The Art of the Road Trip Pit Stop | My No-Guilt Life | My No-Guilt Life

The Art of the Road Trip Pit Stop

While our president might be talking about the Art of the Deal, I’m talking about things that are much more important to parents. The Art of the Road Trip Pit Stop.

I love a good road trip, and frankly, it’s probably the main reason I like summer vacations. When the kids are out of school & schedules are forgotten, we are free to take an extra couple of days to get where we are going.

I’ll confess: I’m the only one who likes this. I have to dangle something really cool in front of the kids (and husband- ahem) to keep the whining to a minimum.

road trip pit stop game plan: heading to Universal Orlando this summer

This summer I’m dangling a trip to Universal Orlando with a 3-day stop at Hilton Head Island. The return trip is up in the air: got any suggestions? This will be our first east coast road trip, so we’re open to anything!

Over the miles & through the years I’ve learned a few things, and the most important is coordinating the road trip pit stop plan. Didn’t you know you needed to work that out in advance? Oh, my friends, YES.


The Art of the Road Trip Pit Stops

As a kid, it never occurred to me to fly places because, well, that’s not what we did. Since we were a family of seven, it just wasn’t affordable to pay for all those flights.

Now that I’m turning into my mom, well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

If we can drive it under 16 hours, I’m game.

With my kids, not only do I make that random national park detour (like when we stopped at Carlsbad Caverns last summer) but I’ve also got the pit stop plan down to a science.

Four kids can mean chaos when we all get out of the car if we aren’t careful. To make sure everyone makes the most of each stop, and to get us back on the road, we follow these simple steps.

road trip pit stop game plan this summer


First Tip: Trash The Trash at Road Trip Pit Stops

Before a single door is unlocked or a seat belt unbuckled, I pass around the trash bag. Drinks, food wrappers, leftovers, and any random items they discovered in their travel bags go into the garbage bag.

I can’t stand to have a stinky car on the trip, much less find gross cups of fungi growing in the back of the van a week later.

Nope, not happening.

Clean your room, kids! Err, van. Well, you know what I mean.


Everyone Pees. Yes, EVERYONE.

road trip pit stop game plan this summer

How many times does it take to learn this lesson? Every stop, someone in the back claims they are fine and don’t need to get out.

Every stop, y’all.

And like clockwork, that means we make an emergency stop at the side of the road. I know we have teens and tweens who can, in theory, control their bladders. But stopping the car every 15 miles to let someone else go potty gets ridiculous.

My rule is if I’m going, they’re going. And since I’ve had a couple of kids, you can bet I’m going every stop we make. Ahem.


Snacks: The Real Road Trip Pit Stop MVP

Never underestimate the power of a meal break. Sometimes after a few hours on the road, attitudes change, and the Crankypant Mc Crankersons come out. It’s not pretty. Snickers has it right: you aren’t you when you’re hungry. So we don’t let it get that far.

Since the car is now clean-ish, and everyone hit the restrooms, it’s usually time to consider doling out the snacks. It’s easier to do when the car is in park, and safer as well. We start by digging into our healthy stash of apples, grapes, and Goldfish crackers.

road trip pit stop game plan this summer

Depending on how far we are in the trip, we might be ovah all that healthy nonsense and ready for something new. Off to gas station shop we go, where all kinds of sweet, delicious and not-at-all nutritious options lay at our feet.

Mom pro-tip: there’s nothing wrong with a little sugar if it keeps everyone’s spirits up (and the fighting down) for the remaining miles. Peace trumps diet in this case.

This is especially important for the driver. Getting out and taking a parking lot tour while swinging your arms a bit helps shake out the cobwebs. It also keeps the weirdos from getting too close to you. Hey, being weirder than your fellow travelers is a safety tip. You’re welcome.

We love to stop at the mega gas stations that sell all kinds of cool swag. It’s absolutely fascinating what you can find in the southwest: fake spiders that look real, paperweights made from rattlesnake rattles, and snow globes with cacti inside. Someone must buy them if they are on the shelf, right?

You never know when you’ll find the perfect key chain or trucker hat for your collection.

road trip pit stop game plan this summer


Change of Plans? Yep, It’s In the Road Trip Pit Stop Playbook

I want to document everything, including those pit stops. Memories, people! We’re making them, and I want to have photographic proof for generations to come that I showed my kids the world. Well, the world within my 16-hour window of drivability anyway.

The real challenge is making sure those pictures aren’t all taken in front of gas stations or highway rest stops. Sometimes it’s worth going a little out of the way for our stop. Make the call and stop in an unexpected location.

During one trip to San Francisco, we made a snap decision to head up the 101 instead of up I-5. We just wanted a more scenic route, and the coast certainly fit the bill. This put our rest stop in Santa Barbara, which is one of the prettiest beach towns I’ve seen. After stopping for gas, we hit the beach. That 10-minute rest stop in turned into an hour discovery of the ocean and the sand. No regrets here!

road trip pit stop game plan this summer

Our pit stop plan is pretty solid. We make sure all the personal needs are taken care of each time we pull over to ensure comfort and stability inside the car for the next couple hundred miles. You cannot overlook this aspect of the trip if you are planning on arriving at your destination still speaking to each other.

Oh, one more crucial tip. This is vital, especially if you have a big family.

Count ‘em.

When your stop is complete and before you shift into drive, do a headcount. You want to make sure all people, little and big, are present and accounted for.

I hear it’s easy to drive off and accidentally leave someone behind. I mean, that’s what a friend told me, anyway…

The road trip pit stop is an art: here's how you can perfect it before your summer vacation on the road!


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Patty Holliday

Patty is a 40-ish mother of four living in Virginia. A bit geeky, sometimes sarcastic, lover of a candid confession. She's trying to love running, she swears. But much like her marathon, it’s taking a very long time. Ahem. She's searching for the perfect way to balance family, work, travel, and fitness. Perfect defined as high on fun, low on guilt.

TMOM Travel Writer

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