3 Family Road Trip Hacks Every Family Needs

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Photo: Marissa Goldstein Rafi Nova

This past April, my family took our first post-pandemic trip. We packed our two sets of twins (ages five and three), laptops, bag-o-cords, luggage, bikes, scooters, double-stroller, and a kid-sized port-a-potty into our minivan and drove from Boston to Orlando and back. We drove, and drove, and drove. We spent more than 46 hours in the car covering 13 states. We had so much fun in those 2800 miles that I’m already planning a 4-week road trip to the West Coast for the summer. 

Traveling is our passion and our business. We lived in Vietnam for two years. While we were there, we traveled to 20 countries with our first set of twins strapped to our back. Those trips inspired us to create our family-focused travel accessory brand Rafi Nova and our first product: a carry-all bag built for life-with-kids that moms actually want to wear long after the bottles and diapers phase. 

After traveling thousands of miles with four kids, there are 3 simple hacks that keep my husband and me sane and our kiddos happy. They fall into 3 buckets: Packing, Planning, & Being Present.

Hack #1: PACKING: Prepare to be unprepared.

Want to enjoy the everyday adventure more? Prepare but don’t over-prepare. If you over-prepare (especially with young children), you’ll spend hours packing but only use a fraction of it while you spend hours reorganizing it. Pack the essentials, and leave the rest. Let’s unpack (ha!) this happy medium:

What to Pack:

  • Pack for 4 days max—no matter the length of the trip.

  • Use a laundry bag to store dirty clothes, and plan to do laundry every 3-4 days. Less packing means less organizing, and kids LOVE laundromats! 

  • Pack diapers and wipes for 5 days. Restock along the way.

  • Pack a small extra bag with 2 days worth of clothing for roadside emergencies and late-night check-ins.

  • One packing cube per person (except, of course, Mom—she gets as many as she wants). 

  • Pack all shoes together in their own bag.

  • Pack all toiletries and first aid items together in their own bag.  

  • Store snacks and drinks in a car cooler. Separating snacks like goldfish, popcorn, and granola bars into ziplock bags makes them easy grab-and-go options. Pouch yogurts, apple sauce, and cheese sticks are other favorites (kept in the cooler filled with ice-packed Ziplocks).

Hack #2: PLANNING: Less is more.

  • Have a destination planned out (in our case—Disney) but make the trip about the journey rather than the destination. REMEMBER THAT PART. Just like life, it’s about the journey, not just the destination.

  • Think about places and stops you want to make along the way but leave time to be spontaneous. We planned two stops; our alma mater, the University of Maryland, and Charleston for some southern charm. All other visits were spur of the moment. In Charleston, we heard that Amelia Island was the place to go—so we spent two nights there instead of Hilton Head. In Richmond, we stumbled upon the best park ever and spent a day playing with the kids. In DC, we happened upon the Presidential motorcade, stopped and showed the kids Civil War history in Fredericksburg, VA, and in Georgia, we stopped at a peach farm after seeing a sign for it.

  • A road trip with kids is far more enjoyable if you stay flexible and go with the flow. Your family will be miserable if you try it any other way.

Hack #3: BE PRESENT: Embrace the chaos. 

We’re often planning for the future or analyzing and complaining about the past. Staying present and enjoying the journey will make all the difference on your trip. However, it can be hard to practice when your smartphone is also competing for your attention. So first, know what does not work for your family. For us, strict and busy schedules, extended seated meals (no surprise), and long walks (instead we use those stroller, bikes, and scooters) never, ever work. So what did work for us?

Keeping expectations low, a flexible schedule, and adapting to our kids’ needs and interests. 

We prioritized:

  • Being good partners. We give each other “time off.” One of us takes the kids outside while the other gets time for themselves, even if it’s only 15 minutes. This is a game-changer and keeps us both a lot happier.

  • Reminding each other to put down our phones and engage the kids (trust me—not all the time, but not infrequently either).

  • Bringing the stroller everywhere. This allows the kids to be buckled in and us to exercise our bodies and minds.

Our family motto is life is chaotic—and it works for us. Life cannot be scripted, and things will not always go as planned. We embrace the chaos and explore the new opportunities it presents to us. We’ve discovered so many amazing surprises by being open to adventure. 

In a nutshell, prepare to be unprepared, be curious, and embrace each day as it unfolds (amazing things will come of it)! The present is really all there is, and it’s where little kids hang out and thrive! See how much our little ones taught us in 20 days? 

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Marissa Goldstein is a mama to two sets of twins, blogger behind @TwinsonthegoX2, & Founder of Rafi Nova (www.rafinova.com), a sustainable fashion brand that unites parents through thoughtful and ethically made bags and accessories. Marissa, her husband, and their 4 kids under 4, split their time between Boston and Vietnam.
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