For generations, family road trips have played a huge role in childhoods throughout the United States and beyond.
Ask a friend about their favorite road trip memories, and they’ll likely have a list of stories, from stinky shoes that turned the Suburban’s occupants into a hilarious eye-watering mess or playful punches to their shoulder each time a slug bug was spotted. Sure, there are meltdowns and moments of impatience to contend with, but the memories that seem to come to mind first are the ones that bond siblings, parents, grandparents and cousins.
No matter if you are taking a quick trip to the beach, or plan to drive the span of the lower 48, the thought of hours in a car can be a bit overwhelming. You know that it will be a blast, but what about the moments when it isn’t? What can you pack to make the adventure more fun than fussy?
We asked seven families with a variety of road trips under their belts to share their travel day necessities.
The Neufelds: Unplugged and Positive
In 2015, the Neufeld family took a journey across both Canada and the United States for five months in a van while towing a 25-foot camper. The journey’s purpose: put on encouragement events for families touched by adoption. Each event was two-days long, with a lot of miles clocked between locations.
Here’s what Shala had to say about the family’s travel necessities:
“Good attitudes [are encouraged]. Seriously. We make it a number one priority. We do lots of audiobooks, singing together, activity books and car games.”
Screens are not an option in the Neufeld van. In their 278+ hours of driving for more than 12,500 miles in five months with two teens, a seven-year-old and four-year-old, they didn’t have any bad days. Shala attributes this to their number one expectation – good attitudes – and the lack of tablets, smartphones and any other electronics that might distract them from enjoying the open road together.
The Hollys: ‘Busy bags for my littles…will occupy them for hours’
No strangers to travel, the Holly family has undertaken road trips to Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Several of their destinations led to foster- and adoptive-mom gatherings. We asked Casey to share her tips for long drives with children.
“Busy bags for my littles,” Casey shared. “A bag filled with things like marbles, buttons, pipe cleaner, coin wrappers, sticky notes and envelopes. It will occupy them for hours.”
Like the Neufeld family, Casey doesn’t do screens in her van. Instead, they listen to fun music, enjoy sharing snacks and each child has a blanket to snuggle with.
The Sandbergs: ‘I couldn’t live without a variety of totes, thermals and bags.
Kim and Berne Sandberg have been road warriors for years. What started as a passion for weekend trips with their children, then grandchildren, has recently transitioned into a lifestyle. New to full-time travel, the Sandbergs drive their small SUV across the country to stay at apartment and Airbnb rentals for a few months at a time. Though some of their travels will include cruises and international flights, they’ve got miles of road ahead of them and have carefully planned for the adventure.
“I’m pretty intense to take care of on the road,” Kim shared. “I require a fan, a weighted blanket, a blender for protein shakes, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Bluetooth earbuds and more. I couldn’t live without a variety of totes, thermals and bags.”
Once they reach their destination, the Sandbergs like to take a break from sitting in their vehicle. During a recent visit to New Orleans, they discovered that having the right apps on their phones was the key to accessing adventure.
“Our stay in NOLA was made so easy with the ability to click and make things happen,” explains Kim. “Uber, Grub Hub, and Walmart grocery were godsends. We also used the area’s mass transit app. We could purchase tickets, get routes made for us, see maps and know when the streetcar, bus or ferry was about to arrive. We never used a car. I’m a big fan of mass transportation and we got to know people that way.”
The Cotters: ‘Prep work makes the difference’
The Cotter family loves to hitch up their travel trailer for trips throughout California. But before they hit the road, they spend time preparing for the adventures ahead.
“If we’re going somewhere on Friday,” says Kendra. “I try to start packing the trailer on Wednesday. In my house, prep work makes all the difference!”
Snacks and entertainment are the top priorities for Kendra’s boys. They enjoy having car games, books, small toys and their kindles within reach. A binder with plastic page protectors and dry-erase markers for her first grader are key, as he often brings homework to complete on the road.
“My oldest and I get carsick, so I usually diffuse lemons or peppermint oil in the car,” Kendra shared. “We pack Dramamine if we’re going somewhere that has a windy route.”
Jimmy drives trucks for a living so he’s no stranger to long hours on the road. While Kendra packs the inside of their trailer, Jimmy prepares the outside. They have a system worked out, but they also recognize that no amount of planning can stop life’s mishaps from happening with three little guys underfoot.
“As a mom of three wild boys, I have to stay flexible!” says Kendra.
The Bardones: Keeping Spontaneity in Play
Holly Bardone recently took a spontaneous trip to the beach with her daughters and used that experience to recall her top travel-day necessities – essential oils and snacks. Second to that, a bit of spontaneity.
“My girls are getting to an age where they are actually not so bad on the long drives,” explains Holly. “My most recent trip to the coast gave me a glimpse into my future with these girls and all the adventures to come. It was so impulsive and unplanned, but my husband was working and I wanted to give them a fun spring break.”
When Holly isn’t making surprise trips to the beach with her girls, she enjoys weekend trips with her husband, Matt. They cherish that time together and count a road trip to Tahoe as one of their favorites.
The Fords: Education and Empowerment for the Kids
The Ford family has been traveling full-time for six months and they have found ways to make the long drives special for every member of the family, even the pups.
One example of this is the cooler that they pack in the truck. Each person gets to pick their favorite snacks and the dogs have their own jug of water to share. Comfort is also an important factor for those who make long drives each week. Mike can get sore after hours of driving, so he likes to keep an emoji pillow nearby to use under his elbow.
“Our daughter Kenzie packs a small backpack with things for them to do,” shared Ashley. “It usually consists of squishes, small cars and drawing pads. Kenzie also has her cell phone and will sometimes put her earbuds in. Other than that, we are pretty minimal. We listen to music, talk, check out where we are going and use some of the time for educational talks with our kids. We are in Mississippi right now, and when we were driving over the bayous, we asked Kenzie to look it up on Wikipedia. We spent a good 45 minutes in a lesson!”
One thing that many full-time travelers can agree on is that moving days can be stressful and are often several hours long. Ashley’s advice for those days is to keep things simple and enjoy the view.
The Messerschmidts: Prepared for Every Adventure on the Road
“I don’t go on vacation without duct tape, a cordless drill, and a small tool kit that contains a hammer, basic socket set, pliers and screwdriver,” says Evan. “We also take zip ties, bottled water, phone chargers, jumper cables, prescriptions and possibly pillows.”
When Evan and Ana take road trips, they don’t mess around…and for good reason! During a vacation to Idaho with their son and longtime friend, the Messerschmidt family were surprised to find a bear cub peeking through one of their cabin windows.
“A momma bear and three cubs walked into our backyard!” Evan said. “The cubs strolled across the desk and began peeking into the cabin windows. We grabbed our cameras knowing that nobody would believe us otherwise.”
With so many ways to travel the open road, it’s no wonder that the variety of items packed by each family is just as unique! No matter where your wheels take you this year, be sure to toss a camera into our bag. You never know what you might run into, or what might run into you!
Kate Rallis is a status quo rebel, underdog advocate, writer and nomad. Along with her husband, she is raising and educating a tribe of four cubs on the road in their renovated fifth-wheel while chasing down new adventures. You can read more about the Rallis Tribe travels at www.rallistribe.com.