By Guest Blogger Tara Pitts

Over the last 6 years I have packed my family up and we have traversed through twenty-seven states, eight national parks and made many a roadside pit stop. The sights we have seen have been tremendous and awe-inspiring, but the shared memories we have will always be with us as part of the collective story of our family.  Our favorites include white water rafting on the Snake River in Colorado, standing in line for eclairs at Mike’s Pastries in Boston, riding the ferris wheel on the pier in Santa Monica, walking through the Oregon redwoods on a rainy Sunday morning, climbing a ladder down to explore the homes of the cliff dwellers in Mesa Verde and hiking through the Narrows in Zion.

After our recent road trip in June, I asked my family what do’s or don’ts they would pass along and share with other families interested in taking to the open road on a family trip. Here’s our advice!

DO: If you are flying to a destination and renting a car, rent the largest one you can afford. When you are making multiple stops on a week-long road trip, your vehicle becomes your home for the week. You need space for everyone to sit (and lounge) comfortably, your luggage, and all the stuff people bring a long for the ride. Also, make sure to pack things you usually tuck away in your car at home such as a first aid kit, tissues, loose change for tolls, etc.

DON’T: When mapping out a road trip, don’t overestimate how long your family can comfortably take riding in a car for the day. Sometimes we can take a 6-7 hour drive, but that is pushing it. People tend to get cranky! And an unhappy family member on a road trip equals an unhappy family on a road trip! We’ve found a 4-5 hour drive is our sweet spot. So, when I plan, I plot out our destinations roughly 4-5 hours apart. This also gives us time during the day to leave a little later, allows for stops between point A and point B, and to get to our destination early enough for dinner and some activity before bed. Some of our best memories are from surprise stops along the way!

DO: Pack a bag that will be the “snack bag” on the trip. We make stops at various grocery stores on our trip to stock up on snacks for the car and hotel room. Paper grocery bags tear, so it’s always nice to have slipped a sturdy Trader Joe’s-type bag in my suitcase for snacks. Plus, somehow this feels a little classier walking through a hotel lobby? (Plastic grocery bags are great for a car trash can!) We also end up buying a Styrofoam cooler to keep drinks and snacks cold, however with a little planning you could bring a soft cooler on the trip. My mom often uses hers as a carryon and then moves things around to use it as a cooler once she is in a car. Lastly, it has worked great to have one of our kids designated with the “Snack Shack” job. She is super organized and loves the responsibility of keeping the bag organized and letting us know what we might need at the store.

DON’T: Be sure to book all your hotels before you leave – don’t wait until you’re on the road trying to find a place to stop for the night. My tactic is to always book a hotel that allows cancellations and full refunds. This allows some flexibility as we travel if we need it. Tripadvisor is my go-to website for hotel reviews. I have also learned the hard way to book directly through the hotel’s website if possible. I love Expedia, however often hotels will offer the same discount when you book directly through them, and you are assured of your ability to cancel and get a refund if that is their policy.

DO: As you plan, make sure you look for a balance of activities. Our girls love visiting the national parks, and I recommend that highly, however they also love shopping and fun “instagrammable” restaurants and experiences. So as much as you and your partner love gorgeous scenery, you are on a trip with the WHOLE family so everyone needs to have a little something to look forward to and be excited about. I like to google “unique activities/experience” for the city or area we are visiting. This is how I found the Sprinkles cupcake vending machine in Los Angeles and the cool indoor Rube Goldberg-like miniature golf place in San Francisco. I also use Yelp and Pinterest to find restaurants and itinerary ideas. I’ve learned from experience it helps tremendously to have an idea for a restaurant that fits our budget and has something everyone will like!

DO: Be adventurous and get out there! Try to relax and remember this is an opportunity to really connect as a family. Look for experiences that will be new for everyone, even if it is out of some people’s comfort zone. It has really been a joy to have my daughters watch me try new things right along side them. When we reminisce over our trips together, their eyes shine with pride and excitement thinking about hikes they took, waters we rafted, and places we explored. Also, be flexible and read the room (or car). If someone needs some space, find a place to stop where people can stretch their legs, get something to drink and regroup.

From our family to yours, we hope this advice is helpful and that you make some fantastic memories on your family road trip!

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