My husband and I regularly plan road trips involving 10–12-hour drives, and some of our expertise and experience is gathered here.
Make Car Travel More Comfortable
Long drives can take you to some pretty awesome places that airplanes can't get you to, and driving is often cheaper than flying. If you have friends or family or see interesting things along the route of your drive, it's easy to stop, visit, and take pictures. What plane lets you do that?
The problem is that sitting in the car for 6, 8, 10 hours or more quickly becomes boring and uncomfortable, especially if you're traveling with kids. My husband and I regularly plan road trips involving 10 to 12 hours of driving, and I've gathered some of our expertise and experience in this article. I hope these tips and ideas for surviving long drives help make your next road trip a success!
Food and Meal Ideas
When you're driving all day to get to a specific destination, you want to stay in the car as much as possible to cover the most ground. At the same time, you need to stop driving every once in a while to take bathroom breaks and stretch. So, you have two options for meals—you can eat in the car, or you can stop and eat somewhere.
When my husband and I go on long trips, we usually opt to pick up McDonald's and eat one meal in the car. We try to leave early enough to arrive at our destination in time for dinner, and we satiate any other hunger in the car with snacks (snack ideas coming up!).
Sometimes, if we need to get out of the car or have eaten a lot of unhealthy foods, we'll stop for a half-hour or so at Subway's or another quick, healthier-than-McDonald's option. If we have family along the route we're taking on our trip, we try to stop and visit them around mealtimes. That way, we get a break from driving, can visit with family, and get to eat homemade food.
On the other hand, when my parents travel on long road trips (with six kids, by the way), my mom makes plenty of sandwiches the day before they leave and packs them in the cooler. They pick a halfway point, usually a picnic area or a visitors center, and everybody gets out for about 30 minutes to stretch and move around and to eat sandwiches, chips, and a soda. Which option you choose depends on how far you have to go and your budget for the trip.
|Road Trip Meal Ideas||Pros||Cons|
save money, control what you eat
takes time to make
cheap and disposable
creates garbage and crumbs
inexpensive, fast, variety
requires stopping, creates trash
Eating on the Go: Snack Checklist
When you're in the car all day, snacking is essential. It satisfies hunger between meals and fights boredom when all you can do is sit there. While you may not need or like all the items in the snack checklist I created for my road trips, keep in mind that a variety of snacks will help keep you awake and is generally more interesting, both of which are crucial to fighting boredom.
Things that keep you full, like jerky, granola bars, and crackers.
- Mixed nuts
- Apple slices with peanut butter
- Fig Newtons
- Protein bars
- Carrots/celery and hummus
Sweet or Fruity Snacks
My husband likes Mike 'n' Ikes. I prefer gummy snacks and licorice.
- Fresh fruit
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
- Frozen grapes
- Animal crackers
- Welch's fruit snacks/Fruit Rollups
Raisinets and Milk Duds are good examples. Be careful not to let chocolate snacks melt.
- Candy bars
- Trail mix with chocolate
- Chocolate-covered pretzels
Things like pretzels and nuts can often double as filling snacks.
- Triscuits or other crackers
- Potato chips
- Corn nuts
- Slim Jims
- Bagged popcorn/kettle corn
- String cheese
If you're trying to eat healthy, consider taking dried fruit, vegetable chips, or homemade granola bars.
- Sliced fruit or berries
- Pumpkin seeds
- Roasted seaweed
Tip: Take Thirst-Quenching Snacks
Staying Awake: Entertainment Ideas
One of the hardest parts of driving all day is staying awake and alert. Varied snacks can help, but entertainment makes a big difference in surviving a long drive. Consider the following ideas to perk your interest and help you focus.
Compile a CD of your favorite songs to keep you interested. Slow songs are definitely not recommended (but music taste is subjective, so choose songs that make you enjoy!). Choose music that makes you happy, helps you stay awake in the dark, you can sing along to, and most people in the car will enjoy. Here are a few songs you might add to your list:
- "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" by Jet
- "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi
- "Road Trippin'" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
- "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys
- "Highway to Hell" by AC/DC
Making playlists in advance is a great idea, or you subscribe to Spotify or Pandora (premium subscriptions are often required for music services if you want to access them when there's no internet connection—keep this in mind!).
Borrow books on CD from your library or take some favorites you already own. Books in a series can be excellent for long drives since they maintain interest over a long period of time. On the other hand, vastly different books might help prevent you from getting bored with the same narrating voice and style. Great books don't always make great audiobooks—the quality of the reader's voice makes a huge difference—so here are some audiobook suggestions for your next road trip:
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac
- The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
- A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
- Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (any of the Harry Potter books would work—they are great for kids and adults!)
You can find free audiobooks online, or you can purchase them from bookstores such as Barnes & Noble.
Conversations and Stories
Plan some conversations to have with your traveling buddies. Road trips can be a great time to talk about looming future decisions, discuss deep topics, or brainstorm ideas. The open road is the perfect opportunity to learn more about yourself and your fellow 'trippers.
If conversations lull and audiobooks are tiring, have a couple of backup stories in mind to tell. You could even choose a debate topic to spark some truly interesting dialogue. Here are some great suggestions for thought-provoking conversation-starters:
- What was the worst (or greatest) day of your life?
