Planning Your Summer Family Road Trip

Planning Your Summer Family Road Trip

Family road trips are a perfect way to spend quality time together and make fun, lasting memories. That's all while enjoying the freedom of the open road and a fully customizable itinerary, so you get to have an adventure, too. This summer, why not take the trip of a lifetime with your loved ones? Here's an in-depth look at planning a cross-country road trip to help you get started.

Choose Your Route

Prepare Your Vehicle

Make Reservations

Planning a Summer Road Trip


Planning a Summer Road Trip

If you've been designated as the official road trip planner of the family, here's what you need to know before you pack up the car and head out.

1. Choose Your Route

Choose your route in advance so you know how much time you have to dedicate to each area. Keep a list or write on a paper map to track your journey. Consider the following as you plan your driving route:

  • Pinpoint different restaurants, gas stations and rest areas along the way and make sure there are plenty of opportunities to pull over to stretch your legs, use the restroom, walk your pet or grab a bite to eat.
  • Use a website like Roadtrippers to find photo opportunities at quirky roadside attractions and one-of-a-kind destinations along your route.
  • Create a budget for each major destination on your road trip and keep track of your spending to stick to it.

While having a plan is an essential part of managing a budget and making the most out of your time, be careful not to overdo it. Some of the best road trip experiences are the unexpected, spontaneous stops, scenic routes and detours to find interesting places. Feel free to build out an itinerary, but don't hesitate to leave room for in-the-moment adventures.

2. Prepare Your Vehicle

Depending on the length of your road trip, you're probably going to be spending several hours in your car each day, so make sure it's safe and comfortable. Whether you're taking a car, RV or camper van, here are some tips for preparing your ride:

  • Consider an RV: Skip hotel reservations and rent an RV for your road trip. Traveling in an RV lets you stop anywhere RVs are permitted, like campgrounds, RV parks, rest areas and some parking lots, and gives you space and mobility you can't get in a regular vehicle. RVs are beneficial for taking a road trip with a large group or pets since there's enough room to accommodate everyone without the need for multiple vehicles.
  • Pack ahead of time: Don't wait until the morning of your trip to pack your car full of luggage and travel gear. Take your time to find the best way to fit everything and make the inside of the vehicle as comfortable as possible with seat cushions and blankets. Place things like trash bags, snack packs and coolers within reach from your seat. Test your GPS and enter your first destination, if applicable.
  • Get a tune-up: Take your car for a professional inspection and tune-up before heading out on a long trip. Check critical areas — lights, sensors, tire tread and inflation, air conditioning, power windows and locks, alignment, engine, belts and hoses, spark plugs and windshield wipers — so everything is functioning as it should.

3. Make Reservations

You don't have to make reservations at every hotel or campground if you aren't sure where you're staying, but having a few rooms or lots secured along your route will give you peace of mind that you'll have somewhere to sleep at the end of a long day on the road. Consider pre-purchasing special event and attraction tickets and parking passes, especially if you're visiting popular tourist spots or attending a sold-out event.

Road Trip Destinations

• History and Education
Food and Drink
Beach Vacation
Outdoor Explorations

Road Trip Destinations

While some road trip destinations — like the famed Route 66 — are considered the quintessential American road trip, you can create a custom itinerary to create the road trip of your dreams, no matter your budget, starting point or special interests. There's so much to see in the U.S., so you should be able to plan out a route that highlights everyone's interests.

 These are some popular local and cross-country road trip ideas — feel free to mix and match your activities and explorations to fit your wants and needs.

History and Education

If you're traveling with school-aged children or have your own interest in learning more about the world around you, plan your road trip itinerary around historical spots and educational exhibits for a fun twist on active learning. Some places to look into include:

  • Art and history museums
  • Landmarks
  • Live reenactments
  • Demonstrations
  • Interactive exhibits
  • Living art
  • Guided tours
  • Cultural centers
  • Festivals and parades

Check with each spot about special kids programs and interactive opportunities to bring the lesson to life even more.

Food and Drink

Different regions have exceptional food and drink tours that let you experience the local culinary scenes, with guided and unguided trails to help you experience all the area offers. Trail ideas include:

  • Vineyards: Wine trails usually include vineyard tours and samples. Popular wine regions are the Texas Hill Country, the Finger Lakes in New York, Sonoma County in California and Walla Walla Valley in Washington.
  • Breweries: Asheville, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and San Francisco are favorite spots for beer lovers and brewery enthusiasts. However, you can find breweries small and large in towns throughout the country.
  • Food: Foodie tours range from savory fine dining to dessert-only chocolate trails — find your new favorite food in places like Austin, San Diego, Nashville, New Orleans and Napa Valley.

Indulge in regional fare anywhere you travel by visiting farmers' markets and shops for fresh-made jams, sauces, honey, candies, locally sourced produce and handmade gifts.

Beach Vacation

Few summertime activities are as fun and relaxing as spending time at the beach, and the U.S. is full of great places to go, such as:

  • Coastal trips: The East and West Coasts have their own distinct flavors, landscapes and amenities that make them a destination worth visiting. East Coast beaches promise delicious seafood and rich culture in Charleston, South Carolina and the New England region. North Carolina's Outer Banks is another popular beach destination. West Coast beaches vary between Washington, Oregon and California's blue Pacific waters, but each state promises gorgeous views and must-visit cities.
  • Gulf beaches: Texas, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana have top-rated Gulf Coast beaches with warm waters, beautiful sights and family-friendly attractions.
  • The Keys: The Florida Keys are a popular road trip destination because you can visit each Key and enjoy the unique amenities you'll find along the way. Some favorite spots include Duval Street in Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park, the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key and the Dolphin Research Center on Key Largo.
  • Lake beaches: You don't have to visit the ocean to find a great beach. Places like the Great Lakes have freshwater beaches, complete with sandy shores, water parks and light waves and currents.

