Planning the Perfect Family Road Trip: Your Essential Guide
by Rachel Sokol
As airline fares continue to increase per person, more and more families are turning to the all-American, classic road trip as a means of “getting away” while, of course, doing a little bonding.
“I find more and more families opting for road trips in lieu of flying for vacation as a means of saving money and having less stuff to carry around an airport,” says Jenifour Jones, a travel agent and advisor at Go Get It Events.
If a road trip with the family sounds pretty appealing, you can stay-cation in your own state or pick another city for spending some quality time, sans cramped airplanes, delayed flights and baggage fees.
We’ve put together a handy road trip planner for your crew, including ideas for where to go, a packing list of car-ride essentials and even games to play. So rev up your RV, fill up that gas tank, and enjoy the journey through some of America’s best family road trip destinations.
- 5 Popular Family Road Trip Destinations
- What to Consider When Planning a Road Trip
- What to Pack for a Family Road Trip
- Family Road Trip Games and Activities
5 Popular Family Road Trip Destinations
For many city dwellers and New Englanders, Cape Cod is a great escape, especially in summer. This suburban, coastal part of The Bay State is made up of a cluster of small towns, including Hyannis, Provincetown and Falmouth. In Provincetown, climb 116 steps to the top of the Pilgrim Monument for breathtaking views of the Cape. Learn about pirates at West Yarmouth’s Whydah Pirate Museum, which houses the world’s only pirate treasure, plus personal pirate items. Into water parks? Water Wizz has more than 10 wet attractions, including the 61-foot-high “Devil’s Peak” duo slides, while the Cape Codder Resort & Spa, has an indoor water park with high-speed water slides, water cannons, kiddie spray pools and more.
Where to stay: Try Yarmouth’s The Red Jacket Beach Resort, which earned an “Excellent’ rating on TripAdvisor. Parents rave about the supervised Kid’s Klub program. Good to know: The Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis features a carousel, movie theater, and Ten Pin Eatery, which has bowling, laser tag and arcade games. There’s an independent toy store in Brewster, while Chatham has Ducks in the Window, a shop that sells — you guessed it – adorable rubber duckies. Stop at Cape Cod Creamery (two locations!) for decadent homemade ice cream.
According to Jones, an ever-popular road trip destination is the Grand Canyon, often accompanied by Zion National Park and/or Las Vegas. First, decide if you’ll be visiting the canyon’s North or South Rim or both (North is usually closed in the winter; South Rim is more accessible). After taking in the awe-inspiring views, drive to Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah, which has fantastic hiking trails, and then kid-friendly Las Vegas, Nevada. Check out Adventuredome Theme Park at Circus Circus hotel, the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, and the Big Apple Coaster and Arcade at New York New York Hotel. (Note: You need to be 13+ to ride this coaster.)
Where to stay: The Little America Flagstaff, which has on-location activities including an outdoor pool, hiking and biking trails, volleyball nets, a playground and more.was rated rated “Superb” on hotels.com, and one recent reviewer called it the “perfect road trip getaway.”
Good to know: The Grand Canyon, a National Park, offers special programs and opportunities for kids, including its Junior Ranger Program, a Geology Journey and more. Also, use the bathroom before hitting a hiking trail at Zion. You’ve been warned.
Got an outdoorsy family who loves — and we mean loves — skiing and elks? Jackson Hole is for you. In fact, Travelocity cited it as one of the best U.S. cities for family vacations. If skiing isn’t your forte, there’s also tubing and snow mobiling. Jackson Hole is made up of the JH Mountain Resort, Snow King Mountain Resort (home to the 456-foot-high Cowboy Coaster) and Grand Targhee Resort, and each has different amenities and attractions. According to Jones, many road-trippers like to tack Yellowstone Park, site of the Old Faithful Geyser, and even a dude ranch on to their travel itinerary.
Where to stay: How about Booking.com’s top Jackson Hole pick the Inn on the Creek, which is three blocks from Jackson Hole Town Square, has complimentary sweets, great food (especially breakfast, say reviewers), and Jackson Hole Airport and the Grand Teton National Park entrance are just minutes away.
