure that you have your driving license and insurance whilst you are away in case you get into any difficulty. Car breakdown cover is also very important.
Are you planning a Europe road trip?
If you are planning on a European family road trip in your vehicle there are other items you should take with you…
• Reflective jackets or high visibility vests for every member of the family.
• Roadside warning triangle.
• UK car sticker
• Headlamp beam deflectors (or manually adjust your lights if you can on your vehicle).
• V5C Document (to prove vehicle ownership).
• Travel insurance documents.
• EHIC or GHIC health cards. Global Health Insurance Cards can be applied for online and can take several weeks to arrive.
• European car breakdown cover.
• Crit’Air stickers if you are travelling to certain areas in France to comply with its clean are regulations.
• International Driving Permit if you have a paper driving license. You do not need an IDP to drive in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein if you have a photocard driving licence issued in the UK
Do you need mobile connectivity?
If you are going abroad for your family road trip, check with your service provider to make sure your mobile phone can work abroad. Roaming charges can be very expensive so you may wish to consider buying an E-SIM if your phone can accept one.
A portable WifI device may be a good investment of you plan to travel a lot as a family. You could also buy a local SIM card.
How will you pay for road tolls?
Some motorways require toll payment. Most take cards. Some still take cash. The quickest and easiest solution is an RFID tag that you can order in advance. These are place in your windscreen near your mirror and register at each toll. Different tags are required in different countries though.
We use the UK based Emovis tag when travelling and have appreciated passing through quickly at tolls. You don’t even have to stop.
What to pack for a road trip?
“What to pack for a road trip?” is one of the biggest questions you’ll ask. It will depend on the weather, your activities, your style and who is coming with you.
Try and be efficient when you pack. It is easy to over pack for a road trip. We’ve made the mistake taking bulky items like wetsuits, body boards, scooters and other items that we hardly used (or didn’t use).
Roof boxes are useful, but can reduce aerodynamics on your vehicle and reduce efficiency. Increased height may also reduce your parking options.
Prioritise essentials and understand your vehicles limitations. Also, the more you take, the heavier the vehicle. This also reduces fuel efficiency and increases cost. It is also illegal to go over your vehicles weight limit (check your car manual).
Try and keep the space around where you are sitting open and uncluttered. It makes for a much more pleasant experience. Especially if you are all going to be driving for hours.
Keeping a bag for different activities is a good idea e.g. a family swim wear bag. We always take microfibre towels as they pack smaller, dry quicker and shake off sand easier. Most of our microfibre towels have been bought from Decathlon.
Take sick bags, wipes and tissues – car sickness can come on quickly and sometimes you just cant stop.
Here’s one for the dad drivers … check out what are affectionally known as our “magic pants” made by Rohan. They make driving for long journeys in warm weather more comfortable.
Route planning – Maps & SatNav for your road trip
We don’t like to over plan our road trip routes as we often like to follow the sun. It is a good idea though to have a general idea about where you are going and the realistic distances you can travel in a day.
Despite most information being accessible digitally, we always carry a car road map with us. There have been times when we have lost connectivity and needed to change route. Kids also enjoy looking at maps.
Do you want to get there quickly or would you like to consider scenic routes, landmarks & attractions along the way? Google Maps is as good as anything to get an idea for distances and travel time. We prefer to use Waze though as a SatNav as its more configurable and has live information about roadworks and traffic congestion.
A good tip if you are using a hire car for your family road trip is to buy a mobile phone holder and charging lead / adaptor that can fit into the cigarette lighter socket. We did this when we flew to Florida for our 3 week road trip. Very useful.
We’re very lucky having a VW California for our UK & European road trips, which is essentially a car with cooking and sleeping facilities. We know that if we get really stuck, we can always find somewhere quiet and wild camp for an evening.
We have though taken several road trips in the USA where we hire a car and we don’t have the flexibility our camper van provides. If you are in car, it can be best to book ahead for a night or two if you can, so you have peace of mind. This can depend on the season. Contact a few places in advance to gauge how busy they are getting. We use Booking.com a lot throughout the world. It is algorithm based though so it’s worth having multiple phones and users to check that you are getting the best price.
