How To Prepare For Your Family's Upcoming Holiday Road Trip

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Few traditions are more classic than a holiday road trip, winding along country roads amid leaves of every fiery hue. It's this kind of Hallmark moment that has the potential to become a core memory for you and your family. If you're prepared, that is. Otherwise, a dreamy vacation might unravel into a bit of a nightmare, which is no fun for anyone in such cramped quarters. To reduce stress, there are a few key pointers to fold into your prep work.

Start the road trip on a good note by monitoring the weather forecast. It's an easy task to overlook but an essential one for a smooth journey. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Storm Tracker app is an excellent tool for real-time weather updates. If there's a risky climate up ahead, the app will send you an alert to let you know. It can also predict a storm's path hour by hour, so you can check the weather at each road trip stage.

Pack safety essentials

Before you hit the road, ensure your car is updated with safety precautions, such as service and oil changes. Now's a good time to schedule a fluid top-off and check your tire pressure, just in case. The last thing you want on the road is any car trouble that could've easily been avoided. It's also worth glancing at a few digital maps for road closures, delays, and detours along your route. The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Traffic and Road Closure Map contains state-specific links. The National Weather Service also has a detailed directory with phone numbers and websites for the transportation authorities in each state.

Even with the best planning, sometimes car trouble happens anyway. Just in case, make sure there are a few essentials in your trunk, including jumper cables, warm blankets, extra water, a flashlight, flares, and a backup battery for your phone. To make it easy, purchase a roadside assistance kit, including all the basics and first aid supplies. If you're anticipating snowfall, bring tire chains and a windshield scraper.

Download a gas app

With gas prices going up and down (but mostly up), an app to scour local gas prices is essential. GasBuddy has been in the game for more than 20 years, offering a web-based gas trip calculator well before user-driven databases became a thing. When you download the app, you'll see a map of the cheapest gas prices in your vicinity. For the most dedicated discount spotters out there, there's also a GasBuddy card. It's a free program that links to your bank account and saves you $0.25 a gallon. This is valuable because, over time, gas savings add up.

Waze is another popular app, as it provides driving updates, road conditions, and gas prices submitted by users. When you look up gas stations near you, a list will populate with the price per gallon beneath each option. Simply click on one and navigate. It's also worth checking with your credit card for gas rewards. Some issuers, like American Express, offer 2% to 4% back at gas stations. You may even be able to use your existing rewards to pay at the pump, like Citi's partnership with Shell.

Look up fun things en route

When all the serious business is handled, make sure to plan for some fun outings along the way to keep your little ones entertained. Not only is it important for the driver to take breaks for safety reasons (especially when it's dark or snowing outside), but it's also a good sanity check. Look for scenic vistas, quirky roadside attractions, and a dog park for Fido to help break up the monotony of the road.

The Roadtrippers app offers a treasure trove of ideas. With a free account, you can add seven stops, spanning must-see attractions, national parks, museums, restaurants, shopping, and accommodation options. Each destination has a preview photo, a user-generated rating from one to five, and a price rating. Once you click on it, you can view a general overview, detailed gallery, amenities list, and other travelers' reviews. A seven-day free trial of Roadtrippers Plus is available to pin up to 150 attractions — all the more reasons to hit the road, even after the holidays.

Plan road trip games

Beyond digital entertainment, there's timeless fun to explore, like introducing a few of your favorite road trip games from yesteryear. A little friendly competition can keep your passengers engaged for hours, be it 20 questions, I Spy, or Two Truths and a Lie. The Alphabet Game is fun for kids and adults alike, as you find signs that start with each letter of the alphabet, racing everyone else to get from A to Z. A for "alternative route," B for "bridge ahead," C for "cross road intersection." You get the idea.

If you run out of ideas, shop around for a few road trip activities ahead of time. Continuum Games carries Games on the Go, a collection of cards with prompts for the whole family, ranging from trivia questions to memory challenges. Car Bingo is never a bad idea, either. Players of all ages can look for common road trip sights, like train tracks, cows, and police cars. The first one to get all the objects in a row wins. Just like the regular bingo you know and love.

Wrap gifts later

Packing up the car for a holiday trip can be a messy endeavor. A bag here, a coat there. A little chaos never hurt anybody. But if you have wrapped gifts, stow them inside someone's luggage enveloped by some kind of protective material, like bubble wrap or a sweater, lest the wrapping paper gets damaged. If you haven't wrapped the gifts yet, don't worry about it. Instead, wait until you've unpacked the car to make your gifts look presentable. In the meantime, you can cover them with bags or a blanket, preventing the kiddos from sneaking an early view.

If there's ever a dull moment, you can use the unwrapped gifts as another road trip activity for the kids. Hand them a few pre-cut wrapping paper sheets with some tape, and away they go. Anything to stave off the repeating chorus of "are we there yet," right? Even if you have to rewrap them later, that probably bought you an hour or so.