Sunday, June 21, 2015

Super Summer #1: Tips and Apps for Your Road Trip

Tips and Apps for Your Road Trips

Do you get totally frazzled even thinking of taking a road trip? Does your brain buzz and boil with all of the details you need to plan? That word PLAN is the key since it makes trips much smoother and hassle-free. Here are some things to work on before a road trip or other vacation.


App Alert: 
  • The TripRider app is well worth $4.99. Set your itinerary, track expenses, create packing lists, store maps, and more.  
  • The free TripAdvisor app will clue you in on where to visit, eat, stay, and more at your destination or along the way, along with ratings and other pertinent information.  
Where do you want to go? Whom do you want to visit? Take into account the desires and age levels of each member of your traveling party. One person might want to relax, while another wants to pack adventure into every possible moment. Brainstorm separately and/or together, with the understanding that you might not get to do everything. 

There may even be a time to split up your group if an activity is not suitable for everyone. For example, one parent could plan a relaxing afternoon at the hotel pool or at Grandma's house with the younger children while the other parent goes river rafting with the older ones. This can keep your teens from feeling held back to the activity level of your toddlers who need more rest.

Try to leave some rest time for everyone scheduled in each day, and if there is a big activity one day, plan for a "down day" or at least a light activity day the next. You can alternate activities to provide a good variety.

The Internet is a huge help in planning an agenda. If you know what main city you plan to stay in, you can look up what attractions are in that area. Or if you already know what attraction you want to visit, you can study the web site to find out hours, costs, reviews, etc. Save the information in a document created for your vacation plans.

Let your children research ahead of time about the places you plan to visit. This will help them understand more while you are there.

After you have agreed on what places you want to visit, take out your calendar and figure out when you will go to each place and where you will stay each night. You can create an itinerary table with these columns: Day#, Date, Activity Description, Activity Costs, Lodging, Mileage, and Driving Hours. 

Using your tentative itinerary, you can contact the people you plan to visit to make sure it is a good time for them, too. You can also make hotel reservations. If things just don't look like they are working out, make adjustments as needed.


App Alert: 
  • Most mobile devices come with a maps app on them. Check to see if it has the features you need, such as turn by turn GPS, multiple route options, and the ability to read the text version of the directions before you start. 
  • iExit tells you what amenities you can find at each upcoming highway exit.
  • CoPilot GPS allows you to navigate even if you don't have access to the Internet.

Using a mapping web site or app can be a big help. You can type in the addresses of each destination, and have it tell you exactly how to get from one place to another, how many miles, and how much driving time. 

Budget extra driving time for stops, especially if you have a large family or young children.

Even if you are using a GPS or mapping app, bring along paper maps, too, just in case. You can buy an atlas or print out detailed maps of the areas where you will be traveling.

Study your route and the surrounding area carefully before you get on the road. You need to be extra familiar with it in case you get turned around (lost!) or something changes.

Store all of your paperwork - maps, itineraries, budgets, attraction information, etc. - in a trip notebook, not just on your mobile device.


App Alert: 
  • The free Gas Buddy app will tell you where to find the least expensive gas around. 
  • Keep your budget in place with the TripRider app that I mentioned earlier.  

Prepare a spreadsheet or at least a penciled list of expenses you expect, including gas, car supplies, tolls, travel fares, lodging, groceries, restaurants, admission tickets, souvenirs, items you need to bring with you, pay for someone who is performing services while you are gone, other miscellaneous expenses. You can find information on many expenses on-line. Check to see if your hotel offers a free breakfast. You can also pack meals or stop for groceries to save on meal expenses. If you are staying with a friend or relative, you might want to pitch in for groceries, too.


App Alert: 
  • Check out the TripList packing list app or use the packing list feature in the TripRider app.

Keep a master packing list on the computer or mobile device with the items that you usually take on any trip. Then save it under a different name for each trip to adjust it for the specific needs. This will help you make a shopping list of things you need to buy before you go.

Zip lock bags are your friend! Store groups of small items in quart or gallon size bags to keep them together in your suitcase, or to keep toiletries from leaking all over everything. Keep an "emergency bag" with a change of clothes for each of the younger children in case they mess up what they are wearing with a spill or a potty accident.

