The Ultimate Family Road Trip Planning Guide

Are you planning a family road trip?  Family road trips are some of our best family trips.  There are so many benefits to going on them. To start with, I love the fact that we get to see so many beautiful places on the way to a destination that we would not be able to see if we were to get there in a different way.  Road trips are also practical and cost-effective to travel with family.

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A great family road trip is a journey, not the destination. 

Best Family-Friendly Road Trip Routes in the U.S.

Roadtripping is an All-American tradition and we are loving all the road trips we have been taking.  And cannot wait to do more.  

So what makes for a family-friendly road trip route?  One that includes short distances between stops, a wide variety of things for the kids to do, and amazing sights that you can soak in for years to come. 

Whether you are going for a day trip, a week-long trip, or even longer, there is sure to be a road trip for you and your family.  We all love the infamous “Are we there yet?” even on short drives.  

Incorporate these awesome and fun questions during your road trip and you are all set to have the ultimate family vacation. 

Here are 7 of the best family-friendly road trip routes in the U.S.

1) Pacific Coast Highway in California

Pacific Coast Highway is California’s longest highway along the Pacific coastline running 753 miles long. It starts out at Dana Point in Orange County and goes all the way up to Leggett in Mendocino County.  

You can choose to go from south to north or the other way from north to south.  

Los Angeles seems to be a popular place to start out with and ending in San Francisco.  

Regardless of which direction you start out with, you will be sure to catch these popular destinations along the coast: Malibu, San Simeon, San Luis Obispo, Big Sur, Monterey, the Golden Gate Bridge. 

While San Diego is not on this route, it is quite a popular destination that many choose to extend their coast road trip to visit. 

2) Route 395 in California

Another one of California’s great road trip routes is on Route 395.  While it is not as famed as the Pacific Coast Highway, it is definitely on our top picks.  

This highway is the gateway to many destinations for outdoor enthusiasts such as Death Valley National Park, Yosemite National Park, Mammoth Lake, and Lake Tahoe.

3) Black Hills of South Dakota

Start out your route to Badland National Park and enjoy the beautiful scenery there.  As you drive along the Badland Scenic Byway through the Black Hills, don’t forget to stop at the famed Wall Drug, Mount Rushmore, and Custer State Park. 

4) Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park

From the Black Hills, head out to Yellowstone National Park and explore the beautiful wildlife and many geysers there.  There is so much to do and see there, it will take you more than a few days to see it all.  Did you know Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872?

Then head down to Grand Teton National Park where it is rich in extraordinary wildlife pristine lakes and alpine terrain. 

5) U.S. Route 1 in Florida

This iconic route has been seen in many movies highlighting some awesome car chases.  It starts out at Miami crossing over open waters into the Florida Keys.  

The Overseas Highway which is sometimes called “the Highway that goes to sea” runs 113 miles long and crosses over 42 bridges.  For the families that love everything water, the Florida Keys is an ideal place to visit.

While it may take you ideally 4 hours to complete your drive from Miami to Key West, the fun of a road trip is stopping along the way to enjoy all the attractions it has such as the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key.  

6) Route 66 in Middle America

The famous Route 66!  Possibly the most well-known route of all of America’s road trips.  This route runs about 2,500 miles from Chicago all the way to Santa Monica.  Along this route, you will find anything from vintage road signs to retro diners.  

You can make it an epic road trip and take the entire route!  But even a portion of the route would make an amazing family road trip.

7) Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway runs 469 miles along the Blue Ridge section of the Appalachian Mountain Range running between two national parks: the Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains National Parks.  

Benefits of Family Road Trips

I did not realize how beneficial a family road trip would be until we started having them.  Initially, we were hesitant in taking the boys on long road trips as we were not sure how they would do on such a drive.  Our first ever road trip proved to be a great experience and we have since had many road trips.

1) Patience and Endurance

While we still get the “Are we there yet?”  they have developed patience and endurance. What was once a “we have to stop and let them out because they are stir crazy” has turned into learning to be patient so we can get to our destination in a timely manner.

2) Adaptability and Flexibility

Being able to adapt to whatever is going on and being flexible.  As with anything in life, things may go as planned and it may not.  There have been times when we have decided to stay at a destination a little bit longer than expected as we decided to explore something we had not planned for.  Causing a delay to get to our next stop.

3) Learn Map Skills

They love reading the map and pointing out where our destination is.  Being able to read the map and understanding the time it will take us to get there has helped them with patience. This also involves them on the trip as opposed to them just sitting quietly or not so quietly in the back.

4) Appreciate Nature

I think the biggest advantage of road trips is being able to see places you would not otherwise able to see. National monuments, parks, iconic places, beautiful landscapes, etc.  They have learned to appreciate everything they see.

