Planning a Family Road Trip? 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Hit the Road

10 Things You Need to Know When Planning a Family Road Trip

In 2009, our family took our first cross-country road trip. Since then, we have logged almost 70,000 miles together as a family, criss-crossing the United States many times.

For our first trip, we purchased a class “C” RV that our daughter found on Craigslist. It was built in 1987 (a good year, since that’s around the time we graduated from high school, right?) and had a low odometer reading of about 30,000 miles. At 27 feet long, it wasn’t too long. The reason we bought this one was two-fold:

  1. It had two sets of bunkbeds in the back instead of a master bedroom.
  2. It slept up to ten… not comfortably, but it could be done.
10 Things You Need to Know Before You Roadtrip

2009 – Green Roadtrippers

I could write for months about the RV, and indeed, I might—but I have met so many parents who want to roadtrip with their kids that I think for this post, I’ll cut to the chase and give you some practical tips. If you’re homeschooling, a word of caution for those of you who think you’re going to be “roadschooling” and that it will look even remotely like regular school.

It won’t.

Also, my husband did not appreciate our lack of privacy—but that’s another post for another day.

As I write this, we are on our way home from a long four months of travel. As an author and speaker, we depend on this time of year, as it’s the “busy season” for conferences. Our travel is what supports our family in many ways—but we didn’t start out that way. We started out with a desire to reach out and touch other families… and along the way, we discovered a new way to live.

Traveling together is not easy, but oh, it’s worth it. It’s family-strengthening, maddening, memory-making magic. You won’t regret it hitting the road with your family—but there are a few things that I’ve learned the hard way that just might make it a little more magical and a little less maddening. You’re welcome. :)

Happy roadtripping!

  1. Homeschooling? Leave your “regular” school books at home. Really.
    When we did our first trip in 2009, every child had a bin of school work. It was perfect. And that, my friends, was a problem. After two months, I put all their school stuff, with the exception of books to read for enjoyment, into a box and I shipped them home. The emotional temperature in our RV returned to normal the very same day.Instead of your normal routine, consider offering these kinds of books to the kids when you’re on the road:

    National Geographic Kids Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas
    National Geographic Kids United States Atlas
    Mad Libs on the Road

    10 Things Parents Need to Know Before Going on a Roadtrip

  2. Whenever possible, stop and see interesting things. Visit national parks. Visit local aquariums and museums. Learn the history of the places you’re visiting. Go to the ocean. Instead of spending our limited funds on places like Disneyland, we opted for places like “The Hermitage” in Tennessee, “Fantastic Caverns” in Springfield, Missouri, “Monticello” and George Washington’s home, “Mount Vernon.” Our children have seen the Magna Carta, walked the battlefields of Gettysburg and touched the Liberty Bell.*side rant* My husband and I fear for a generation of children who don’t know the history of the United States or the path to freedom that was so hard-won. It’s not enough for us to expect our kids will learn all they need to know about our history from textbooks. Nothing can take the place of actually being there.Make some *real* memories instead of asking the kids to write about what they’re “learning” on the trip. Trust me on this one. They’re learning.

    First time seeing the Gulf of Mexico (2009)


    Rare weekend off the road Tennessee Aquarium (2016)

    Rare weekend off the road Tennessee Aquarium (2016)


  3. You don’t need to think of everything when you’re packing. Forget your allergy meds? Need vitamins? Forget underwear? Leave a kid behind? (just kidding not really) Here’s the thing: in most cases, you can always get what you left at a store along the way. Stop freaking out. You will forget something, so expect it.  Wal-Mart is your friend. And speaking of when you pack…
    Free laundry facilities at a state park near New Orleans for the WIN!

    Free laundry facilities at a state park near New Orleans for the WIN! (2009)


  4. Less is more. I took everything and the kitchen sink with me on our first trip—because I didn’t know that it was more realistic to think of myself as the “motorhome mama” that I inevitably turned into whenever I didn’t feel like using all those “necessary” items. I mean to tell you, that Pampered Chef microwave cooker (which I paid top-dollar for) taunted me from it’s place in the cupboard every time we ate at Taco Bell or cracked open a skillet meal from Costco. In 15,000 miles, I used it twice. Two years later, when we swapped our class “C” for a class “A,” I brought three things I knew I would use: an electric griddle, a single serve coffee maker (saved us a million bucks in Starbucks) and my crockpot.
    Take what you will use with ease! (2011)

    Take what you will use with ease! (2011)


  5. Protein > Carbs. When you’re on the road for hours at a time, avoid snacks that are rich in carbs. Carbs make kids wiggly and wiggly kids do not last long on the road. We stock our car cooler with hard-boiled eggs, cheese, jerky, nuts, and veggies when we can. And just in case you think I’m no fun at all, we do indulge in bite-sized candy bars and local sweets. But trust me. If you can keep simple sugars and carbs low, your kids will last longer … and so will you! Check out this travel snack pack!
    Maps like this are must-haves... if you have the window space!

