Road tripping is in my blood, or maybe my DNA. A lot of people look at hours in a car and groan; I look at hours in a car and think of the adventure ahead. Clearly I’m a freak of nature! Over the miles I’ve learned a few things, and the most important is coordinating the road trip pit stop plan. You didn’t know you needed to work that out in advance? Oh, my friends, YES.

Tips and tricks to making your travels and miles run smoother. Perfecting the Road Trip Pit Stop Snacks

My candid thoughts on making the most out of your road trip pit stops. Photo: Patty Holliday

Perfecting the Road Trip Pit Stop

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.

Our family vacations were spent covering the miles in our trusty old maroon station wagon. Now, my parents weren’t cruel. They knew five kids needed to get out and stretch their legs while on the road. And they made sure we had plenty of stops along the way. The usual suspects were any national park my mom could find “just a little off the route.”

You know the saying the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? Yep, that’s me. I’m just like my parents in this regard.


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

With my kids, not only do I plan that random national park detour (in two short weeks we will go a couple of hours off the route to hit up Carlsbad Caverns) 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.

Trash the Trash

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 tips and tricks potty stops at the rest stops

Mom’s going: you are too! That’s the rule, folks! Photo: Patty Holliday

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.

Break Out the Snacks

margarita keychain

Could this be the perfect keychain for a road trip with kids? I think so! Photo: Patty Holliday

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.

Depending 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.

Stretch Those Legs

national park

National Parks are my favorite “just off the route” stops to get out and stretch. My kids love them too! Photo: Patty Holliday

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.

Don’t Be Afraid To Call an Audible

pit stop shell

My son found this on the beach. Santa Barbara was so worth the stop. Photo: Patty Holliday

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!

Our pit stop plan is pretty solid. We make sure all the personal needs are taken care of each time we stop 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…