Good to know: There’s a bowling alley and arcade at Jackson Hole called Hole Bowl, which is a great place for everyone to bond and share some laughs. There’s also aN “old school” candy store in town called YIPPI I-O.
The heat is on! Key West — at the very “end” (south) of the Sunshine State — gets incredibly hot, so don’t road trip here without stocking the car with water, high-SPF sunblock and a hat. Just 90 miles from Cuba, Key West is known for yummy seafood, pastel houses and hotels, and gorgeous coral reefs. There are shockingly only a few beaches, including Higgs Beach and Smathers Beach, but they’re breathtaking. Stroll through Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory to view more than 50 butterfly species, along with luscious plants and flowers, waterfalls and exotic birds. Head to the Key West Aquarium to see alligators, sea turtles, sharks and more aquatic creatures. A fantastic activity, SNUBA diving allows kids to see what life is like under the sea by swimming with their face in the water using a light plastic head-and mouth-apparatus. A professional, trained guide will join your family. (No prior snorkeling or diving experience is required to SNUBA, but you should be a decent swimmer and at least 8 years old.)
Where to stay: More than 80 percent of TripAdvisor reviewers gave Orchid Key Inn an “Excellent” rating. It’s on bustling Duval Street, has a pool, free WiFi, breakfast and more; one online reviewer said from Orchid Key Inn, “you can walk to everything.”
Good to know: “Mallory Square” is where you’ll find impressive street performers and craft vendors — and see unforgettable views of Key West’s gorgeous sunsets.
It may not be tops on your immediate travel list, but don’t overlook quaint Louisville — it’s a fantastic city to explore en route to Memphis, St. Louis and Nashville. If you can road trip there for the Kentucky Derby, go for it. If not, enjoy everything else this city and its surrounding towns offer, from zoos to waterparks. Baseball fanatics will love the Louisville Slugger Museum and touring the factory where Louisville Slugger bats have been crafted since 1884. Get your adrenaline pumping at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom or get your learning on at Kentucky Science Center, where exhibits include The World Around Us and The Makerplace, and an on-site theatre shows 3D shorts like Backyard Wilderness.
Good to know: There’s also a Muhammed Ali Center in Louisville for those who are fans of boxing or just want to learn more about the sports legend.
What to Consider When Planning a Road Trip
Now that you’ve got some destinations in mind, here’s how to prep for your family adventure:
- Consider using a travel agent. They have special deals at various hotels and attractions you may not be privy to.
- Stick to a pre-planned schedule. Being organized will keep you on track as you drive off into the sunset. But also expect the unexpected, like traffic and bad weather.
- Clean your car often and make sure your gas tank is full.
- Have someone navigate. A second set of eyes on the road is never a bad thing,.
- Make sure someone NOT on the road trip knows where you are every day, just in case of an emergency.
- Use popular travel sites such as Travelocity, Orbitz and TripAdvisor to learn more about your destinations and the major attractions and lodging conditions.
- Keep the phone number for roadside assistance handy in case of car trouble.
- Invest in road trip books that provide travel hacks, and read them before taking off. Some of our favorites:
What to Pack for a Family Road Trip
You know you need clean clothes and toiletries, but don’t forget these other essentials:
- Water bottles
- A cooler
- Snacks for everyone that won’t easily spoil like granola bars and crackers
- A cash stash
- A working flashlight
- A cell phone car charger
- Extra blankets and pillows
- Easy access to a change of clothes for every family member
- IDs for everyone
- Garbage bags
- A hard copy map in case you can’t read your GPS due to weak signal
- Extra socks
- A disposable camera in case of emergency (ie, a car accident) or just to take pictures
- Hand sanitizer
- Toilet paper
- Paper towels
- Lysol disinfectant wipes
- SHOUT! Wipes to remove stains
- A bathing suit
- Lip balm
Family Road Trip Games and Activities
OK, sooner or later you might start getting a little stir crazy being cooped up in the car. Here are some family road trip games and toys to help everyone fight off boredom:
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