    Maps like this are must-haves… if you have the window space!


  6. Hit the road early—and get off around dinner time. We’ve done it all: traveled through the night, traveled until we were all just dead on our feet. But when we started being disciplined about getting up early and getting off the road around dinner, something wonderful happened: we started enjoying the road much more!  If you think about it, it’s common sense, which makes me wonder why it took me nearly 15,000 miles to figure it out.
    This was our second RV. As you can see, we made the most of the space we had!

    This was our second RV. As you can see, we made the most of the space we had!


  7. Hoteling it? Use price-cutting apps. I don’t have time here to explain all the differences but I have found that I can stay sometimes up to 70% off using these apps. Of course, it doesn’t always work; if you’re in Yellowstone during peak season, you’ll be hard-pressed to find great deals. Favorites? Priceline and Hotwire. Our rule-of-thumb is that we like to be under $65 per night, and that the  hotel must have breakfast. Many of the hotels serve dinner and breakfast, making a higher cost worth it, especially if you’re traveling with a crew like we have done.Come to think of it, I’m going to write a post about my favorite apps for traveling. I have several that we can’t live without. This trip, we started using Air B&B … and I think we’ll never go back to just hotels again. That’s a blog post for another day.
    Always look for hotels that offer free, full breakfast. Read reviews online before you book a room!

    Always look for hotels that offer free, full breakfast. Read reviews online before you book a room! (2011)


  8. RV’ers: if you’re trying to save money, most WalMarts still allow RV’s to stay overnight for free. It’s great! Some of them even have hookups, but those are few and far-between.
    Make new friends! Here's Jay, getting to know the manager of an RV park in Alabama.

    Make new friends! Here’s Jay, getting to know the manager of an RV park in Alabama. (2010)


  9. Never take your safety for-granted. I hate to have to put this in here, but we’ve learned the hard way that the road is not always friendly to travelers. We were robbed blind in New Orleans on Father’s Day in 2009—a memory that will stay with us forever. In just twenty minutes, a group broke into our RV and stole almost everything we owned. Nothing was spared. Now, we travel with our eyes peeled, and we never leave things like laptop computers in vehicles. We put them in backpacks and keep them with us.Know gun laws in each state if you conceal carry. Stay safe out there!
    At the White House

    At the White House in 2009


  10. Carry a paper atlas with you. Phones can die. GPS systems can fail. Ask me how I know. You need to be able to navigate your way around the “old-fashioned” way. Use them, yes. But never rely on your electronic devices to get you where you’re going.


It’s been eight years since we became hard-core, homeschooling road-trippers. This year, we have traveled over 17,000 miles in our Honda Odyssey, which has pulled a small cargo trailer triumphantly from sea to shining sea. If it seems overwhelming, it is. But it’s worth it.

I have a few days left of sitting in this car … and I’ll try to put together some more tips along the way.

Happy trails!

Vinyl Travel Map

Cook ‘Carry Crock Pot

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Heidi St. John
Heidi St. John has been married to her husband Jay since 1989. Together they have seven children from toddler to adult and have homeschooled all the way through high school. A favorite conference and radio speaker, Heidi approaches marriage and parenting with humor and grace. Her passion to encourage moms and set them free to be who God has created them to be will bless and encourage you.
Heidi St. John
Heidi St. John
Heidi St. John

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2 Responses to Planning a Family Road Trip? 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Hit the Road

  1. Susan Scott says:

    May I add a tip? Pick up a load of audio books from your library for the trip. Audio books are a great way to listen to some classic literature that might be hard to read yourselves. We’ve enjoyed Les Miserables, Ben Hur, Mark Twain stories, Jane Austin, and more. They can make the long miles seem a lot shorter.

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