- Do you believe in true love?
- Do you think the development of artificial intelligence will harm or benefit humankind?
Road Trip Games
Thinking and discovery games are especially good entertainment to take if you are traveling with kids or a large group. The ABC game (where you find all the letters in the alphabet in order outside the car) is a popular example. Here are some other great game ideas for long road trips:
- 21 Questions: Someone thinks of something, and everyone else in the car can ask 21 questions to figure out the subject of their thoughts. No question can be repeated, and if the subject isn't guessed after 21 questions, the person who thought of the topic wins.
- The Movie Game: One person thinks of an actor or actress, and the next person has to name a movie that that person starred in. The next person then has to name another actress or actor from that movie, and so on and so forth.
- The Alphabet Game: Go through the alphabet using words on road signs (not including license plates). Once a word has been used, it can't be used again. The first one to get to the end of the alphabet wins.
"Name That Character" Game Idea
This is a game my siblings and I came up with on the long drives from Utah to Yellowstone National Park for summer vacations. Feel free to use the basic idea of the game to create your own family favorite games, like name that movie, book, or song.
Here's How You Play
Someone volunteers to be "It" (or you rock-paper-scissors for it). "It" thinks of a character from a movie, then announces to everyone playing that they have a character in mind.
The players take turns asking "It" yes-or-no questions to help them determine the character's identity. Some example questions might be:
- Is the character male?
- Is the character an animal?
- Is the movie this character is in animated?
- Is the character a sidekick?
"It" responds to these questions. Questions are asked and answered until one of the players can name the character. If the chosen character is in the background of the movie or doesn't have a name, the player must name the movie and prove that he/she knows which character "It" chose.
The first player to successfully guess the character is the next "It." If players tire of the game because they cannot determine who the character is, "It" may give them clues, or, if all players agree, "It" may reveal the character.
The Most Important Rule of the Game
The character must be selected from a movie everyone playing has seen or is likely to have seen. In families with young kids, for example, this rule might limit available characters to those in Disney and Pixar films.
Getting Comfortable: Tips and Tricks
Discomfort is the main problem you'll encounter on long drives. Drivers must stay in pretty much the same position for the entire drive, and passengers can only shift so much. Use these tips and tricks to make staying in the car for several hours at a time more bearable.
- Wear loose, comfy clothing. The only thing you want restricting your movement is the seatbelt.
- Wear shoes you can drive in and easily slip on and off as desired. This helps your feet breathe and increases your positioning by letting you bring one leg up under you or put your feet on the dash.
- Bring blankets and small pillows. Blankets can be used to block hot desert sunlight or maintain warmth during winter or nighttime driving. They can also be folded up and used as an extra cushion on the seat. Small pillows can help you sleep or provide support for your lower back.
- Determine your optimal driving conditions, especially time of day and length of driving time, then plan accordingly. For example, I hate driving at night because it gives me headaches, and driving in big cities makes me nervous. Therefore, my husband and I create driving shifts on our trips, so he drives in those situations.
- Enjoy your breaks. You'll probably want to minimize the number of breaks and the length of time you spend on each break, but that doesn't mean you can't maximize the benefits of getting out of the car. Each time you stop, try to stand as much as possible—you've been sitting down for a while already. Breaks are a good time to stretch your legs and get your heart pumping a bit, so try walking around or doing jumping jacks.
- Start early. The sooner you get on the road, the sooner you can get off it. Arriving at your destination around dinnertime gives you a few hours to do things before bedtime. Even better, kids will often sleep for the first few hours of the drive.
8 General Tips for Road Trips
- Take turns driving, if possible. If you’re riding with multiple licensed passengers, trading off driving responsibilities is a smart way to share the burden of the physical aches and pains associated with long drives.
- Take a break every few hours. Making sure to take a break at least every 2–3 hours (to use the bathroom, stretch your legs, get gas, etc.) is a good way to ensure nobody will get too bored or restless on the trip.
- Prep before you go. This means making sure you have all of your snacks, checking and double-checking for all the clothing and supplies you’ll need, and making sure your insurance (or AAA) is up to date in case of emergencies.
- Make sure your vehicle's up to the task. Check your tires (and keep a spare on hand), fill up your windshield wiper fluid, and check your oil before you leave.
- Keep cash on hand. You never know when and where you'll need cash—whether it's a gas station without an ATM that only accepts cash or an unforseen toll bridge, you'll be glad you kept a little extra cash just in case.
- Eat smart. Sure, the snacks listed above sound delicious, but are they a good idea for a long trip, especially one that has a lot of open road (and not a lot of bathrooms)? You know yourself best—maybe you should keep the Oreos you packed in the backseat with the kids.
- Start with a clean car. Clean your car out before you leave, and make sure you keep it clean during the trip. Providing small baggies for trash in the backseat is a great way to keep the car tidy during long trips.
- Consider keeping extra water and gas in the car. If you've followed all of the tips in this article, you probably have your route mapped out, so you likely won't run out of gas. However, it's always a good idea to keep an extra gallon in the trunk (if you have room) just in case. A couple of extra gallons of water can also potentially be lifesaving (if your car breaks down in the middle of the desert, for example, with no cell reception).