I recently started my newest personal series on the blog: Road Trips with Kids. Check out introduction to the series in this post.
This summer’s trip is already planned out with days, locations, and places to stay. We will be done for a total of 11 days, traveling over 1,800 miles, and 30 hours in the car of drive time. I literally cannot wait! I often get asked, “how do you pick your routes and locations?” This road trips with kids post is about choosing where to go for your trip and how to start with a blank canvas that can sometimes seem a little overwhelming to piece all of the puzzle together!
1) Plan Early: I try to plan my trip in January/February for a late July trip in order to get my calendar lined up with my friends and family I will be staying with on the trip. Wait too late and you might be too late to get on someone’s calendar for a visit.
2) Pick an Ending Destination: Generally, for my road trips with kids I try to pick somewhere that has a really good and close friend of mine at our “end point” (which is really our halfway point since we have to go back at some point.) Like my first trip was specifically to visit friends in Branson, MO, 12 hours from Atlanta. My second trip was to visit friends in the Washington DC area, 11 hours from Atlanta. Each year, we pick a close friend at an “end point” and head that way. So far, it’s worked out to be around 11-12 hours from home. If that’s too much of a chunk to bite off for your first road trip, start smaller!
My end destination generally is somewhere that I stay for 3-4 days. The rest of the trip is stops along the way, generally 1-2 nights at each location. Plan your trip however you’d like, but this is how we’ve done it and it works great for us! One of the things I like best about choosing a place to “end” with friends is we can have some down days if we want at that end point which is really only half the trip at that point, because we have to head home afterwards. With a go-go-go schedule, it’s often nice to visit friends and not be going somewhere constantly.
Last year, due to covid, we kept our trip a little closer to home with less stops. We went to Asheville and Charlotte and stayed in two locations, but spent 9 days gone still! We did a bunch of day trips and out and back driving from each location. So don’t feel like you have to do a HUGE massive trip like I have done.
3) Choose Your Stops Along the Way: I like to make a loop on our trips if possible. Go up one way and come back a different way. I pick our locations to stop based on two things
1) Friends: do I have somewhere I can stay with someone I know?
2) Things to Do: what does this city have for us to do that my kids would love?
I am a very social person and keep in touch with a lot of people, so I know a lot of people in a lot of places around the US. In fact, this summer, we will be gone 10 nights on our trip and of those 10 nights/6 cities, I have places to stay with people I know in 5 of those cities. We will be doing a hotel stay in Cincinnati and the rest are places to stay with friends. This is also why I say to plan early, it’s like a puzzle figuring out how long you need to stay and the exact dates. I generally start with telling my friends, “I’ll be in town most likely from this date to this date. Once I get more details, I’ll give you the exact dates.” Once I am able to figure those dates out, I touch base and get on their calendar.
The biggest trip I’ve ever planned. I might be a little nuts with our trip lined out for this summer.
Pick cities based on what’s in the city for your kids. My kids (especially my son) are obsessed with trains. In fact, we have a Tourist Trains Guidebook that we have in our home that has many different train museums and rides around the US and Canada. For the past two years of trips, I have pulled this up and have picked many of our stops along the way based on what’s on our route. For example, I am heading to Strasburg, PA this summer to ride a train through Amish country. Strasburg is about an hour off the route I have planned, but it’s close enough that I want to make it work.
One of our train museums from last summer’s road trip in North Carolina.
We also have season passes to Six Flags, so we will be going to Six Flags America for the 2nd time this summer. We have already been to the one in St. Louis as well. The Cedar Fair has a ton of amusement parks as well!
Many cities have amazing children’s museums, so I often look at a major city we are driving through and literally Google “so-and-do city children’s museum” or “things to do for kids in so-and-so city.” Often a lot of where we stop is because of this. Think of what your kids love and see if they have something in that city for you! Do you kids love the zoo? Go to a bunch of zoo’s on your trip! Do you kids love airplanes? See what kind of aviation museums cities have!
And be flexible to change plans. I often have a loose skeleton of what we will be doing while also have specific tickets for a specific location and time. Two years ago we went to Little Rock and I had planned on only a few hours there. We ended up staying all day thanks to some recommendations from some locals. It ended up being one of our favorite days of the trip!
Our fun impromptu day in Little Rock in 2019. None of this was on our original schedule.
4) Write it Out: I have an Excel spreadsheet that I have created that I use to make my road trip. I also make a paper calendar and have each location, and what we’re doing that day on the calendar. It helps me so much to see it visually. The Excel spreadsheet is what helps me get super organized for it.
My Excel spreadsheet for the trip. This is the current state of my first week of my road trips with kids for reference.
5) Hire Help: If something stresses you out, hire someone to plan the trip for you! There are some amazing travel agents out there who can plan your entire trip for you, bookings and all! And while I’m not a travel agent, reach out to me if you’re interested in hiring me to help you plan your trip! I can most definitely help plan the route, locations, and places to visit. I leave you to book your hotels and tickets to locations, but what I can provide is the research and time it takes to plan a trip like this out!
Next week, I will talk about tips on how to save money while traveling.