Whether visiting the grandparents or touring a bucket-list destination, there's nothing like a road trip for building memories that last a lifetime. Although travel with kids presents plenty of challenges, a little forethought and preparation help to make the journey less bumpy. From sound safety strategies to pre-planning for pit stops, parents benefit from a bevy of options for maintaining harmony and enjoyment on the road.

Two young children smile at each other in the foreground as they sit in the back of a vehicle on a roadtrip, with dad driving in the background and mom in the passenger seat smiling back at the kids
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Safety First

Road safety starts with buckling up. Before leaving the driveway, make sure all passengers are secured in safety belts and age-appropriate car seats. AAA offers the following guidelines:

  • Use rear-facing seats from birth to age 2 or until a child reaches the maximum weight limit (around 35 pounds).
  • Use forward-facing seats for kids age 2 and above until they reach the maximum weight limit of 45 to 65 pounds or the top height limit for your particular car seat.
  • After kids graduate from car seats, use booster seats until they reach 4 feet 9 inches in height.

Children can move on to lap and shoulder belts once they fit properly, but kids 12 years of age and under should always ride in the back seat. To ensure optimum safety for your child, carefully read the manufacturer's instructions for your car seat.

To further enhance safe travel from point A to point B, take advantage of these guidelines:

  • Make sure the whole family gets plenty of shut-eye before starting out on the road.
  • Charge cell phones and bring a car charger and extra batteries.
  • Travel during daylight hours for the best visibility.
  • Pack a first aid kit, a flashlight, and plenty of water.
  • Don't forget motor vehicle essentials like jumper cables, a jack, and a lug wrench.
  • If you don't already have one, get a roadside assistance plan.
  • Bring a paper map in case of a weak cell phone signal.

Managing Meltdowns

From boredom to low blood sugar, a number of factors contribute to kid meltdowns on the road. A few handy tips can help. Parents with more than two children should consider renting a minivan or SUV if they don't already own one. These roomy vehicles offer plenty of storage space for suitcases, backpacks, and bags as well as more flexibility for seating.

A mom packs a sandwich into a pink Tupperware container while sandwiches and cherry tomatoes sit on a corner in various stages of being packed
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Snacks are a must-have for keeping the whole family happy on long trips. Healthy, low-mess options include grapes, apple slices, string cheese, granola bars, fruit leather, beef jerky, raisins, nuts, crackers, pretzels, and trail mix. Here are a few more things that keep car travel comfortable for kids:

  • Blankets, pillows, and small stuffed animals
  • Books, magazines, and comics
  • Sticker, activity, and coloring books
  • Electronic tablets for streaming movies
  • MP3 players
  • Sketchbooks and pencils
  • Travel-size games and playing cards
  • Hand-held electronic games
  • Refillable water bottles

Audiobooks and games like 20 questions, I-spy, and travel bingo get the whole family engaged and create happy road-trip memories.

Purposeful Packing

Random stops make road trips more fun, and purposeful packing helps. Easy access to certain items means that families can be ready for anything, from adventurous hiking to a dip in the lake. Stow jackets and hats in a separate bag, and pack another with beach essentials like swimsuits, towels, and sunscreen. Additional easy-access necessities include mosquito repellant, extra diapers, quick wipes, and gallon-sized bags for messy diapers and/or motion sickness.

Planning for Pit Stops

Traveling with kids can get taxing, but plenty of pit stops help. Fortunately, you can plan your stops in advance. Check online for parks and playgrounds along the way and kitschy tourist attractions like The World's Largest Ball of Twine or the National Mustard Museum. Smartphone apps like Roadside America and Roadtrippers offer numerous great stops for any travel route, and Kids Meal Deals helps parents find family-friendly restaurants where children eat free or at a discount.

A family road trip isn't just about the destination. Getting there really should be "half the fun." Take advantage of these strategies for a happy and peaceful journey. Snap photos along the way, and share them with us on Instagram


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