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As the world looks towards a new normal and thinks about starting to travel again, many frequent flyers are now looking to take road trips. Maybe it is because the risks of airplane travel, or maybe it is because you have decided to stick closer to home and explore some state or National Parks, but whatever the reason, many families will be choosing to head out on a road trip this summer instead of flying to their vacation destination.
Road tripping is a totally different travel experience from flying. Many families prefer to fly to reach their destination quicker, or to have a quick weekend getaway somewhere that is further away. Road trips are a completely different travel experience, and they require a different mind set as well as different travel skills. If you are jumping on the road trip station wagon (ha!), and are a frequent flyer, worry not! We have all our best road trip tips to help make your adventure a success.
Why Choose Road Trips Over Flying
With the current health concerns, many families are choosing to drive instead of fly when going on vacation. But believe it or not, that is not the only reason to drive. In fact, while I do fly more often than I used to, I am still team #roadtripsforlife.
My family loves a good road trip, as proven by our 17 day West Coast Seattle to San Diego road trip adventure. What started as necessity, has changed to a passion and preferred method of travel. Be warned, you may fall in love with a good road trip once you give it a shot. Here are just a few reasons we love road tripping.
Road Trips Are Often Cheaper
This is the reason we started out with road trips. As our family grew, and living near a smaller airport with high costs, we often found that driving was much cheaper than flying. In fact, we can often drive round trip to Disneyland for about the price of two airplane tickets. So for our family of 5 it ends up being a large savings. In fact, we can often even rent a car for a road trip and still end up saving money over flying.
The difference here for flyers is that while you know exactly how much your flight has cost you before you leave, with a road trip, this cost can vary. You can never be exactly sure what gas prices will be, what mileage your car will get, or if there will be any hiccups along the way.
Road Trips are great for hitting up multiple destinations. From Seattle to San Diego we spent 3 nights along the Oregon Coast, 2 nights around the Redwoods, 3 nights in Santa Barbara, and more. It allowed us time to visit multiple locations in one trip.
We also like to plan stops to visit family, friends, smaller state or national parks, or new destinations that maybe wouldn’t be on our radar for a full vacation when we road trip. A drive to Disneyland often includes time at Zion National Park, or stopping in Salt Lake to visit family and friends.
You Can Bring EVERYTHING!
When choosing to road trip, unlike flying, you can bring nearly everything you want. You do not have weight or luggage restrictions, other than what your car can carry. There are no limits on liquids, batteries, what you can have up front near you. Gosh, I think this is my favorite part about road tripping.
That doesn’t mean there is not an art to packing for a road trip (we will get to tips in just one moment), but in general, I find packing for a road trip less stressful than trying to fit everything in my suitcase for a flight. (I may be a notorious over packer, but whatever!)
Of course, one reason many of us may be choosing road trips is due to health reasons. With the current health crisis around the globe, the thought of taking a flight somewhere that you can drive to is enough to make even some of the most avid flyers get behind the wheel.
Road Trip Tips For Frequent Flyers
If you aren’t a regular roadie, you may benefit from these tips. I am even including a tip from one of my favorite Family Flying experts. Check out our best tips for road trips and how they differ from flying.
Budgeting Road Trip Tips
Budgeting for a road trip is a bit harder than budgeting for a vacation where you fly. When you fly, you purchase your tickets up front, and other than a possible luggage or upgrade fee, and maybe some snacks, you basically have covered your expenses and know exactly what that price has gotten you.
With road trips, you don’t have that luxury. You never know exactly what kind of gas mileage you will get on your vehicle. The price of gas can change from one city to the next, and can increase overnight even within the same city.
You are not able to be sure exactly how much food will cost at your stops (though you can pack much of your own food to help save money), or account for any set backs you may have.
When budgeting for a road trip it is best to over estimate the miles you will drive, and the cost of gas and food, while under estimating the gas mileage your car will get.
Other things to consider that are not obvious: Extra snacks you pick up, wear and tear on your vehicle (heck sometimes it is better to rent a car for a road trip once you factor this in), and hotels if you get delayed or too tired to drive and need to stop somewhere overnight.