5) Inspire And Explore

With that, this inspires them to explore and learn about the places they see.  They love to read up about what they are experiencing. Seeing it first hand versus reading it in a history book or online is amazing.  I love seeing them get immersed in learning and experiencing it. My heart always smiles when I see them take such interests.

6) Strengthening Family Bonding

Spending all these times in a closed space without the constant day to day interruptions is so beautiful. Such a great reminder to be able to enjoy ourselves without the pressures and distractions of it all. One fun thing that happens during our road trip is asking questions to get our wheels turning.

7) Creating Beautiful Memories

The most beautiful memories are created in these moments.  While we captured a lot on camera, there are many more moments that were never captured on camera that we will forever cherish.

8) You Get More Out Of The Vacation – Kids Travel Slower Meaning You See More

We very seldom travel without our boys.  Many might say you are not on vacation when you have the kids with but I beg to differ on that.  I love traveling with my boys. Seeing the world through their eyes, their perspective… It is definitely at a slower pace and I am able to enjoy it more because I am taking my time like them.

Things To Consider In Planning Your Family Road Trip

So… How do you plan a family road trip? Preparing for a road trip requires some diligent planning to get from point A to point B and there are so many things to consider.

Pre-planning and doing your research will get you the biggest bang for your bucks and you will be able to enjoy your road trip more as there is no scrambling around figuring it out on the fly.

1) Dates 

Selecting the dates/ times is the most crucial first step.  How long is your family road trip? Are you traveling during the busy season? Is it cold, raining or hot?  

2) Destinations

Once you have selected the dates, where will you be heading out to?   How many places are you planning to see?

Keep track of all your road trip destination with these awesome Push Pin Travel Maps

3) Logistics

Are you flying and then renting a car?

Are you driving your own car?

How to maximize your drive to make the most out of your trip? 

Our latest road trip was 11 days. We were planning to visit four major cities starting at home base in Minneapolis to New York City, Niagara Falls (both US and Canadian side), Montreal and Quebec City. I had to calculate drive time, allot time for rest and mealtime and gas.

I also had to take into consideration the fact that we were crossing the US border. So being sure to have proper documentation is key here.

4) Lodging

What accommodations will you be planning on?  Hotel, vacation home, camping, etc. Are you planning to secure all your accommodations ahead of time?  We did secure our accommodations for the four major cities above but we knew in the first leg and the last leg of the road trip, the plan was to go as long as we can and secure a hotel room for those evenings wherever we ended up by nightfall.  It worked out for us that way as that was how we maximized our time.

5) Activities

What type of activities or points of interest is available at each destination?

Pick an itinerary that fits everyone.  Ask for their input on what they would like to do and see while there.  Remember, it’s not just your trip. 

6) Budget

If anything, this has got to be the biggest aspect you need to do. Budget for your family road trip! 

Things to take into considerations when budgeting for your road trip are:

  • Gas
  • Car Maintenance
  • Accommodations
  • Food
  • Entry fees/ permits to national parks/museums/ activities
  • Souvenirs
  • And don’t forget your bills at home that still has to be paid

7) Don’t Over Plan Allowing Time To See The Unexpected 

Some of the best spots we have experienced were the ones we did not plan for.  We allow time in our schedule for just that. And sometimes even if we don’t have the time, we know we may never get to experience it again so we have stopped and pushed our schedule out a bit.  Case in point, do no try to cram in all in. We have arrived super late to our next destination because of this. 

8) Involve Each Person In The Planning

As pointed out above, involve everyone in the planning.  It is everyone’s trip! It is more enjoyable when everyone has a say in what they want to do.  Even with little ones.  Whether it is an activity or food/ restaurant choice, involve them.

9) Plan For A Relaxing Activity After Arrival To Hotel/ Destination

One activity we like to do when we arrive at our hotel is check-in, get settled in and taking the boys to the swimming pool.  They always ask for that as their first thing to do. This allows them to stretch out and have fun while their dad is usually napping in the hotel room.  Giving him some time to relax after a long day of driving.

10) Embrace The Things Or Places You Won’t Be Able To See Anywhere Else

I can’t say this enough! Embrace it all!  You may never see it again and if you do, that will be double awesome.

Apps To Use To Planning Your Family Road Trip

There are many apps available at your fingertips to help you plan for that next ultimate family road trip. Here are some of my top picks to help you find inspiration.

1) Instagram

Instagram has some of the most beautiful images that will truly bring inspiration to you.

2) Pinterest

Another great place for inspiration is Pinterest.  Along with beautiful images, you will find great blog posts/ articles providing you inspirations of where to go, where not to go, etc. These are awesome as there will be tips provided especially from others that have already experienced it.

