This is the year of the family road trip! More and more families are taking to the road for their vacations, including people like me who didn’t take road trips much in the past. If you’re new to road trips, or it’s been a while since you’ve taken one, or even if you’re an experienced road tripper, then a family road trip checklist is a great place to start to make sure you have everything you need to make the trip a success!
This post is sponsored by Marathon. As always, all opinions are my own.
Family road trip checklist
Does the car have gas?
Road trips mean plenty of stops at gas stations so why not save money and earn rewards while you’re doing it?!
Marathon’s MakeItCount™ Rewards program not only saves you money on gas, but rewards you for shopping at participating Marathon gas stations as well. There are Marathon gas stations from coast to coast so they’re easy to find, and not only are they are a great place to fuel up, but you can pick up snacks, and stop for a bathroom break.
MakeItCount™Rewards saves you 5 cents off every gallon, every day, and now starting in September, new members can sign up and save 10 cents per gallon for their first month of membership (up to 4 visits, 20 gallons per visit). We’re all trying to save money and this is such an easy way to make that road trip a little bit more affordable by saving money on gas.
Not only will you be saving money, but you’ll be earning points that you can redeem on other things like additional gas discounts, airfare, and hotel accommodation: I linked up our Southwest Rapid Rewards® program to earn more points towards flights, but you can also link up Wyndham Rewards® or even sign up to earn Target eGiftCards™! It’s free and easy to sign up here or download the free app and start earning those rewards.
While we’re not traveling as much as we usually do, I love that we’re earning rewards for when we do feel ready, so those points are sat there waiting for us!
Is you car road worthy?
Two years ago, we set out to go on a Florida road trip. The bags were packed, the car was loaded up, the kids were strapped into their car seats…and the car wouldn’t start. The battery was completely dead and once we did manage to get it going, our first unscheduled stop was at a mechanic to get a new battery. It was not a good start!
Don’t let this happen to you! Before embarking on a road trip, take the time to make sure your car is good to go. Have your tires checked, get an oil change, check those wiper blades, and if you’ve had a light on the dashboard that you’ve been ignoring hoping it would go away, now would be a good time to have that looked at too!
Now would also be a good time to look at the kids’ car seats. Double check that they’re strapped in nice and tight, and that the seats are properly adjusted to each kids height. I usually give them a quick wipe down and vacuum up any crumbs as well – so they’re all nice and clean for the kids to make a mess of them again!
Do you know where you’re going?
Chances are you’ve got at least a vague sense of where you’re going, but just double check the routes before you leave.
I’m guilty of relying completely on Google Maps to get me from point A to point B, but that’s not always the best idea; we recently took a trip where my car phone charger stopped working halfway through the drive, leaving my phone with a low battery and me desperately trying to memorize the directions before it died completely.
We’ve also been in a situation where we’ve suddenly lost GPS connection and been left on our own in the middle of nowhere.
Now I always take a screen shot of my directions and email it to myself (so I can pick it up on someone else’s phone if necessary). I might be the only person in the world who still travels with a physical road map in their car, but now we always bring one of those on road trips; if all technology fails, at least we have a backup!
I always try to plan where we’re going to stop en route as well. I know there might be times when we have to stop unexpectedly (bathroom breaks are hard to plan when the kids are really young) but I do try to have places picked out to stop for lunch or to let the kids get out and play for a while.
Especially now, I have hand sanitizer and wipes in my bag in case we need them for rest stops, and I try to refill any reusable water bottles there too.
Do you know the road laws where you’re driving?
If you’re road tripping in a different state and especially if you’ll be driving in another country, then make sure you know the laws in that place.
In another state, check on things like being able to turn right on a red light and the rules for traveling in carpool lanes – getting pulled over and ticketed in another state is a pain and can be very expensive (don’t ask me how I know this).
If you’re traveling in another country, you want to be extra careful to make sure you’re following all the laws. If you’re renting a car, ask the rental company if you have any questions about driving in that country, but I would also make sure you know the laws before you arrive.
If you’re bringing car seats then make sure they’re legal in that country, and if you’re renting them be sure to double check they’re in good condition before putting the kids in them.
Do you have roadside assistance?
I would never take a road trip without having some sort of roadside assistance policy in place, and there are a few options out there. If you already have a policy through your insurance company or your car company (my car is a lease and that comes with road side assistance included in the monthly payment, for example) then double check you’ll be covered if you travel outside of the state or in another country.