Even with the unknowns in the budget, many families usually find that a road trip is cheaper than flying to their destination, and this alone may make you fall in love with road trips, even if you do not become a road trip warrior.
Picking the best route
Unlike flying, the most direct route, is not always the best, or the shortest. When my family goes to Disneyland (one of our favorite vacation destinations) we always laugh at how the best routes involve heading east, before turning and going southwest. Yes, on a map it looks like we back track, but this route is actually several hours shorter.
When choosing your route, there is a lot to consider. Do you want to stick to freeways, or do you feel okay taking a highway that may not have much traffic, winding roads, and the chance of getting stuck behind a slow moving vehicle and not be able to pass it for a few hours (true story)?
Do you need to stop overnight? If so, you may opt for a slightly longer route, that passes through a major city with better lodging options, than taking the slightly shorter route that only goes through small towns.
And of course, since you are road tripping, you can also choose a route that allows you to visit more than one vacation location. Why not stop by and see Grandma for a few days on your way to that national park? Or maybe take a road trip where you visit the Oregon Coast lighthouses, followed by Florence, Oregon and eventually hitting the Redwoods?
There is a lot to take into consideration when choosing your route, but planning the adventure is half of the fun, so don’t stress too much over this and make it fun.
Road Trip Tips: Packing
I will be honest, as a road trip warrior, packing for flights kind of stresses me out. From trying to fit everything into a carry-on, or if flying Southwest, making sure bags are under 50lbs, stresses me out. I much prefer packing for road trips.
But I thought, the best way to explain the difference for packing for road trips vs flying would be to ask my friend Leslie, from Trips with Tykes, who is a frequent flyer how she would explain the difference. When I asked Leslie her number one tip for frequent flyers that will now be road tripping for vacation, this was her response:
I’d say pack very differently than you do for flying. The goal is not to get 49.5 pounds into a single checked suitcase (or whatever you can into a carry on rollaboard). The key instead is to get what you need into your car’s trunk in a way that makes for smart access during your journey as well as at your destination.
This tip is perfect! Packing a car is a bit of an art form, and how you pack will depend on your travel plans. When we took our west coast road trip, rather than each person having one bag, we actually had smaller bags packed for each destination, and arranged so we could grab what we needed at each stop. We would pack all of our toiletries in one bag, and then have smaller bags that I even labeled for where they were needed.
Then we only needed to unpack the suitcase we needed at each location. If we felt we needed to bring everything in, we could easily know which ones we could simply stack by the door, and which ones we would need that day.
Another packing tip for road trips is packing any structured luggage on the bottom (hard sided suitcases, boxes, sterilte containers, etc) first and then anything that can be squished last. You can almost always find somewhere to shove a small duffel bag of clothes, even if it is between a seat and a window.
What you can bring with you
Another reason I love road trips, and hating packing to fly, is the limitations on what you can bring with you. As I mentioned above, I am a notorious over packer, but I also hate the idea of having limits on the amount of liquid I can take, foods, and more.
When you are road tripping, you can bring almost anything you will need.
In fact, when we road trip, we often bring a lot of our own food, full size toiletries, and more.
You will want to be sure you are aware of anything that cannot cross into another state, province, or country. For example, one thing you should know before traveling to California is that they have agricultural check points as you enter the state and some produce, plant life, etc may not be allowed into the state.
Check out some of my packing and snack resources:
Best Road Trip Snacks as voted on by a bunch of Facebook users
Must-Have Items For Road Trips with Toddlers
Pit Stops, Not Layovers
I definitely enjoy pit stops on a road trip more than a layover at an airport. Maybe you won’t, but I just never seem to hit that golden amount of time for a layover where I can use the restroom, get something to eat, and then be ready to board my next flight, without having a ton of time where I twiddle my thumbs.
With kids this is even harder to get that timing just right, and then nobody wants to entertain bored kids in an airport.
That is why I love pit stops. We can almost always find somewhere that the kids can play, run around, and stretch, get a bite to eat, and use the restroom. And if we don’t need that much time, we can simply stop for the bathroom.
