10 Road Trip Preparation Tips For Parents

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My family loves going on road trips. We do a lot of travel around the Midwest but we also drive the car for other vacations as well and have traveled as far as Miami and New York City from the suburbs of Chicago. It takes a lot of preparation and time to drive places but I’ve found that it is much more affordable for our family of four. Since we are headed into the busy travel season, I wanted to share some of our tips for preparing for road trips with kids that can help you save both time and money.

TIP #1: Prepare in advance

My first tip is to prepare in advance. I find that when I start making my lists and preparing at least a month in advance things just run smoother. Things I do include making a packing list, booking any hotel stays we might need to split up a longer trip and making a shopping list. Though I don’t shop, or pack, that far in advance, I’ve found that I always think of things I want to make sure to buy or bring and it just helps having lists already started. It also helps save money because I can look for deals on things.

TIP #2: Make sure your vehicle is ready for the long drive

Another thing that should be done in advance is making sure your vehicle is ready for the long drive. We usually do this the week before we are leaving. We clean out the van of all the sports gear and other items we will not need and vacuum it out. We make sure the tires are in good condition and not low on air. This is also the perfect time for an oil change.

To save myself time and money I’ve discovered that I can easily order oil and other road trip necessities online at Walmart.com and get them delivered to my home or pick them up at the store. I love the convenience of this because I can shop at anytime of the day and avoid the crowds and lines at the checkout.

Right now Walmart.com has great deals for Pennzoil products. I found this 5qt Pennzoil Platinum High Mileage 5W-30 Motor Oil on Rollback for $22.47. I saved $2.50 just by shopping online! The high mileage oil is perfect for our van because it just hit 100,000 miles and this oil helps to reduce leaks and oil consumption in higher mileage engines to help keep them running clean and going strong for a long time.

TIP #3: Pack more than you think you will need

One of the things I love about driving as opposed to flying is that I can pack as much as I want. I’ve found that it is always a good idea to pack more than I think I will use. It’s no fun having to buy something you know you have at home, especially when things are lots more expensive at tourist destinations or gas stations. I often pack out of season items as well because you never know what you will need. I’ve taken a summer trip to the lake before and needed jeans and light coats during the day and sweatshirts under the coats once the sun went down. A few of the things I always pack are extra clothes, bathing suits (even if going somewhere without a pool), and double the socks and underwear I think the boys will need.

TIP #4: Pack an activity bag for each child

I let my boys each pack a backpack full of fun for the car ride. They each bring a couple electronics, books, small toys, travel games and coloring items. These bags are set in between their two seats and it works great because then they can trade items when they get bored of them. I also always have a couple additional games or toys tucked in my bag that I pull out when we are more than halfway to our destination which the boys always enjoy.

TIP #5: Bring plenty of snacks

It never fails that my boys are hungry anytime they are in the car for more than 5 minutes. For road trips everyone gets to pick a few favorite snacks to bring along. Putting the food in snack size ziploc bags helps keep the portions reasonable and the car a little cleaner. We also pack a cooler with drinks and put it towards the hatch opening so when we stop for bathroom breaks everyone can get a nice cold drink from the cooler which saves money because we don’t have to buy drinks on the go (other than my Iced Coffee from coffee shops along the way).

TIP #6: Be thoughtful when packing the car

There is nothing more annoying than being on a long road trip and discovering that things you need aren’t within reach. We’ve had one of the boys spill something before and the wipes were all the way in the back and it wastes time having to pull over somewhere to get out and get them. I recommend having a bag of important things up front. Our necessities bag includes a plastic bag for garbage, wipes and/or paper towels, extra batteries for the handheld electronics, water bottles and a first aid kit. I also found that ordering some motion sickness over-the-counter medicine for Jacob on Walmart.com (when I’m buying my oil) is a very good idea since that is something we don’t keep stocked on a regular basis but is something I need to bring with on road trips.