Older kids can pack their own suitcases, using the lists you give them. However, check the suitcases to make sure that the clothes are clean, in good repair, in matching outfits, and suitable for the situation. Bring along plastic bags or pillow cases for your dirty laundry.

Younger children may be able to share suitcases. If you are staying in a hotel or a relative's house for just one night along the way, try to pack one suitcase with toiletries, pajamas, and one daytime outfit each for at least a few people, so not everyone has to lug all of their stuff in. You can pack a complete outfit for a child in a gallon-sized zip lock plastic bag, making it easy to "grab and go" in the morning when you're trying to get back on the road.

Allow each child to pack a car bag or bin with books, small toys, and basic art supplies. The dollar store is a great place to find fresh items to amuse them. When they aren't using them, they can stash their stuff under the seat. This is when it helps if they use a back pack with zippers or a plastic bin with a lid instead of an open tote bag. They can also bring a small pillow and/or light blanket for resting in the car.

Pack a plastic bin or tote bag with things you want handy up in the front of the vehicle, such as a small first aid kit, prescription medicines, flashlight, your own travel notebook, camera & extra batteries, baby wipes, a hair brush, sun screen or bug repellent, sun glasses, cell phone charger, permanent marker, blunt scissors, pencils and pens, trash bags for the van, etc.

Sleeping bags, blankets, and other bulky items can go in a large plastic storage bin with a lid. If you run short on suitcases, you can pack clothes in plastic bins, too.

Clean out and vacuum your car a few days ahead of time. To collect your trip trash, use a plastic cereal container lined with a grocery bag. If you have a large vehicle, use two! Store extra bags in the bottom for quick trash bag changes at gas stations.

Take advantage of all of your vehicle's storage space, such as under the floor boards or in seat back pockets.

Load your vehicle the night before you leave so you can climb in and go. 

Fun and Learning

App Alert:
  • The free Field Trip app alerts you to interesting and educational facts and places to visit along the way. 
  • Are you into adventure? Check out a GeoCaching app.
If you will be in en route for a long time, bring along as many portable electronic devices as you can, along with charging equipment that can be used in a vehicle. You can buy an adapter to plug in an AC plug into the car charger. A child can watch a movie, play a game, read a book, or listen to music or audio stories on a lap top, tablet, iPhone, or other mobile device. Consider downloading some new apps beforehand for fresh fun. Come up with an approved music play lists for your mobile devices with songs that won't annoy or offend anyone in the vehicle.

When you get to an area where there are scenic views or other learning opportunities, have everyone turn off the devices and look out the windows.

Especially if you are planning educational field trips and/or counting some of your vacation days as home school days, bring a notebook for each child so they can write and draw pictures about the day's adventures. They can store informational brochures about historical sites you visit. They may like to keep lists of the states they spot on license plates, too. You could photocopy simple maps of your vacation route so they can follow along as you go.

Talk to your kids about the power of observation. Help them to notice the little things along the way. Show them how to use a camera's features to capture the beauty.


Keep an ice chest and/or large insulated cooler bag in the back or trunk for a picnic lunch. Make sure you can get it out easily, and remember paper plates, disposable cups, and plenty of napkins. (You could put a Frisbee in it too, if you are stopping at a rest area.)

Stash a small food box or tote bag in the vehicle so someone can pass out tidy snacks, juice boxes or water bottles, and napkins. You can pack homemade or bulk packaged goodies into individual zip bags for each child if you don't want to buy prepackaged snacks. Kids can pack their own custom designed trail mix ahead of time. Set out big bowls of ingredients such as various nuts, raisins, sunflower seeds, lightly sweetened cereal, M&Ms, and let them scoop them into their own bags. This is a fun way to get them involved in trip preparation. Don't forget snacks for adults! I find that I drive best fueled with protein bars and caffeinated drink packets.

If you will be eating out or buying from a local grocery store, learn about local food specialties that you might enjoy. It's part of the travel experience!