Outdoor Explorations

What better way to spend your road trip than by stretching your legs in a beautiful outdoor space? Immerse yourself in nature with these outdoor-themed itineraries:

  • Tour state and national parks: Park tours are a great way to learn more about the world around you and enjoy a slower pace. Popular national parks are Olympic National Park in Washington, Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, Redwood State Park in California, Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri and Glacier National Park in Montana. Each state also has several state parks that display the area's natural history and ecology.
  • Go on wildlife tours: Guided wildlife tours let you get up close and personal with plants and animals in their natural environment. Check for tours in your travel destination, or head to places like Yellowstone or the coast to see specific animals.
  • Plan a recreational trip: Focus your road trip on your favorite outdoor recreation, like hiking, fishing, geocaching, boating or yoga, and find exciting places to explore and photograph.
  • Enjoy a scenic driving route: Scenic driving routes are the perfect way to spend rainy days and make your road trip an unforgettable scenic adventure. Check out places like the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, the California Pacific Coast Highway and the Overseas Highway in Florida.

Road Trip Packing List

These are the road trip essentials you need before leaving home.

• In the Vehicle
In the Suitcase
Smartphone Apps

Road Trip Packing List

The perfect road trip starts with the right packing list. These are the road trip essentials you need before leaving home.

In the Vehicle

Stock your vehicle with everything you need to pass the time comfortably and keep your vehicle operating correctly, including:

  • Roadside repair kit: Roadside repair kits will save you time for occasional mishaps, like getting a flat tire on the road. Roadside assistance kits are preassembled with all of the necessities, including flares, jumper cables, gloves and rope. You should also have a spare tire and jack, a blanket, an empty gas can, tire chains and a flashlight.
  • Snacks and drinks: Snacks and drinks will save you money and keep you satisfied between stops. Bring a cooler, thermos and portable travel cups with lids to fill with snacks like fruit, crackers, jerky, trail mix, granola, chips, vegetables and sweets. Bring plenty of extra drinking water and a water bottle to fill up at rest areas and gas stations. If you're traveling with pets, don't forget a portable water bowl and their favorite treats to keep them calm.
  • Cleaning supplies: Bring baby wipes to keep hands and faces clean after meals and stash paper towels and tissues in the front or back for easy access. Make sure your vehicle has a trash can and extra bags to keep trash off the floors. Put hand sanitizer in your bag or in your center console to disinfect after rest areas and gas station stops.
  • Navigational tools: Your phone or GPS are helpful navigational tools, but you may encounter several places without a signal. Have a paper map or written copy of your directions and key addresses to help you find your way in no-service areas.
  • Recreational equipment: Don't forget recreational equipment for all the activities you plan to do, like bicycles and helmets, kayaks and paddles, hiking gear, life jackets and swimsuits, a picnic basket, fishing poles and binoculars for bird watching.
  • Vehicle documents: Double check that you have all vehicle documents, including your driver's license, vehicle registration, car insurance and vehicle owner's manual.
  • Toll money: Bring cash or change to pay for tolls, or look into purchasing a permanent toll pass in states where available.

Plan to play some road trip games, like license plate bingo and "I Spy," to pass the time and keep kids engaged in their surroundings.

In the Suitcase

Many items you need depend on what kind of activities you plan to do at each destination, like a swimsuit for the beach or hiking shoes for nature trails, but some items are a must-have for every itinerary. Pack your suitcase full of the following:

  • Weather-appropriate clothes: Check the weather to get the average high and low temperatures for your trip duration. If you're traveling in several regions, don't forget to pack clothing you can layer to accommodate the changing environment. It's always good to have a few t-shirts, a light jacket, a long-sleeve shirt and a sweater or hoodie at a minimum.
  • Rain gear: No matter which part of the country you're in, summer usually means there's a chance of rain. Bring a raincoat or portable poncho, rain boots and an umbrella, so you don't have to miss out on any sights and activities.
  • Hygiene items: Bring portable hygiene items, like toilet paper, soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste and a travel laundry kit to stay clean while you travel. Many campgrounds and hotels have on-site laundry facilities, or you could spot clean some clothes with a stain remover pen and fabric refresher at rest areas if needed.
  • Personal belongings: Don't forget your personal belongings, like your cellphone, wallet, sunscreen, sunglasses, bug spray, chargers, lip balm and official state ID card or driver's license.
  • First aid kit: Your first aid kit should include over-the-counter pain relievers, necessary prescription medications, bandages and disinfectant spray or ointment. Include activity-specific things, like after-burn gel or a snake bite kit, so you're prepared for all your activities.

Before you create your packing list, consider which items and amenities will be available at your hotel or in your RV, like towels and hair dryers. Be sure to leave enough room in your luggage and vehicle to store souvenirs and gifts you pick up during your travels.

Smartphone Apps

Smartphones are for more than posting your latest trip photo to Instagram — the right apps can also save you time and money while traveling, and they're a great way to stay informed about your local area. Consider downloading the following to keep your trip running smoothly:

  • Accommodation apps, like Airbnb, Vrbo or specific campground or hotel apps
  • Gas station locators and price comparison apps, like GasBuddy and Gas Guru
  • Review apps, like Yelp and Trip Advisor, to find the best attractions and restaurants nearby
  • Traffic alert apps, like Waze, to stay informed about closures and route changes
  • Navigation apps, including Google Maps, Apple Maps or MapQuest
  • Weather apps, like AccuWeather, with push notifications to let you know when to expect storms or extreme temperatures
  • Spotify, Youtube or a similar music app with road trip playlists, podcasts and audiobooks to listen to along the way

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