Here’s how to pull off the ultimate road trip.
Before we had kids, my husband and I used to rack up credit card miles flying all over the place — Europe, Australia, and various parts of the U.S. But once kids came into the mix, we realized how expensive — and complicated — booking flights can be.
Even though we were always pretty good about maximizing credit card rewards and earning air miles — miles that allowed us to pull off some of our previous trips — we found that for a family of five, there was less flexibility in using them. As such, in recent years, we’ve opted to pack up the car and travel cross-country to access different parts of the U.S.
In fact, we’ve actually gone road-tripping cross country three times over the past five years, and our last cross-country trip spanned over 5,000 miles of driving all-in and had us on the road for about 23 days. As such, we’ve managed to learn a thing or two about taking this type of vacation. So if you’re thinking of doing the same, here are some tips for pulling it off.
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1. Pack lots of entertainment — and snacks — for the kids
Traveling cross-country often means spending hours on the same stretch of scenery-free highway. And while you may be able to cope with that as an adult, if you have kids, they may get bored very easily.
One thing we’ve always done in the course of our cross-country travels is make sure we’re loaded up with entertainment before we hit the road. That means stocking our DVD collection, putting together playlists, and investing in activity books for the kids to use on and off. If you have older kids who can read, regular books or pre-loaded e-readers are your friend as well.
But it’s not just entertainment you’ll want to stock up on. Kids have a way of getting unusually hungry at random times when they’re bored, and pulling off the highway in search of a rest area doesn’t always work when you’re in a remote corner of the country. That’s why it’s essential to pack lots of snacks that travel well. Better yet, bring snacks that can double as meals if need be. Nothing will happen to your kids if there’s a day when they eat two granola bars for lunch because you couldn’t find a convenient fast food joint or restaurant.
2. Give yourself flexibility to get off the beaten path
The great thing about traveling by car is having the option to change course if the mood strikes you. In the course of our travels, we’ve pulled off the road at random spots because we were inspired by signage advertising local parks and attractions — places we never would’ve known about had we not driven by.
In fact, my husband and I like to book hotel rooms on the fly when we travel by car so that if we’re having fun at one destination, we can stay longer and head to our next stop later than expected. To pull this off, you need to be very flexible. If you’re the type who needs a nicer hotel, this won’t work. But if you’re willing to do what we do — throw camping gear in the car in case a hotel doesn’t work out — you may find that keeping your plans very flexible makes your trip all the more enjoyable.
3. Bring the right credit card with you
Before having kids, my husband and I used a travel rewards card to rack up air miles and hotel points. Prior to our first road trip, we actually found a new credit card that offered a better cash back rate on gas, and we’ve since made it our go-to card for road trips. That card also offers extra cash back at restaurants, and while we don’t dine out all that frequently during the year, we do so pretty often when we’re on the road. All told, we’ve earned several hundred dollars back from our various road trips — money we’ve since earmarked for a future vacation.
Traveling cross-country by car isn’t for the faint of heart, especially if there are children involved. You’ll need to make sure you can handle some longer days of driving, some not-so-gourmet truck stop dinners, and periods of non-stop whining from the little beings who occupy your vehicle’s back seat. But if you’re up to the challenge, it’s an experience worth having at least once in your lifetime — especially if there are parts of the country you’re eager to see that you still haven’t crossed off your list.