TIP #7: Do as much the night before as possible

We tend to leave for road trips as early in the morning as possible so we like to get as much done the night before as we can. This includes putting gas in the car, making sure all electronics are charged, putting the suitcases in the car and gathering everything else we need by the front door. The things we have to get at the last minute all go on a list that is put by my purse so that nothing is left behind in the morning rush to get out of the house.

TIP #8: Make sure everyone will be comfortable in the car.

I always put a sweatshirt, blanket and pillow in the car for everyone so that we all stay warm during the trip. We also dress in comfortable clothes because it makes the long ride more bearable. I usually find that keeping the boys in their pajamas is easiest since we are normally waking them up in the mornings to leave.

TIP #9: Have a plan for the inevitable “I’m bored”

I like to have a list of games we can play when the kids start to get restless. We play things like “I Spy”, “Guess who?” (ie I’m thinking of a Super Hero who wears red), “This or that?” (ie ice cream or cake?) and find the letters of the alphabet on signs we pass by. Our favorite game though, and one that I frequently play with the kids is one we call “the color game” but can be about anything from colors to foods to games. The object is to take turns saying something in the category without repeating something that has already been said. My boys can keep the color game going for a good half hour using colors from the crayon box.

TIP #10: Enjoy it!

So your car is ready to go and everything is packed. You’ve armed yourself with plenty of snacks and some fun game ideas. Now there is nothing to do but just drive safely and enjoy your road trip. It’s quality time with your family making memories that you all are going to cherish for years to come. We enjoy stopping at the state lines and taking pictures as a way to capture the memories!

Remember, you can find all the necessities you need for your road trip, like Pennzoil motor oil and travel games, at Walmart.com. Their site-to-store option is awesome because you can place your order and pick up at your convenience, avoiding the crowds. What things do you make sure to pack for road trips? Any special games your family loves to play or tips you have to make the trip more enjoyable? Leave a comment below and let me know! :)


National Geographic Kids Travel Books {Prize Pack Giveaway}

Summer is almost here and for many families that means vacations. Family vacations are full of fun but one thing that many children don’t enjoy are the long hours in the car that they often start with. To beat boredom, National Geographic Kids has created two books that are perfect for road trips.

The Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas contains maps, games, interesting facts and boredom busters to make your next journey an adventure to remember.  Every state is featured and includes a map of the state, 5 cool things to do there, fun facts about the state and the animals that live there and even quirky roadside attractions.  And, in case this comes in handy, helpful traffic laws you won’t believe.

If you’re trying to decide which of our country’s amazing national parks to visit, NG Kids, together with the National Park Trust, has created National Parks Guide U.S.A.  Broken down into regions of the country, this handy guide has all you need to make your visit to these treasured parks an experience your family will never forget.

My family doesn’t have any vacations planned but these books make me want to plan a very long road trip so I can visit all the cool places in these books. I thought about planning some short day trips or overnight trips in August when Lucas is out of school so I took a look at the information on the nearby states in the Road Trip Atlas. Indiana has some beach dunes that are fun, a town called Santa Claus that is full of Christmas-themed attractions, and an Amish country. Wisconsin has the Dells which I love but I also learned there is a cheese castle right by the Illinois border so I’ve added that to my fun places to visit list. Iowa has some living history farms that would be interesting to tour and take a look at where food comes from.

Overall, I think that children will love these books and they will find hours of entertainment in them as they travel.


The books can be purchased online at the following places:

The Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas

National Parks Guide U.S.A.


One person will win a Road Warrior prize package featuring a copy of The Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas, a copy of National Parks Guide U.S.A., a stuffed Buddy Bison and a Buddy Bison t-shirt.


{Do any or all of the following, leave a separate comment for each you do}

1) Tell me where you’d like to go for a family vacation

2) Like Making Time For Mommy on Facebook

3) Like National Geographic Kids on Facebook

4) Follow @aliciamarie112 on Twitter

5) Follow @NGKidsBks on Twitter

6) Share this giveaway on a social network

Giveaway ends June 6, 2012 at 11:59pm Central time. Open to US and Canada.

(Disclosure: I received copies of the books from National Geographic Kids to review but all thoughts are my own.)