Every summer we try to get away- just me and my son Omar, who is 8. It's really easier than it sounds. He's an expert traveler and he loves vacations. Because he's a kid we don't fight over destinations or what to do. He will go with whatever I decide as long as it's fun. Obviously we don't do lots of fancy museums or adult events. He brings out my inner child. We do try to meet up with friends enroute. Sometimes we stay in hotels. Other times we pack a tent. It's all good.
This summer we are headed to Indianapolis so we can present his new Omar's Adventure Book Series to a conference. We have 7 books already done about trips we've made all over the world and hope that other people will enjoy them.
When my older kids were much younger, we traveled a lot by car during the summer to go from whatever Air Force Base we called home back to our parents' homes. There was a company that helped me a great deal, and I see it's still in business. They say they do Camp Packages, but the boxes are tailored to your child's age, sex, and interests. They can easily be used on a road trip. You can even choose your budget. Sealed with a Kiss is definitely worth a try if you are looking for someone to do the work for you. Because they've been in business for such a long time, you can trust them to come up with something your kids will enjoy.
If you have some time and want to put together your own car supply box, I recommend a trip to the dollar store. Of course, your kids will likely have some special interests, but I never met a kid who didn't love bubbles, chalk, squirt guns, and glow stuff, airplanes, and a beach ball. Be sure to include a notebook so they can keep a diary or draw pictures in the car. Colored pencils are a better option than crayons because they don't melt in the hot car. There are plenty of mom blogs you can google for ideas on presentation- some use packages for each hour of the trip, others use rubbermaid packages....I just use zip loc bags and stuff a back pack. I ordered the Family Adventure Road Trip Kit, just out of curiosity. It cost $129 and I was really disappointed. There was some useful information in the guide that came with it, but most parents who have ever traveled could probably have figured it out on their own. The actual package contained about $15 worth of plastic stuff from Oriental Trading Company. Obviously what you're paying for is the presentation. The packets were individually wrapped and they had to purchase in bulk in order to buy from Oriental Trading Co. I'm all about supporting home grown businesses though, so I wish her luck.
I love technology. We have a portable DVD player and an IPad. Both come with us. This is the one time that I feel it's worth it to purchase a data plan for my iPad. It comes in handy if we have to do research from a parking lot or hotel room. You can always cancel it later. We also have some CDs. Be sure to bring all the chargers and a good set of earphones for the passengers to save your sanity. I know from experience I can only hear Frozen a few dozen times before I need a break.
Bug Spray and Sunscreen are high on the list. Conditions change and you never know what you'll encounter. It's always good to bring a jacket. I can't tell you how many sweatshirts we bought on vacations because the weather turned cold when it was supposed to be hot. Save up your quarters for stops at roadside vending machines. Never underestimate the importance of coins for snacks! I just keep a bag in my glovebox for those kinds of emergencies. I've listed a few items to include in your packing list, but if you need a good one, here's one I found that covers most of the bases.
To actually plan the driving, I've used AAA triptiks before, but I also have a GPS and Google maps on my IPhone. The problem we sometimes have is that either we lose the signal for the IPhone and GPS, or the battery dies. It's good to have a paper copy with the addresses you'll need and some maps...just in case! There are some great tools you can use to plan a trip at Road Trip America. You can compare the sites and decide what is best for you. For me, it's all about the journey, but it's always nice to have a plan if you're going to spend some time in one location for more than a day. The New York Times seems to have articles written about most of the cities on the planet. Try googling the city with the number of hours (36 or 72 is usually a good number) For example, my hometown Milwaukee is featured. Though their itineraries aren't always kid friendly, it might be a good starting point. Or add the google terms "kid friendly" to any city and you'll find a blogger or a service that has at least done a top 10 list. Indianapolis has one.
If you have a smart phone, I like Oh Ranger, Park Finder which will help you find parks (and restrooms) on your route. If you'll be doing any beaches, Waterkeeper Swim guide will tell you about the beaches and the water quality. There is a website and an app for smart phones. For finding out of the way quirky fun stops, check out Roadside America, either in advance or get the app. Restaurants, grocery stores, and coffee are best found using Yelp. For attractions, hotels, and restaurants in any city, use TripAdvisor. If you like to try geocaching, download the app and use it all over the place. We even found it worked in Japan!!!
Take lots of photos. Then it's a good idea to work on a Shutterfly photo book at some point after the trip, but don't actually purchase it until you find a coupon. It can save you up to 50%. I've used lots of photo book websites, but this one is quality and very easy to use. If you take a road trip, I'd love to hear about it!