A Family Road Trip Check List

Family travel expert Kathy Buckworth shares some advice to make your next journey more enjoyable

By Kathy Buckworth Wheels.ca

May 8, 2021 5 min. read

Article was updated 3 years ago

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When it comes to a family road trip with your kids, being a control freak can be a good thing. In fact, family therapist Alyson Schafer said you should take control before you and your family even get in your vehicle to ensure the drive goes smoothly.

“Have the kids involved in the trip planning, including places to stop for a leg stretch or where to see an interesting site or view,” said Schafer, who has authored several books about parenting. “Have them look up the local or highway eateries you can stop at. If they have had a hand in the itinerary and can follow along on a map, they are more invested in the trip going well and more likely to be happy and co-operative.”

Next you will also want to plan the seating, meticulously. Julie Cole, a parenting expert and the co-founder of Mabel’s Label, a Hamilton-based company that sells stamps, labels and stick-on tags for clothing and objects, has done this numerous times.

“With six kids, the sibling dynamics between different children can be challenging for long car rides,” Cole said. “I seat siblings together based on their personalities and who are the least likely to bicker or scream, ‘He’s touching me!’ I once pulled over on a highway to rearrange car seats and booster seats to make a more peaceful journey for everyone. Lesson learned.”

While seating placement is key, you will also want to put some thought into how you are going to keep children entertained during the ride. Food and technology are at the top of the list for many parents, but you should also consider some activities that won’t ruin their next meal or risk making them nauseas from constantly staring at a small screen.

There are tried-and-true games you can play to keep everyone engaged and not asking, “Are we there yet?” Download some Highway Bingo sheets and print them out for children (you can even pair a young kid with an older sibling to play together). Like bingo, the idea of the game is to make a line or fill the card, but instead of numbered balls being drawn you are keeping you eyes open for things you pass along the drive, marking them off on your card as you see them.

Other ideas for parents including researching trivia games with questions the kids can answer during the trip (make sure to target a each of your children’s interests), playing classics like I spy and 21 questions, or finding the letters of the alphabet on the license plates of passing vehicles. These will all provide hours of entertainment. Audio books, especially funny ones, can also help pass the time on the road.

Depending on how long you are traveling, snacks might also be a road trip essential, but use these simple guidelines to make smart choices. Water is great, but remember that with water comes the inevitable, so be sure to plan rest stops along your route. If healthy snacks are all you pack in the car for your trip, then healthy snacks are all your family will be able to eat during the journey. Include cut vegetables, fruit and crackers in a bag the whole family can dig into, and, perhaps, pack a sweet or salty treat in a place only the grownups have access to for “emergency” situations.

Technology is a terrific distraction for the kids, but even that can get boring after a while. Cole has a solution for that. “Along with making sure that we have car games, activities and mess-free snacks, I always make sure that I deprive my kids from their gadgets for a few days before a long trip,” she said. “If I need some peace and quiet, I can distribute their handheld devices, and because they’ve been tech starved, they jump in and I get the quiet I need.”

It is best to preload any movies or TV shows on their devices at home using your Wi-Fi so your data bill doesn’t go into overdrive. You should also make sure your children’s headphones or ear buds are charged and working properly before you leave.

Schafer offers up this final tip: “Its easier to mess with your own sleep schedule than with baby’s. If you have little ones that must be stuck in a car, leave when you can do most of the driving while they are asleep. I know its hard to leave for a six-hour trip at three in the morning, but it may be a lot more peaceful.”

TIP BOX: Keep them busy

Depending on the age of your children, consider putting together an activity bag for each of them. This bag might include:

• Crayons and colouring sheets or books
• Simple arts and crafts from the discount store (that don’t require glue)
• A notebook or journal so they can document highlights from their trip
• Handheld puzzles such as a Rubik’s cube

You can either give the kids free reign over the bag for the whole trip or let them choose one activity every 30 minutes or each hour. This way they won’t burn through them before you leave your neighbourhood.

A book for the trip

Road Trip Check List

If you are taking your young children on their first road trip, consider getting them excited for it with a classic book. In 1974, Random House first published “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go,” written and illustrated by children’s author Richard Scarry, who died in 1994. The book has remained popular over the years with parents who likely had it read to them when they were youngsters. In typical Scarry fashion, the book features an assortment of cats, pigs, rabbits and foxes, all of which are depicted racing around in a variety of vehicles. The 72-page book is available in hardcover and paperback and is recommended for children aged three to seven.

Kathy Buckworth Special to Wheels




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