Increasingly each summer, parents are packing up the SUV, squeezing in grandparents and the kids, and hitting the road for an ambitious intergenerational road trip.
But, from flat tires to family squabbles, planning a safe road trip with three generations on board is challenging. Here’s a step-by-step guide to planning your next extended-family excursion.
Step 1: Assess the passengers. Take an inventory of everyone’s interests, their physical abilities and their routines before settling on a destination (do you really want to disrupt a toddler’s sleep schedule? The youngest and oldest in the group offer a good reality check of what’s possible.
Step 2: Pick a “must-do”. Ask each family member to select one “must-do” activity. Everyone will feel like they have a voice in the planning process and will have something to look forward to, including moody teens.
Step 3: Set expectations early. Everyone should know what to expect in terms of stops, activities, etc. If your child needs an early bedtime to keep from getting cranky, be clear about this scheduling need from the start. The same goes for adults. If you’ll need regular Wi-Fi access or will be required to check in with your office, let the family know in advance. You should also establish a set of behavioral guidelines. Who will be the disciplinarian? What are the consequences for misbehavior?
Step 4: Talk about money. Communication can usually ward off money conflicts in a family, and an all-family vacation is no different. Decide where you’ll be cutting costs (4-star or budget hotel?), where you don’t want to, and, most importantly, who will be paying for what.
Step 5: Split up activities. Balance kid-friendly activities with historical and cultural attractions for adults. A trip through Virginia, for instance, might include a day at Colonial Williamsburg followed by a day at the neighboring Busch Gardens amusement park. Splitting up activities can also help balance energy levels: while parents and kids hit the amusement park, grandparents might enjoy resting at the hotel and reading.
Step 6: Keep it flexible. Yes, a great road trip starts with great planning. But micro-mapping a trip eliminates spontaneity and crams too many activities into each day. Instead, build in daily “free time” for things like naps, road-side attractions or even a short run.
Step 7: Prepare the car. Prior to hitting the road, take your car in for an oil change, a tune-up and a full cleaning. Stock it with things like water bottles, garbage bags, wet wipes and some entertainment (books, games, DVDs) to prevent kids from causing driving distractions.
Step 8: Upgrade your ride. Close quarters can lead to grumpy passengers. If your budget allows, consider renting a large van or even an RV. Everyone will have more personal space to relax. An RV can also double as a home-away-from-home, which can cut down hotel expenses.
Step 9: Enjoy the journey. Half the fun of a road trip is the spontaneous family sing-alongs or the prospect of retelling stories about getting lost. Patience and a good sense of humor will ensure the memories are ones you’ll want to keep—even if you’d like to forget all the questionable diner food you ate!
Pamela Reyhan is the manager of digital content strategy for Allstate. She loves all things digital, is the mother of twin girls and is a former Diet Coke addict.