By Lyn Mettler
More than a third of Americans will be taking a family vacation in the next year with nearly 70 percent planning to take a road trip, according to AAA. With gas prices the lowest they have been in 12 years, the roads are likely to be busy once school is out for the summer.
Here’s how to make your family road trip run smoothly despite the traffic:
- Map Your Route – AAA has an app to help find the best route, locate current gas prices and book a hotel if you need — all in one place. Apps like Google Maps and Waze are also helpful in finding the shortest route, as well as locating construction and traffic congestion. You can also bring along a printed AAA TripTik.
- Consider Drive Times – AAA recommends leaving earlier or later than the typical travel times if you’ll be driving over a holiday to avoid heavy traffic and consider driving on the holiday itself when roads tend to be less busy.
- Making the Most of Rest Stops – Erin Gifford, a travel writer who took her family of six on a cross country road trip last summer, suggests bringing soccer balls, badminton rackets, softball gloves and more, so your family can get active at road stops to counteract the effects of long times spent sitting in the car. She suggests stopping for 15 minutes every two to three hours.
- Go Old School – “While it’s easy to hand your kids iPads and portable DVD players, the same car games you played as a kid are just as fun,” says Susie Storey, director of communications for Great Wolf Lodge, a popular chain of family resorts, and mother of one. “The ABC game and the ‘I’m going on a trip’ memory game are both examples that get your kids talking.” Wendy Perrin, TripAdvisor travel advocate even suggests ditching the electronics entirely and getting everyone involved in an audio book.
- Stay Awake – You should stop every two hours or 100 miles in order to remain alert, according to AAA. Making sure you have a good night’s sleep the night before is also important, as well as alternating drivers if you have more than one driver in the vehicle.
- Bring Comfort Items – Gifford recommends allowing kids to bring pillows, blankets, headphones or a favorite stuffed animal to help them get comfy and relax to reduce whining and complaining.
- Be Safe – Make sure you are prepared for an emergency with the right items in your car. AAA suggests carrying a cell phone, charger, emergency kit with flashlight, extra batteries, warning devices such as flares or reflective triangles, jumper cables, first-aid kit and extra water. They also advise keeping your gas tank above one-quarter of a tank. Gifford suggests bringing an extra set of car keys … just in case the first set gets lost.
- Get Your Car in Order – AAA says the top reasons they have to rescue drivers include flat tires, dead batteries and lockouts, so making sure your vehicle is up to date on oil changes, has properly inflated tires (which can also save on gas mileage) and is functioning properly is key.
- Helpful Apps – Gifford recommends a number of free apps to help during road trips. RoadAhead tells you what you’ll find at upcoming exits, including gas stations with prices and restaurants. TripAdvisor shows you restaurants with reviews near your location, while KidzOut shows you kid-friendly areas around you such as parks, playgrounds, medical facilities and even where you can change a diaper.
Lyn Mettler is a freelance travel writer, who blogs at GotoTravelGal.com. She is also author of “The Step-by-Step Guide to Earning Your Southwest Companion Pass and Flying Free Around the U.S.