If you’re just joining us, this is Part 2 of my Road Trips for Families series. You can read more in Part One: What to Pack – 10 Must Haves for the Road.
Let’s face it, road trips with kids means making more stops to stretch legs and use the bathroom. Like most people, you probably think of stopping at gas stations, fast food joints, and rest stops but if part of the fun of a good road trip is seeing a bit of the world you’re traveling through, why not make the your stops a bit more fun? With a little bit of planning ahead, you can map out some unique places to refuel your whole family and perhaps ward off the dreaded “Are we there yet?” question.
Steps to Plan Fun Stops on your Road Trip
1. Google Maps for times and cities
You’ll want to start with mapping out your whole trip. Google Maps is perfect for seeing the route you’d like to take and giving you a total driving distance. Knowing that you’ll want to stop every 2-3 hours, make a note of the cities or towns that are nearby at those distances. You can use the add a stop feature on Google Maps to help you see how long between each stop.
2. Pinterest or TripAdvisor for unique attractions
Once you have a list of the approximate places you’ll need to stop, head over to Pinterest or TripAdvisor. Depending on the size of the town or city you might have lots to choose from or you may come up empty, but both of these sites give you a quick idea of what might be worth stopping for in the area. Make a few notes or pin images that you like to come back an investigate further.
3. Yelp for top restaurants or snacks
Yelp is helpful for finding escaping the fast food jungle of highway exits and finding a local joint. You can use filters to narrow your search for cheap eats, kid friendly restaurants, or even a specific type of food. Don’t think of this just for meals either. Sometimes an ice cream stop or a donut snack is just what’s needed and takes less time than a full sit-down experience.
4. City website or Mom’s Group for parks
If you’ve got kids with you, you know that strapping their little bodies into a carseat for hours on end means you risk a meltdown unless there’s some built-in play time. If the weather permits, a park or playground is a must-stop for us. Use a city’s parks and rec department or Google for a mom’s group to locate the best parks in the area. I almost always have luck with “best playground in (your stop)” as a search term. Parks are also great stops for lunch. Packing a picnic to eat while let the kids play = two stops for the price of one.
5. Roadside America website for oddities
Usually quick and located fairly close to the highway, roadside attractions like the biggest ball of twine or a fire breathing dragon (yes, we’ve really been here!) are super fun, memorable and unexpected. Kids love this kind of stuff and it doesn’t usually take much time, but it’s perfect for breaking up a long trip and stretching legs for a few minutes. Roadside America has a complete list of stops by state and an interactive map to see what’s along your route.
Once you have all your possible ideas for stops, take some time to plot your trip. Think about where you might be around meal times, how long you want to spend stopping and then craft a rough outline of your stops. If you like to be extra organized you can even print out an itinerary with address and info about each stop.
- Skip big cities for faster stops – It’s often easier to get on and off the highway in smaller towns since you’re not negotiating your way through traffic and city streets. Parking is also usually easier (and cheaper or free) in less urban areas.
- Don’t underestimate the rest stop – If you really do need to make a quick stop or you have an unplanned stop, a rest stop will be your fastest option. Most of the time they’re very clean, have a bit of grass for running around and get you on and off the highway with the least amount of disruption.
- Be flexible – No matter what you have planned, you’ll need to be flexible with your stops. Kids will need to go to the bathroom, the empty light will come on, or you’ll need a break sooner than you thought. Have your list of ideas with you as a guide for where you’d like to stop but don’t worry about changing it up to fit your needs. Plus, the spontaneity of a road trip can be half the fun.
Before you hit the road, spend a few minutes planning out some stops that help your family experience a few of the unique and interesting places along your route. You don’t have to settle for just gas stations and fast food joints if you follow these easy steps for finding fun stops. And after all, isn’t part of a good road trip about the journey itself?
What are some of the best places you’ve stopped on a road trip? Any crazy roadside attractions or yummy treats you’ve stumbled across? Share your favorite below to help others plan their fun and unique stops.