Parents: summer travel can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be impossible! We’re a road trip family with lots of miles under our tires- and I’ve picked up a few tips to share about the all important road trip pit stop. Bottom line: don’t underestimate the importance of this part of your summer family travels (and don’t forget the road trip snacks!). This post was sponsored by the NACS (National Association of Convenience Stores) but all love of road trip pit stops is completely my own.
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.
Do you sense a theme in our travels? Yup- theme parks! We love them and are always happy to make road trips through or out of Virginia to join in the fun.
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.
And now that I’m turning into my mom (yup, proudly!), I’ve decided if we can drive it under 16 hours, then I’m game to make it happen.
With my kids, not only do I make that random national park detour (like when we stopped at Carlsbad Caverns one summer) but I’ve also got the road trip 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 Tip 1: Trash The Trash at 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.
Road Trip Tip 2: Everyone Pees. Yes, EVERYONE.
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.
Road Trip Tip 3: Snacks, aka The Real Road Trip 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 road trip snack & packed cooler stash of apples, grapes, and Goldfish crackers.
Depending on how far we are on the trip, we might be ovah all that healthy nonsense and ready for something new.
A recent NACS Summer Drive survey found that the top three reasons people stop during summer road trips are to use the bathroom (96%- CHECK!), get gas (95%- obviously!), or buy food or drinks (91%- the REAL MVPs!).
And that’s where the convenience stores rock our world. You can do all of the above at a convenience store, which is super handy especially when you need those snacks.
This is where all kinds of sweet, delicious and not-at-all nutritious options lay at our feet. And we cave, boy do we cave!
But— I’ve totally scored some nutritious choices as of late. Which was awesome since #babysteps to health, y’all.
I was pretty excited on the recent trip when we pulled into a convenience store that not only had the chips & candy on display but a full cold section where I picked up some hardboiled eggs and soft cheese for my snack.
Protein power: FTW!
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The good news is that you can pretty much count on finding a good convenience store in the United States. The NACS (National Association of Convenience Stores) says there’s over 154,000 across the country!
You’re bound to find one that can help make your road trip pit stop fast and convenient.
It’s especially important for the driver to get out and walk around a bit at these stops. Send everyone inside while you walk around a bit.
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.
We love to stop at the mega gas stations that sell all kinds of cool swag. It’s absolutely fascinating what you can find on the road in these store.
My favorite road trip pit stops of all time include stopping off I10 in the Southwest. Fake spiders that look real, paperweights made from rattlesnake rattles, and snow globes with cacti inside are just some of the treasures we saw.
Someone must buy them if they are on the shelf, right?
You never know when you’ll find the perfect keychain or trucker hat for your collection.
Road Trip Tip 4: Call an Audible and Change Your Plans
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 aforementioned 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. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, not really! But 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 & those road trip snacks, we hit the beach.
That 10-minute rest stop in turned into an hour discovery of the ocean and the sand. No regrets here!
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.
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…
On the Road: More Road Trip Travel Posts You’ll Love
Best Children’s Audio Books You Need on Your Next Road Trip Keep them happy with the snacks AND entertainment like Audio Books and you’ll be riding pretty for miles!
Road tripping with teens and tweens can bring on, ah, special challenges. Be sure you know the six tips to road trip success with teens and tweens!
Just because you’re on the road doesn’t mean you need to be cut off from society! Here are 27 places with WIFI you can find on road trips.
And someday? SOME.DAY. y’all: this is happening! A road trip to Tuscany with my love. It looks amazing, doesn’t it?!
Patty Holliday is a Marvel loving, Disney obsessed wife, and mother of four. She’s a travel agent specializing in Disney & Universal vacations- and loves a candid confession. Find her in Virginia (or anywhere frequent flyer miles or her trusty minivan takes her.)