3) Roadtrippers

Roadtrippers is an app that helps travelers discover independently own points of interest in both the US and Canada. Just plug in your start location and destination and it will provide you the mileage, how long it will take you to drive there and gas price.  You can see some amazing stops along the way. On top of this, the website has some pretty awesome guides to help you plan that perfect family road trip.

4) Google Map

Google Map will be your best friend during your family road trip. It is definitely mine. I have it on the entire time and it has been a lifesaver as indicated below on Hack 1. I have learned from our very first road trip trying to access Google Map without cell service was not happening.

Hack #1 – Be sure to start the app before going and leave it on even when you stop. In case you are in an area with no cell service, you will still have the map going. Once you turned it off, you will not be able to access the navigation until you get cell service.

Hack #2 – Download offline maps ahead of time. In case you get in an area without cell service or it is slow, you have a map readily available since you have downloaded it.

How to Download

  1. Open the Google Maps app on your phone
  2. Click the menu and find the “Offline Maps” icon (it’s a cloud with . a line through it)
  3. Click Custom Map
  4. Zoom in or move around the map to your desired area.
  5. Click download

Hack #3 – Use the save feature – every time you get a suggestion, star it. This has helped us tremendously when we plan out our road trip. I love the suggestions as I have picked some out that I did not initially think of.

5) Allstays

Allstays has several apps that can help you plan your family road or use it during your road trip. 

To find the nearest rest stop, use the app “Rest Stop Plus”

To find the nearest campsite, use the app “Camp & RV” or if you are just looking for tenting, use the app “Camp & Tent”.

6) GasBuddy

GasBuddy helps you find the best gas prices anywhere in the US and Canada.

What Should You Pack For Your Family Road Trip

What should you pack for your road trip? My number one thing I always recommend is a positive attitude. As long as you have that, everything else should fall into place.

Here are the things I typically bring with us on our road trips and found them to be very useful!

  • Emergency Roadside Kit
  • Paper Directions/ Map
  • Games
  • Movies/ DVDs
  • Music/ Podcast Playlist
  • Car Chargers/ Portable Phone Chargers
  • Camera
  • First Aid Kit
  • Snacks/ Food
  • Drinks/ Bottled Water
  • Anti-Bacterial Hand Wipes
  • Garbage Bags
  • Slippers/ Flip Flops
  • Sunglasses
  • Blankets
  • Pillows
  • Rain Gear
  • Extra Set of Keys
  • Flashlights
  • Duct Tape

Try not to stress out too much about this as you can almost buy anything you need later while on the road if you did indeed forget. Along with these essentials, you would want to pack your clothes. Check out this awesome carry-on suitcase. This is our go-to for all of our travels.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to packing your clothes for your family road trip.

1) Weather At Your Destination

Consider the weather where you will be staying. This would ensure that you are packing the appropriate clothing and not overpacking.

2) Activities At Your Destination

Consider the types of activities you will be doing where you will be staying. Imagine not packing a pair of hiking boots/sneakers for a day of hiking. Obviously cannot hike in your sandals.

3) How To Pack

Consider putting the things you may need while on the road more accessible so you are not having to unpack or dig through to get to.

4) Accommodations

Know the types of accommodations you will be staying at. If you are staying in a hotel, you may not need to pack a hairdryer, linen or towels.

How To Cut Costs On The Road

Taking a road trip is typically a lot cheaper than taking a train or plane to your destination. However, saving money on your road trip is all about planning and being prepared. Be sure to do your research and stick to your budget. Here are some ways you should take into considerations when planning your road trip and budgeting for it.

1) Improve The Efficiency Of Your Car

  • Check the tire pressure
  • Use the right oil to increase mileage usage
  • Pack light. The heavier the car, the more fuel you may use
  • Pack inside of the car, not on top.
  • Use Google Map or in-car GPS navigation system to avoid high traffic or traffic jam

2) Look For Accommodation Deals

  • Consider renting an apartment or home rental
  • Consider staying longer in one place as it’s usually cheaper than a couple of nights
  • Consider if the accommodation offers deals such as free nights, free breakfast, free wi-fi or even free tours
  • Consider camping (it’s the cheapest option)

3) Bring/ Cook Your Own Food

  • Pack a picnic lunch for the day
  • Pack pre-filled water bottles
  • Buy all your snacks at the supermarket
  • If you are camping, cook your meal over the campfire
  • If you are renting an apartment or house, cook your meals in the kitchen provided (This is our favorite)

4) Do The Free Stuff

Make nature your friend and do as many activities as you can outdoors. Most of these are free or cheap to do as well giving you happy memories.

  • Spend the day at the beach
  • Do self-guided city walks/ tours
  • Get a national park pass
  • attend museums on free or discounted days
  • DIY hikes
  • Explore local markets
  • Bike riding
  • Climb a local mountain with views of the city or coast

Tips To Surviving A Family Road Trip

Alright… You know there will be times during a family road trip where you may be wondering… What did I get myself into?