Keeping kids entertained on a family road trip?
If you want to cover lots of miles, use technology. Watching a movie or a box set on a tablet such as an iPad will kill a couple of hours and can enable you to get some miles covered. Noise cancelling headphones that go over the ear are useful to zone out younger kids. Our teens now prefer in-ear buds and we love Apple AirPod Pro 2’s.
We try not to over rely on gadgets though and can tell when we need the kids need to have a detox from a screen. This does often require ‘passenger parent’ to keep everyone engaged and entertained during the trip.
Snacks and drinks
Have a variety of snacks and drinks to stop anyone getting ‘hangry’ & dehydrated. Choose a mix of healthy options like fruits and nuts, along with sweet treats.
We always take our Decathlon Quechua travel cool bag for fresh items such as fruit and we take refillable water bottles. We love stopping in supermarkets in different countries on our road trips and trying new food and drinks.
For drinks we try and use reusable water bottles. Our Brita filter bottle is a favourite if you are unsure of the quality of water when you stop on your family road trip. As for hot drinks, we love our Bodum stainless steel travel mugs.
Plan rest stops
Whilst it is tempting for the driver(s) to just keep going on a family road trip, it is important that you take a break to refresh and recharge your senses. Plan regular rest stops. Find scenic picnic areas or parks where the family can stretch, have a meal, and recharge.
Toilets are usually widely available but if you are concerned that someone might get caught short, you could invest in a ‘Bog in a Bag’. If required you can just dispose of the used bag like you would do with a dog poo bag. Alternatively you could take a potty, but once kids get to a certain age, they may refuse to use one.
Expect the unexpected
While it’s important to have a travel plan so you have got most important details covered, be flexible. Expect unexpected detours and spontaneous activities along the way.
Often the most memorable moments happen when you go ‘off piste’ from the original plan. We found this on our trip to Iceland where we saw a glacier and decided, “Let’s go and walk to that as it will be (literally) cool!”
Safety on your family road trip
Everyone should wear a seat belts. Children should be in appropriate car seats. If you are hiring a car abroad, check in advance that the hire company can provide an appropriate car seat. If you are concerned, take one with you.
Observe traffic rules and avoid distractions while driving such as using your mobile phone whilst driving. This can lead to hefty fines.
If you see something interesting along the way, be careful when taking photographs or videos, especially near military installations or airports. These activities may be misunderstood and you could get into bother.
Accidents can happen
Let’s hope that you have a safe family road trip, but accidents unfortunately can happen. If you are be involved in an accident and you need to make a claim, contact your insurer immediately. If necessary, call the police.
Obtain the other driver(s) full details (take a photo of ID if you can) together with the names and contact details of any witnesses. Take photographs of the damage to your vehicle and theirs and photos of the accident area so you can prompt yourself when filing a claim.
Beware of thieves and scams
You’d be very unlucky to have your family road trip spoiled in this way, but prevention and awareness is a good tactic. Keep valuables out of sight. Park your vehicle in well lit areas. Make sure that it is locked.
Be aware of scams such as tyre stabbers who target cars in service stations and then follow you until you have a flat. Beware of the ‘Good Samaritan’ offering to help you change your wheel, whilst someone else is rifling through your belongings.
A small travel lock box that you can secure under the seat in a car is a handy way of keeping small valuables like wallets, money, passports safe. You can also take this with you into your accommodation if it doesn’t have a safe.
Capture the memories
Bring a camera or use your smartphone to capture the special moments and dramatic scenery along the way. Take a selfie stick and tripod so you can line up the best travel photos.
Encourage each family member to document their experiences. It is always great to look back on moments that you might forget in the future. For kids it can be fun to keep a travel diary or create a scrapbook with tickets from places you might visit.
Enjoy the journey on your family road trip
Remember that a family road trip is about spending quality time together. Try and relax and work together as a team. Remember that driving can be exhausting, especially when you are driving in a different environment that you are used to.
Embrace the adventure, enjoy the sights, and have fun. Cherish the memories you create along the way. It is not just a physical journey going on a family road trip, it is an emotional one too!
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