Safety & Sanity Considerations

App Alert:

Be aware of applicable state laws such as texting and using a cell phone while driving, safety seat protocol, speed limits, traffic laws, etc.

Be sure your vehicle is in good working order. Consider taking it in for a tune up a week before you go. Check the tires, belts, safety belts, infant seats, and other systems before you hit the road. Keep your maintenance supplies and tools accessible so you can easily service your car or take care of a breakdown. Make sure your roadside service plan is current. This is a great time to teach teens and tweens basic car maintenance.

If you are one of the drivers, get plenty of rest before and while you travel. This is a huge safety issue. Try to have an extra driver in the vehicle in case you get too tired to safely continue. Don't push it. If it's not safe for you to drive, find a rest stop or a motel and get your rest!

Talk to your kids about proper behavior in the car, such as staying reasonably quiet, not pestering others, keeping their stuff organized, etc. It is especially important not to distract a driver in heavy traffic, at night, or when they are already stressed out. That's when accidents are most likely to happen!

Brainstorm ways to prevent petty conflicts in the car. For example, arrange the seating so kids aren't fighting about who sits where, and so that siblings who don't get along well are not sitting near each other. Plan frequent stops so everyone can get out, stretch, and use the restrooms. Bring along rolls of quarters, and give one quarter to each child for an hour of good behavior (determined individually), which they can use for souvenirs and extra snacks as you travel. 

Remind your kids to keep their hands away from car doors (so they won't get squished when someone slams them) and to keep their hands inside the car instead of waving them out the windows. At every stop, take the time to tidy up the car so people don't trip over things when they get back in.

Teach your child a routine for what to do if they get lost. For example, they should ask for help from either an employee in a uniform, or a mom with children. Then role play the situation until you are sure they understand. Buy matching bright-colored t-shirts for your kids so you can spot them easily in a crowd. This also makes for cute photographs. Make sure your kids know your cell phone number so they can call you if you get separated. Attach a younger child's name and your cell number onto the inside of their clothing in case someone needs to locate you. Talk about "stranger danger" in a way that equips your children instead of unnecessarily frightening them. We can be friendly and prudent at the same time.

Remind your younger kids to hold your hand when you are in a crowd or crossing traffic. If necessary, use a harness/strap system for a toddler. Assign "buddies" if you have older and younger children. This doesn't mean you can ignore what is going on but it does give an extra layer of care to the little ones if someone extra is looking out for them.

Check to be sure that each activity is age-appropriate and safe for your family members. You may need to buy or rent appropriate safety equipment, such as a life vest. Check on the accommodations for strollersConsider bringing a baby or toddler backpack to carry your child.

Be especially careful around water! Do your kids know how to swim yet? You might want to schedule some lessons before you go if you know you will be at the beach, pool, or lake. Speaking of water, be careful what you drink! If you are concerned about the water quality in a place you are visiting, bring along some bottled water or water purifying tablets.

Bring sunblock and bug repellent. Make sure you have enough drinking water. Check to ticks after you've been in the woods.

Keep a small first aid kit (bandages and antibacterial wipe packets) in your purse and a more complete kit in the car. You can buy the little kits in any dollar store.

Think back to previous trips and try to recall what you wished you'd brought and what you wished you hadn't. Ask your family members for their ideas, too.

Caring for Stuff Back at Home

Let a trusted neighbor know where you are going, how long you will be gone, and how to get a hold of you. Make sure they have a house key in case of an emergency. Arrange for your mail to be held or a neighbor to pick it up for you. Hide or lock up any valuables. Put lights or a radio on a timer to make it appear someone is home.

Plan for someone to care for your pets, houseplants, and/or landscaping. Many families we know ask a college age friend to come "house sit" for them while they are gone. Ask around to determine what reasonable pay rates are for these services.

If you live in an area prone to seasonal storms, make sure you "batten down the hatches" in case one hits while you are gone. This might include bringing in miscellaneous items from outside, trimming tree branches, and making sure storm windows are installed.


Did I forget anything from these lists? If so, let me know, so I won't miss out on planning them for MY next trip!


Bon voyage!

P.S. I just finished up my weekly Simply Spring series and this is the first post of my Super Summer series!

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