How To Plan A Road Trip (Holiday 2021 Edition)

For many families, the holidays are a fun-filled, joyous time, eagerly anticipated and looked forward to throughout the year. Good food, great friends, and family visits are often part of the season, but so too is stress. Extra, time-consuming demands accumulate atop already busy schedules. Add some holiday travel to the mix and it could be a recipe for simmering tempers and family strife.

Holiday road trips don't have to trigger stress, however. A little planning before hitting the road can help pave the way to making lasting memories. Keeping children entertained in the car, sharing the limited space with pets, and packing so everyone and everything fits are among the universal challenges holiday road warriors face. Tackle them with these tips for success, and your trip will be off to a smooth start.

a family packs bags in the back of an SUV

Soft-sided bags will maximize your use of packing space | Source: Getty

PRACTICE STRATEGIC PACKING

The packing dilemma revolves around two issues – it won't all fit, and what does, can't be located when it's needed. Solve the problems with these strategies:

  • Remove unused items from the vehicle. Take a quick inventory of what's hiding in the rear cargo area, trunk, and seat back and door pockets. There are probably items taking up space there won't be needed on a vacation trip and can be removed, freeing up valuable cargo space.
  • Use soft-sided bags instead of hard-sided luggage or boxes. Hard-sided cargo wastes space because it can't conform to fill interior spaces the way soft-sided bags can.
  • Invest in a roof-top or hitch-mounted carrier. There are many weather-proof, easily-installed options available that can increase available cargo space considerably. Also, consider adding a door step to help you reach items stored rooftop.
  • Protect items from mud, rain, and melting snow. During inclement weather, whatever is on the bottom of your feet is going to wind up inside the car where it can pool, puddle, or run across the floor and make contact with packed items. Consider installing universal-fit WeatherTech floor mats and liners in the vehicle's passenger and cargo areas to contain dirt and liquids.
  • Keep items you'll need while on the road separate and readily accessible. If you know you're going to need certain items for an overnight stay en route, or perhaps food or entertainment while in motion, pack those items in a separate bag and make sure it's easy to get to without having to unload the whole car.

a young girl using an electronic devise in the back of the car while her mother watches from the front, smiling

Don't forget to pack chargers for your sanity-saving electronics. | Source: Getty

KEEP KIDS ENTERTAINED

Kids have short attention spans that are no match for long hours on the road. Here's how to keep boredom, and tempers, at bay:

  • Remember the games. Games suited for travel – such as a deck of cards, roadside bingo to identify items found in passing scenery, and magnetic chess or checkers sets can help keep them occupied.
  • Bring snacks. Food and drinks are dual-purpose tools – entertaining kids while keeping their hunger in check.
  • Entertain with audiobooks. Children love to be read to and choosing age-appropriate audiobooks are perfect for long drives. This give parents a break from reading and entertaining.
  • Pack electronics. Tablets, DVD players, and smartphones are part of the entertainment solution, but require the essentials to work, including chargers and headphones. Make a checklist, and keep these items within an adult's reach.

Everyone should be safe during road trips—even the pets. | Source: Getty

PETS ARE PASSENGERS TOO

Dogs can be nervous traveling companions, particularly if they aren't accustomed to going on trips around town or for longer drives. Help reduce their anxiety and make it a smoother journey for all passengers – two-legged and four-legged alike – with pet-friendly products and practices.

  • Use a pet restraint while driving. Whether it's a physical pet barrier that separates the cargo area from the passenger compartment, or a dog seat-belt-harness-restraint type system, preventing your pet from moving about the cabin freely is the safest option. He or she won't be injured in the event of a short stop and they won't cause an accident by unexpectedly interfering with the driver.
  • Decrease a pet's meal size before traveling. Giving the pet's digestive system less material to work with can help reduce upset stomachs and other problems a nervous animal may experience in the car.
Pro Tip
a roll of disposable shop towels

You know what works great for accidents and spills on a road trip? Disposable shop towels. They're durable, absorbent and designed for real messes. For more packing tips, check out these 25 road trip essentials.

  • Introduce them to car rides early and often. Help your pet view car rides as a pleasant, fun experience by giving them plenty of opportunities to ride along with you prior to a big road trip.
  • Keep heads inside the window. Your dog will probably hate you for doing it, but keep their head inside the vehicle. It can help protect them from being struck in the eyes, ears, or face by foreign objects at high speeds.
  • Pack a road-ready doggie kit. Dogs need to eat, drink, and use the bathroom too. Pack a kit with everything needed to help make that easy for them, including leash, water, bowl, food, and clean-up bags.

In the weeks prior to the all-important holiday trip, review the vehicle's state inspection and registration to ensure they're up to date. Also remember to consult your owner's manual or recommended maintenance intervals well in advance of the trip - not the night before - and have all preventive maintenance and safety inspections performed. Advance makes preparing for your trip easy with plenty of convenient options:

Happy holidays and motoring!

Do you have any holiday road trip tips? Let us know in the comments.

Last updated October 28, 2021

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