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Jamie Gibbs

How to survive a family road trip

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Get on the road and away with minimum fuss – so long as you’re prepared.

Car with roof rack on road trip

They say that getting to your destination is half the fun, but whoever said that never had to change a flat tyre on the side of the M4.

So to help your journey run a little bit smoother, here are our top tips for prepping a stress-free and enjoyable ride.

Quick checks to make on the car

The last thing you want is for your car to give up the ghost halfway through the journey. So, before you set off, make a couple of quick checks and you’ll be right as rain:

Tyre pressure

Always check this when the tyres are cold. The recommended pressure can be found in your owner’s manual.

Tread depth

This should be at least 1.6mm across the central three quarters of the central width of the tyre. An easy way to measure this is with the 20p test.

Check your fluid levels

Make sure your engine oil, coolant, brake fluid and screen wash are topped up. Running dry on the road isn’t pleasant.

Fill your tank before you set off 

You’ll usually pay more for petrol or diesel at a motorway service station, so it can pay to fuel up before you hit the open road.

It’s also worth giving your car a good clean, both inside and out. Sitting in a dirty motor for a few hours at a time isn’t the best of experiences, so make your ride as pleasant as possible.

What to pack

Keep a separate bag of tricks for the journey itself. This should include:

Plenty of water

Keeping yourself and your family hydrated during the trip is important, especially in the summer months. Pack more than you think you need.

Non-sticky snacks

If there’s a chance it’ll melt, leave it at home. Kids with sticky fingers on a hot day makes for a messy car. Instead, go for nuts and berries, or fruit that doesn't bruise too easy, like apples .

Road atlas

It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a fancy, top-of-the-range sat nav, as all it takes is a forgotten charger or a dodgy signal and you’re completely lost. Mark your route out on an old-fashioned paper map as a back-up.

Top tip: Less is more. Filling every available inch of boot space is likely to reduce your fuel efficiency. Pack light, pack smart and you'll be able to save a few quid on petrol.

Planning the journey

Planning a road trip

You should allow plenty of extra time for delays along the way, but similarly, try to avoid travelling at peak times – leaving a little earlier or later than planned could help you avoid traffic.

It's also worth checking for delays and roadworks the day before you leave, in case you need to find an alternative route. There are a number of motoring apps that can help you with this.

The Highway Code says that you should take a break of at least 15 minutes every two hours while driving, so factor this into your route plan.

However, this advice doesn’t take into account a back seat full of kids or weak bladders.

To minimise the number of emergency toilet stops, it’s better to take a bathroom break every hour at a pre-planned spot.

Speaking of emergency stops, you should also prepare for the possibility of a breakdown along the way.

If you don’t have breakdown cover as part of your car insurance policy, it might be worth looking into what your options are.

Some breakdown plans offer a replacement car so you can still make it to your destination in time

Take a peek at our recommended breakdown kit checklist for more info on what to pack.

Keeping the kids happy

If you're going on a long journey with the kids in tow, it’s tempting to fire up your tablet, switch on Cut the Rope and let your children sit in blissful silence for an hour or so.

But if you want to bring the road trip out of “tolerable” and into “enjoyable”, consider ditching the gadgets in favour of an activity book or some travel games.

That being said, it might be worth charging up the portable DVD player – just in case.

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