Top ideas to get the family excited for a road trip

“No way—the kids are not spending their vacation in front of a screen!” Sound like an ‘easier said than done’ quote of the day?

Once you’ve said this out loud, you’ve just laid a big challenge ahead. Yes, it’s an admirable goal, but you’ll probably discover that kids aren’t that brave. You want culture, they want roller coasters. So how do you organize a road trip that all of you will remember—for good reasons? Here are a few ideas that I have put to use over the years to turn the eye-rolling and back-seat quarreling into wows and OMGs.  

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Announce the Trip in Style

First impressions count, right? Get everyone in a positive spirit by creating excitement from the get-go. Let the kids know something special is in the works, but keep it vague, because the actual plan will depend on their input (as they will be participating in the trip planning—see below). Of course, if you are dead set on a certain destination, then there’s no arguing about that, but I strongly advise keeping a very open mind regarding the hour-to-hour schedule.  

To this end, one way you can introduce a vacation in an exciting way is to create your own printable invitations. With free web applications like Smilebox.com, you can add text and as many photos as you like to customize each invitation for a specific family member. It’s a fun way to give them a taste of what’s in store.

Plan as a Group

Assuming you haven’t decided on a destination yet, get your kids involved by discussing your travel wishlists while setting clear limits according to budget, travel time, safety, and convenience. It will all be a matter of compromise, but certain cities and attractions are a sure bet for all ages and tastes. I suggest starting off with a list of 5-10 destinations, and a great place to get ideas is by reading our list of road trips. Another helpful source for your kids to peruse, if books are a known entity, is Lonely Planet’s Not for Parents series

Once you’ve decided, ensconce your kids in the history, present, and fascinating facts of your chosen destination. You’ll likely find a Hollywood movie or two that takes place, or is even about, your road trip objective. Let your kids check out Instagram, Pinterest, or YouTube videos about attractions, current events, and fun facets of the local culture (like explaining why the British drive on the wrong side of the road). All of that research might get them to suggest some activities that really interest them, and that you’ve never heard about.

Also encourage your children to download a language app, if relevant. It’s a fact that kids have a much easier time learning languages than us old timers, so for them, picking up a few phrases will be a no-brainer, and might even help decipher some vital information along the way. Plus, chances are that your waitress or tour guide will be impressed by your efforts to speak to them (at least a bit) in their own language. 

Don’t Forget the Tried and True

If this isn’t your first family road trip, save some time in the schedule for the activities you know will be a hit based on past experience. For example, my kids discovered the joys of bicycling in Amsterdam (where else?), and now, we make sure to take a bike trip in every city we visit. Imagine that – culture, exercise, history, and the outdoors, all greeted with enthusiasm! A great resource for organizing a kid-friendly bike ride is Fat Tire Tours. 

Include Kiddie Classics

No matter what sightseeing stuff you all agree on, there’s nothing like enjoying the memory of your kids charging off towards the Vomit Comet or the Slip ‘n Slide. It’s their chance to let off some steam and yours to savor a latte. It never ceases to amaze me how much variety there is in various adventure parks around the world, and your kids will love the chance to experience some international adventure. So leave a blank space on your itinerary for these types of activities, then watch their eyes widen as they see the first roller coaster come into view.  

On the Road

Unfortunately, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Once you are actually on the trip, you’ll still need to maintain the good vibes and minimize moments of suffering between the thrills. Other than ensuring that everyone has a data plan and a charger for their device, here are a few ideas for staying chill during the journey itself. 

Show Me the Waze

“Are we there yet?” This can become a mind-numbing mantra if you’re not careful. To avoid this situation, let one of your older kids handle the navigation app. This can be especially helpful when driving in the city, as they can tell you (if your app is any good) if there are any confusing lane changes coming up. You can also let another kid look at a paper map and point out any interesting spots near your route – it might make for a memorable opportunity to stretch your legs.  

If you’re using public transit, get at least one of the kids to become familiar with the route, and let them lead the way. This actually can be a great chance to learn how to stay cool when dealing with new and complicated transportation systems.  

Appoint a Photographer

The magic of mobile phones means that anyone can take pics of your journey. Ask one of your kids to make a visual record of the things that capture their interest. Besides phones, there are even some cameras, like the Vtech Kidizoom, which are custom built for exactly this type of situation. Your child’s efforts will pay off as they swell with pride when seeing some of their photographs in the vacation album you make when the trip is over. 

Try It, You’ll like It

Encourage your kids to sample some regional dishes on every trip. They say that smells bring back strong memories, so great local cuisine will always be a reminder of vacations spent together. Don’t make them eat anything that is stomach churning, of course, but chances are that every place on the planet has at least one special dish that everyone will be willing to try. Bread, for example, is often made in ways that are unique to the nation, if not the region.   

With any family road trip, the most important thing to remember is why you’re doing this in the first place: to enjoy good quality time together. So even in those (hopefully rare) temper tantrum moments where you may be tempted to gag everyone in the backseat, remember that the years pass quickly and one day you’ll look fondly back on the beautiful memories you created. 

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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