But honestly, despite all those times when the kids may have a meltdown or maybe that was you that had a meltdown, you can and will survive this road trip.

Here are some tips for you on surviving your next road trip.

1) Sleep

Get a good night’s sleep the evening before heading out on the road.

2) Have The Right Vehicle

Having the right vehicle for your road trip makes all the difference. Many would choose a mini-van but I love driving our Honda Pilot. Our Honda Pilot has put on more mileage than anything. But we love that it has all the space we need to pack all of our needs and still have space to spread out.

Be sure you fill-up the gas and check the tire pressure prior to leaving for the road.

3) Snacks! Snacks! Snacks!

This is a must if you don’t want HANGRY kids and spouses. Our snacks are in arms reach and this helps so we don’t have to make unnecessary stops.

4) Start Out Early In The Morning

We like to start out early in the morning for our road trips. This would give us a head start out on the road while the boys are still sleeping in their pajamas. By the time they are fully awake and wondering where we are, it is time for a stretch break.

We would rather start out early in the morning and get to our destination and still be daylight. So much safer to do that than drive into the wee hours of the night to an unknown place.

5) Take Turn Driving and Take Lots Of Stretch Breaks

We take turns driving so each of us is well-rested. Typically we do not drive more than 4 hours at a time. Make sure you make lots of stops for stretching, bathroom breaks, and sightseeing. Even if the boys do not want to get out and stretch, we make them get out.

6) Electronics

Bring their electronics with! Be sure they are all charged and ready to go. While we still limit their use of their electronics in the car, there are times when we all need silence (meaning no fighting with each other back there!) or when they are tired of watching Toy Story for the millionth time.

Preparing Your Home Before Heading Out

Before you head out for your family road trip, there are a few things you need to do for your home.

  • Schedule your payments on your bills
  • Stop your mail. You can do this online requesting the USPS to hold your mail for a timeframe. Otherwise, you can arrange for a trusted person to pick up your mail daily.
  • Clean out your refrigerator and cupboard of any food that may go bad while you are away
  • Put your home phone ringer on low. This way it cannot be heard of from outside of the ringing
  • Leave a set of keys with someone you trust
  • Inform your bank of your trip and how long you will be. This would ensure they will not decline of charges outside of your area
  • If you have any pets, be sure to make arrangement for their care as well

Our Biggest Road Trip Mistakes

We have learned so many things on our road trips that we will be sure not to make again. What better way to know than to do and learn from it. Here is growth mindset for you.

Here are some of the biggest mistakes we have made. Hopefully, this will help you with planning and avoiding them for your trip.

  • Not planning ahead
  • Not having a dashboard mount for our phone/ GPS
  • Not allowing enough time
  • Sticking to the exact route
  • Not bringing hard copies of the maps
  • Not preparing for car sickness
  • Forgetting to wear sunscreen

Our Top Picks

I like to use this family travel planner to detail all of our important details such as hotel reservations and activities planned and keep them in a folder. On top of this, here are our top picks in preparing ourselves for family road trips.

  • Meet Pakt One. It packs like a suitcase, carries like a duffel, and travels like a pro.
  • Keep track of all your travel destination with Push Pin Travel Maps
  • Find awesome activities anywhere you go on Viator
  • Looking for hard case luggage? Check out Chester Travel

Final Thoughts On Planning Your Ultimate Family Road Trip

There you have it! The ultimate family road trip planning guide. Road trips are very practical and cost-effective for families. They are ideal for getting to one place to another and enjoy each other’s company during the journey. We have the best of times when we travel this way because we get to make beautiful memories with each other and get to see and do many things.

With any travels, it is so important to plan your trip. This would help with you keeping your travels on track as well as on budget.

I hope you enjoyed reading this and found this helpful in planning your next family road trip! Please let me know in the comments below of your best tips or best road trip destinations.

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2 kids running around at lakeshore

20 thoughts on “The Ultimate Family Road Trip Planning Guide”

  1. I think this article hit all the points on traveling with kids while on a family road trip. The planning part is so important as it often makes the trip so much better! Well done.

  2. I loved going on family vacations as a child and ‘navigating’ with the big book of maps! I hope to be able to do this with my little one in the next few years.

  3. This is such a wonderful Road Trip Guide! I cannot wait to take our first road trip with our son. My husband and I have done a couple on our own, but it will be way different with a kid in tow. I especially like your Google Map tips. Thank you!!

  4. Hey Lina, great post. Raod trips with family are always fun. After reading your blog, I am going to plan a family road trip very soon. This guide is very helpful. Keep sharing more posts like this. Loved it.

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