If you need additional coverage, there are plenty of companies out there so shop around or ask for personal recommendations from other road trippers. Make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully to ensure you’ll be covered where you want to go and what you want to do.
Do you have a packing list?
One of my favorite things about road trips is that I don’t have to worry as much about packing as I would when flying; no weighing suitcases or putting all my liquids in Ziploc bags or trying to cram two weeks worth of clothes into a carry on bag! But cars don’t have unlimited space and chances are you might be taking things like camping equipment or beach accessories, so you still want to think carefully about what to pack.
I have a packing list for myself and a separate one for each of the kids, which covers things like clothes and toiletries. I then have a list for technology and gadgets (things like laptops, cameras, etc), and then specific lists for things we might be doing like camping or hiking.
I try to get as much packed as possible in advance so I can try fitting it all, Tetris-style, into the car. Then from there I pack the kids and myself bags for the car so the important things are all to hand.
Once the car is all packed, I double check the tire pressure and make sure I can actually see out the back window. Then we’re ready to go!
Do you have activities to keep the kids busy?
Anyone who has even traveled 15 minutes down the road with kids will tell you that as soon as the kids start complaining that they’re bored, things go down hill quickly! Keeping them busy will make for a much more pleasant trip!
I have a post on toddler activities for plane trips and that’s definitely worth a look through if you need some ideas for activities to keep kids busy. I usually try to pack a variety of activities so if they get bored with one thing, then they can go to something else instead.
Some of my go to activities for the kids include:
– coloring and sticker books with triangle crayons that can’t roll away
– mess free coloring like Water Wow books
– felt boards and busy books
– play foam and Wikki Stix to keep their little hands busy
– reading books (I limit these because they tend to make the kids feel nauseous after a while and that can lead to disaster)
– fully charged iPads and headphones; I try to limit screen time but on a long road trip, I don’t mind if the kids watch a movie or a TV show for a while
I pack all of the kid’s activities in their own backpacks and then put them between their two car seats for easy access. Depending on your car and how many people are traveling, you might want to think about other ways to store the activities; there are some great products out there like seat back activity centers where kids can store their toys and games in little pockets until they need them.
You could also bring a travel tray so they have something to lean on to play or color.
I also load my phone up with audiobooks and podcasts for the kids to listen to (and for me for if they’re watching a movie!) These are some of my best recommendations for podcasts for family road trips, and I try to download most of them so I’m not constantly using my phone data to play them.
Do you have all the snacks packed?
I mean, ALL the snacks! Nothing stops kids’ tantrums faster than a snack, and the more you can bring with you means having to stop less for food.
I have a few rules for kids snacks on road trips. I don’t pack anything that’s going to be super messy or likely to spill all over the place, and nothing that is going to make the car smell for hours (no egg salad sandwiches allowed!) I also go easy on the sugar, so the kids aren’t bouncing off the walls!
Everything gets packed in containers the kids can open themselves; I unwrap things like granola bars and open packets of crackers before we leave so I’m not trying to open things as I’m driving. I usually use a Bento box to store smaller snacks and then I keep a cooler up front that I can easily access.
Some of our go to snacks for road trips include:
– whole wheat crackers
– dried fruit, fruit chips, and yogurt covered fruit
– applesauce pouches
– granola bars
– fruit leather and fruit snacks
– cheese sticks
– fresh fruit that’s easy to open like bananas or bags of apple slices
I also carry refillable water bottles that we can refill at rest stops.
Do you have a Plan B?
Especially right now, a Plan B is an absolute necessity when traveling.
Whilst you never want to go into a trip expecting the worst, it’s a good idea to have some back up plans for the most important part of your trips. If you haven’t booked accommodation in advance, then you should probably have a few options in case the first choice isn’t available. Double check closures and opening hours of any attractions you want to see since things are constantly changing at the moment.
If you’re road tripping in the winter, stay alert to weather conditions to avoid driving in unsafe conditions. If you’re traveling somewhere known for things like wild fires, hurricanes, tornadoes or anything else that might cause a disruption in your plans, decide ahead of time what you’ll do if you come across any of those things.
Most of all, make sure you have travel insurance to cover changes in plans or cancellations, and double check all of the terms and conditions to make sure you’ll definitely be covered.