Family Road Trip Tips and Tricks

It’s summer—the best time to get away for some family fun. This weekend, why not load up the car, fill the tank, and take the family on a road trip? Driving is cheaper than flying, and it’s a lot more fun to see this gorgeous land from the ground.

Enjoy this handy collection of tips to make your family road trip a success.

Pack Some Fun

Bring the family’s favorite toys or activity books, and hang a clear plastic shoe bag to the back of one of the front seats to keep the play gear organized and picked up.

Quarters of Fun

Ahead of time, collect quarters with U.S. states on the back. During the trip, when one of the kids spots a state’s license plate, give the child a quarter with that state on it. This incentivized version of watching for specific items will make children more eager to play.

Here We Are

When an older child asks the dreaded question, “Are we there yet?” that’s a signal that you’ve encountered a teaching moment. Hand the child the map and let him or her figure out how much longer to your destination. Knowing how to read a map is a valuable life skill.

Make sure you bring along a paper map or travel atlas. (

Paper Map

You never know when your GPS or smartphone will be out of range with its service provider, so make sure you bring along a paper map or travel atlas.

Disappearing Ink

A disappearing-ink pen, available at any fabric store, is great for marking maps. In a day or so, your marks will fade and your map is ready for the next road trip.

A Day Trip Is Still a Trip

If time off from work is limited or funds are tight, it’s still possible to pack in some family fun over the holiday weekend. Do an internet search on free activities or landmarks of note within just a few hours’ drive. Getting out of your immediate surroundings will still help you feel refreshed.

Community Activities

In the summer months, churches and other community organizations frequently host fairs, barbecues, fun runs, inexpensive meals, and more! Be on the lookout for local advertisements for these events, and be prepared to partake in some spontaneous fun.

Scenic Routes

Forgo highway driving (and the tolls) by selecting a journey that will take you through scenic back roads rather than crowded highways.

Collect Discounts

Take advantage of lodging discounts. Are you a member of AAA? If so, there’s a strong chance your membership offers access to discounted rates at hotels in your travel zone. Camping is another fun, economically friendly lodging option.

Camping is a fun economically friendly lodging option. (Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Zip the Clothes

Pack the kids’ clothes in gallon-size zip-type plastic bags, one outfit per bag: shirt, shorts, underwear, and socks. Zipped bags pack easily; the contents are visible; and they make getting ready each morning so much easier because the kids can just grab a bag and have everything they need.

Single Bag

If an overnight stop is on your road trip itinerary, pack a small bag with one change of clothes for each family member, plus basic toiletries. Instead of unpacking the whole car, all you’ll need to take in is one bag.

Car Games

Before you take off, download free printable car games and activities, such as those from

Baby Onboard

When traveling with a baby, bring along a box of denture-cleaning tablets. You’ll find them useful when you need to clean pacifiers, baby utensils, and sippy cup lids. Just fill a glass with warm water; drop in the item to be cleaned; and pop in a tablet. You’ll be good to go in five minutes.

Magnets of Fun

An inexpensive metal (not aluminum) cookie sheet makes the best lap table for a child during road trips. It can be a food tray or a writing desk (the raised edges keep crayons from rolling off). It can turn into a clipboard with the addition of a clip-style fridge magnet. It’s an instant play table for all sorts of magnetic toys.


Don’t forget that the point of all of this is to get away, relax, and enjoy this big, beautiful country we love. Get out there this weekend, and make some memories!

Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” Mary invites you to visit her at her website, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Copyright 2021

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Mary Hunt
Author: Mary Hunt

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