Now, if you are not a regular road tripper, your kids may not be used to having to wait to go to the bathroom, so it can create a lot of unnecessary stops, so that may be a downside. If you have newly potty trained kids, or ones that just can’t seem to wait until an actual rest stop, I definitely suggest putting a travel potty in the car for emergencies. They fold flat and are a life saver (especially when I had twins in this stage).
The art of pit stops is having something to help burn off energy for your kids. Maybe it is a Frisbee you throw around, simply running, or blowing bubbles that they can chase and pop. Burning off energy will help make sure that your kids do not go crazy in the car and helps keep fighting with siblings to a minimum.
When you look up your drive time, and see that it is a 10 hour drive, don’t expect to be there in 10 hours.
If you are traveling with only older kids (teens) and adults, each rest stop will add 15-30 minutes to your drive. If you are like us and have younger kids, that time will be even longer.
When you look up our drive to Disneyland, Google maps will tell you that it is a 14 hour drive. HA! I think the fastest we have made it is 16 1/2 hours, and that was with my husband speeding a bit, and traveling overnight so our kids slept through 3-4 of our pit stops.
Just know that you need to add some time to what Google Maps is telling you the drive will take.
Advanced Road Trip Tips For Parents
Are you ready for some advanced tips that parents can use on their road trip? I have you covered!
Road trip tips for parents: Activities
I think the hardest part about road tripping with kids is keeping them entertained during the long drive. Short trips usually aren’t too big a problem. When you start talking about 10-15 hour road trips, that is when you run the risk of a chorus of “are we there yet?” and “I’m booooooorrrrreeeed!”
We like to put together a road trip kit for each of our kids. It includes several activities that they can choose from, and sits next to each child in the car so that they can pick different items to entertain them during the trip.
Check out our Essential Road Trip Kit For Kids for some ideas of what you might want to pack, and some creative ways to transport things like crayons.
Yes, our kids get electronics during road trips. But not for the entire time. Pit stops are a great way to time how long a child can be on electronics. Often we will give our kids their tablet at the first rest stop (about 2 hours into our trip) and they get it until the next rest stop. This is a great road trip tip for those who do not want to have a fight with their child about the use of electronics, or when it is time to turn them off.
When setting limits for electronics, just make it clear what the time table and rules are. If you want to set a timer, parental controls, or use our pit stop trick, or even just want to let them have free rain of when they are on them, communicate with your child what rules are in place.
Road Trip Tip: How to stop the “Are we there yet?”
I think the most annoying part of road trips with kids is the chorus of “Are we there yet?” or “How much longer?”
Many years ago, when our oldest was still a baby but we were taking our niece and nephew on a trip, we came up with a way to stop this question. We printed out a small car on paper, colored it, cut it out, and punched a couple holes in it. Then we ran a ribbon through it.
We marked lines across the ribbon for how many stops we had planned, and then tied the ribbon across the vehicle from the “oh crap handles” (as Mike calls them). As we travelled, at each stop, the kids would get to move the car to the next line, helping them have a visual of how far it was to the next stop, and our final destination.
Another option to help kids understand distance and where you are is giving them a map, highlighting your route, and marking where you might stop. If you have older children, you could even put them in charge of finding the exits, where to stop, and more. I mean, letting them find them, but I probably would make sure you know where you are going just in case.
Road Trip Tip: Enjoy the journey
The biggest tip I can give anybody looking to become a road tripper that is normally a frequent flyer is – Enjoy the Journey! That is the biggest difference between flying and driving. Flying is about getting to the destination. Road trips are about enjoying the journey as much as the destination.
I will always remember my favorite part of our big road trip was the day we stopped wherever caught our eye along the Oregon Coast. We found random beaches, trails, road side attractions, and hidden treasures by taking the time to slow down and just enjoy the journey.
If you are wanting to plan a road trip to Disneyland, or Southern California in general, I suggest checking out my partners at Get Away Today. They are the most flexible travel agency (in my opinion) with today’s uncertainty. Seeing how they have handled the recent crisis, and rescheduling, etc travel for their customers, has made me proud to be their partner, and a loyal customer myself.