Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Family Road Trips: How to Eliminate Stress and Bickering

by Billie Cohen | August 1, 2016

Mom, he’s on my side! She won’t stop touching my stuff! I have to go to the bathroom! I’m hungry! Are we there yet? If you think family road trips are all sing-alongs and car games, you’ve never been on a road trip. Maybe it’s the cramped car, the sitting still for hours on end, the long stretches between meal stops. Whatever the reason, road trips seem like the vacation most likely to inspire bickering and stress—but all those other moments in between are golden. Luckily, it’s easy to ensure more of those memorable family bonding times with a few simple strategies. Based on her own family’s experiences, Wendy has put together a surefire list of methods for making a road trip stress-free. Here’s a preview, but don’t miss the full list over at TripAdvisor.

And, for more road trip intel, click to Wendy’s essential packing list, and her Keys to Planning the Perfect Road Trip.

Let each kid play navigator.

La Jolla Cove seals in California

Let each kid pick an attraction or two during your trip. Wendy’s son chose La Jolla Cove as a pit stop, to see the seals.

Give your kids a map of your route before you leave and let each one pick a stop or an activity each day. You’ll give them a sense of ownership over that day’s events that will keep them energized and interested all day.

Make the trip a treasure hunt.

do not disturb sign

Create a fun trip challenge or goal to make stops more interesting. Wendy’s kids collect Do Not Disturb signs.

On Wendy’s trips, the family picks something to search for at each stop, creating an easy scavenger hunt: maps, magnets, Do Not Disturb signs from hotels…. Or try giving the kids a camera (nothing fancy needed) and turn the game into a photo-taking mission.

Give each kid his/her own space.

If you are able to set up each kid in a separate row of the vehicle, great. If not, try crafting a divider between them (even if it’s just out of colorful tape).

Agree on how long you’ll drive between stops.

family road trip California

To prevent kids (and adults) from going stir crazy, put a time limit on how long you’ll drive between rest stops.

It’s nearly impossible to make sure everyone is on the same schedule during a road trip. Someone is going to get tired before everyone else; someone else will get hungry; someone else will get restless. And if the driver is feeling good, he or she may want to push through…stretching everyone else’s patience. To avoid arguments and meltdowns from stir-crazy kids, set a limit for how long each leg can be.

Whenever there’s a world’s biggest, longest, or quirkiest something on your route, stop and check it out.

Nighttime minigolf at Chuckster's, home of the world's longest mini-golf hole. Vestal, NY

Wendy’s family seeks out quirky roadside attractions, like Chuckster’s in Vestal, NY, home of the world’s longest mini-golf hole.

Rest stops are more than just a chance to stretch legs and burn off energy. They can be the source of fun memories and even funnier pictures.

Wendy’s family seeks out quirky roadside attractions, like the world’s biggest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas, or the world’s biggest yo-yo, in Chico, California—or the world’s biggest anything, really. School playgrounds and children’s museums not far from the Interstate are other kid-friendly pit stops. That said, even “boring” rest stops can be amped up: bring a tennis ball, inflatable beach ball, or a Frisbee for games. Keep a few picnic basics in the car too so that you can make a rest stop double as a food stop. (For more info on what picnic essentials to stow, see Wendy’s road trip packing list.)

Prioritize pools.

When choosing where to bed down each night, Wendy recommends finding motels with pools. The end-of-day swim will help kids work out any pent-up energy and can even serve as a reward after a long day of driving. A reinvigorating dip can be just as rewarding for tired parents.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

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  1. Dana Krauskopf

    I love this! Thank you for sharing. We do long road trips several times a year. I will try these tips this summer!

  2. April Cole

    I love these – thank you! I’ll be using many of these ideas for our Spring Break family road trip. On our road trips, I always prepare a travel folder for the kids with different activities I know they really enjoy. I fill them with printables from Pinterest, License Plate games, Would You Rather questions, and Road Trip Scavenger Hunt print outs are easy to find online and fun for everyone. I also load up extra printouts and little surprises for each hour or two we’re in the car. This way they have something new to look forward to and it distracts them every hour ; )

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