Road trips are at the top of the list of things our family enjoys together. Air travel is great, but we believe that hitting the highways is an even better way to explore new places, try new things, and do some quality family “bonding.”
Many times, we've channeled our inner Clark and Ellen Griswold, fired up the family truckster, and taken to the roads. We've driven to Florida (twice), South Carolina, Colorado, Montreal and the Northeast, as well as taken many, many shorter trips; logging well over 100,000 miles since we became parents. Needless to say, our kids have grown up used to sitting in the back seats of cars for a long, LONG time. We think they're richer for the experience, and hopefully one day they will thank us for it.
For us, the key to the fun is turning road trips into an adventure. Here are some of my favorite Road Trip Rules, all of which we adhered to over the past two weeks as we drove from our home in Southern Minnesota to Panama City Beach, Florida.
Want more details and photos from our trip? Be sure to check out my album in the Mommysavers Galleries: Road Trippin' 2012.
Family Road Trip Rule #1: No Chain Restaurants
Since our family enjoys eating new and different foods, we boycott all national chain restaurants on our road trips. No visits to McDonald's, Burger King or KFC for us! Some of the mom-and-pop restaurants we've visited have been our favorites, and they're usually relatively frugal. We use the Yelp app to sort by price and rating. We also like hitting the places we've seen on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Flavortownusa.com lists them by state.
Family Road Trip Rule #2: Play Car Games
In the age of built-in DVD players and iPods, don't forget to play some family car games. They've also gone high-tech, as we recently discovered with our traditional license plate game. I found a free app that allows you to track the states you've seen. It also keeps track of the date and time they were spotted.
Family Road Trip Rule #3: Visit a National Landmark
Whether it's the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or the largest ball of twine in Darwin, Minnesota; a family road trip wouldn't be complete without visiting a landmark – quirky or otherwise. Many of them have free or low-cost entry.
Family Road Trip Rule #4: Take Pictures by State Signs
Whenever possible, have the kids pose by a state sign, especially if it's a state they've never been to before. The photograph is a visual account of that new experience, and a great way to record the places you've visited.
Family Road Trip Rule #5: Designate a Trip Mascot
Just to be silly, bring along a stuffed animal or doll as the designated trip mascot. This time around, we brought Bianca the doll – who, by the way, has her own Facebook page. One year we made a photo book of “Beary and Cookie's Big Adventure” with photos of my son's stuffed animals. We posed them in funny pictures, such as climbing trees, playing hide-and-seek, and so on.
Family Road Trip Rule #6: Check in on Foursquare
I always check in on Foursquare to save money. Its a fun app that allows you to check in with your smartphone at the places you visit to earn points, badges, and in some cases some really nice discounts. Often you'll receive a free dessert, a half price appetizer, or $5 off a $10 purchase. On our trip, we saved over $20 just by using Foursquare.
For us, vacations are all about trying new things. You can tell by Road Trip Rule #1 that food is an integral part of our experience, so trying new foods are especially important. No matter how old you get, there are new foods to sample. Just ask Scott and me. We're in our (early!) 40s, and this time around we tried a couple new things: turnip greens, speckled beans, and braised oxtail (read our review of The Bruce Cafe). The kids tried raw oysters on the half shell for the first time. What new foods have you tried lately?
Family Road Trip Rule #8: Create Your Own Field Trip
We visited St. Jude's hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Since our kids weren't old enough for the official hospital tour, we were able to arrange for a tour guide to meet us ahead of time to tour the grounds. While we were in Memphi, we picked up toys at target to donate to the patients at St. Jude's. It was a great thing to do with the kids to emphasize how lucky we are.
Family Road Trip Rule #9: Cross Something Off Your Bucket List
Fishing in Gulf waters was something my boys have always wanted to do. This time around, they got their wish. Sometimes these experiences can be expensive, but they're generally worth it. Experiences tend to get richer over time, while things lose their value.
Family Road Trip Rule #10: Add to a Frugal Souvenir Collection
Who says souvenirs cost a lot? Our family collects souvenir magnets from the places we've been. We've been collecting them for over ten years now, and we've got the door leading to our garage nearly completely covered. I love the ideas on the forums for other inexpensive souvenir ideas. Some are really creative – and many are absolutely free.
How do you turn long road trips into an adventure? The Mommysavers Community is packed with great travel tips, and other great road trip ideas for kids.