Family road trips with teens can be a fun and rewarding experience, but they also come with unique challenges. Planning ahead is key to maximizing your family time in the car.
- Before the Family Road Trip
- Get to Know Your Teen First – It's Essential!
- Make Sure the Car is Family-Road-Trip-Worthy
- Thoughtfully Consider the Duration of the Trip
- Get Teens Involved in the Road Trip Planning Process
- Scout for Interesting Mini-Destinations Along the Way
- Budget in Some Fun Money
- Build an Arsenal of Travel Activities for the Whole Family
- Pack Their Favorite Snacks (and Mix in Some Healthy Options, Too)
- During the Family Road Trip
- Route and Destination Ideas for a Teen Road Trip
- Wagons Ho!
From packing the right snacks to planning plenty of road trip activities along the way, there are several steps you can take to make sure your teen (and everyone else) enjoys your next family road trip.
Here are some of our top tips and great ideas for making sure your journey goes off without a hitch!
Before the Family Road Trip
An amazing family road trip begins with a bit of planning. Before your family sets off, consider these tips:
Get to Know Your Teen First – It’s Essential!
You will have noticed by now that that giant version of your sweet little guy or gal is a completely different person than the one you used to know. Take some time to get to know your teen and their likes, dislikes, and interests before heading out on a road trip.
Find moments to ask them questions like:
- What do you want to see and do on this trip?
- What kind of snacks would you like to have?
- What kind of music do you like to listen to?
- Are there any items that you need for the trip that we should plan to pack (e.g., electronics, books, snacks)?
- Do you have any concerns about taking a long car ride with the family that we should address?
Be prepared for some typical teenage shoulder shrugs accompanied by seemingly disinterested “I dunno’s. Trust me: you’ve started them thinking.
Give them some time to ruminate and follow up later on.
You don’t have to bend the entire road trip around their every whim. However, addressing their concerns helps you create a plan that’s mutually acceptable and enjoyable for all family members.
Make Sure the Car is Family-Road-Trip-Worthy
The number one cause of Road Trip Grumps is cramming the fam into a car that is too small.
Make sure the car you take is comfortable and roomy enough for everyone – plenty of legroom to stretch out, elbow room between passengers, and plenty of room to organize any snacks and activities without feeling cluttered.
In other words, if the family car is a 2-door Prius, you might want to consider renting something larger for the journey.
Thoughtfully Consider the Duration of the Trip
Sure, you may think spending all of Christmas Break in Yellowstone National Park is a great idea, but your teen may not share the same enthusiasm.
Take into consideration the age and interests of your teen and try to plan a trip that is long enough for everyone to enjoy the journey, but not too long for them to lose interest.
It’s safe to assume they may want to spend some of their time off from school with their friends at home or, as teens often need, enjoying some alone time.
Get Teens Involved in the Road Trip Planning Process
Teens love to have their voices heard, so involving them in the planning process can help set them up for enjoyment on the trip.
Ask your teen what they would like to do and see along the way, respecting their insights without judgment – even if their ideas seem completely whack-o!
- Show them the travel route on Google Maps. Ask them to suggest stops along the route for food, stretch breaks, and maybe quirky roadside attractions.
- Have them create a personal road trip packing list of items they will enjoy (e.g., snacks, books, activities, headphones, electronics …).
- Show them website(s) for your final destination(s) and ask them to suggest activities they would like to do when you get there.
Giving them some ownership of the trip will not only help make it an enjoyable experience for your teen. It can also minimize conflict and enhance family bonding during the long drive.
Plus, this takes some of the guesswork out of trying to plan for them, making your job easier!
Scout for Interesting Mini-Destinations Along the Way
If your family road trip will take you further than you can travel in a day, try to plan overnight stops in interesting places. If you can, spend time in the area before continuing your trip.
Look for destinations with plenty of options for activities that your teen may enjoy, such as hiking trails in nearby state or national parks, or perusing a historical district with eclectic shops.
When planning our family vacations, I pack the camping gear and intersperse hotel stays with camping in national parks and state parks along our route. It takes a little more planning but adds a lot of adventure to an otherwise blah trip.
From touring the Pacific Coast Highway to an east coast road trip and everything in between, there are endless ways to make a long road trip every bit as intriguing as the destination!
Budget in Some Fun Money
When Heather and I budget for a road trip or family vacation, we always factor in fun money for the boys to spend on souvenirs or … whatever.
Whether you allow them to earn it by helping out with household chores or just give it to them as part of the trip, giving your teen some spending money will help make the journey theirs.
Allow your teens to choose souvenirs or treats that they may not normally get at home. This helps make the vacation special for them and provides a memento to take home with them.
Build an Arsenal of Travel Activities for the Whole Family
Among the most critical road trip tips is this one: Give them something interesting to do!
This has a two-fold purpose. First, it will help break up any monotony of spending hours driving time that might otherwise seem like an eternity. Second, it’s a great way to engage in family bonding and conversation during the trip.
We’ve curated an intriguing list of conversation starters in our post Fun, Silly, and Deep Road Trip Questions for the Family for you to print and enjoy.
Few things spark more interesting conversation and laughter than a crazy round of Would You Rather. Put your intuition about each other to the test with a SUSSED deck!
- The Classic 'Would You Rather' Game with a Smattering of Laughter
- Over 200 questions, 600 answers, and 150 score sheets
- All Ages 6 and Up | 2-10 Players
- Perfect for getting to know each other and getting a good laugh
- Easy to playin the car | 15 minute playing time
- The Classic 'Would You Rather' game that tests how well you know each other
- Over 200 questions, 600 answers, and 150 score sheets
- All Ages 10 and Up | 2-10 Players
- Great for striking intriguing conversation and getting to know each other better
- Easy to play – 15 minute playing time
- The Classic 'Would You Rather' Game with Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Adventure Elements
- Over 200 questions, 600 answers, and 150 score sheets
- Perfect for flexing your personality and building self-awareness
- All Ages 12 and Up | 2-10 Players
- Easy to play in the car – 15 minute playing time
Put a story-telling spin on the family conversation with a deck of story prompts. Take turns adding to the story and see what crazy twists and turns the plot takes!
- 540 cards packed with tons of creative, impromptu storytelling prompts
- Simply combine character cards with complication cards and follow your collective imaginations into a story!
- Kickstart your creativity and explore the story prompts by yourself or in a group.
- Great for travel or game night for ages 12+
- Part of the award-winning Storymatic family of writing prompts and games. Developed by a writer and teacher to encourage imagination, laughter, improvisational thinking, and empathy. Made in USA.
Sometimes, you just need a question to start the family talking about past memories, funny moments, and or fascinating travel trivia – like Lindsey Nuburn’s book 501 Questions: A Travel Game (this second edition actually has 750 questions).
- A great game to unplug and connect with the ones you’re with on road trips or around the campfire
- Spark fun, new conversations that will have you learning more about one another, yourself, and the world.
- Get ready for fun, laughter, and good conversation! In this second edition, you get over 750 fun and entertaining questions and trivia to choose from in four different categories: Would You Rather, If You Could, Tell Me About, and Travel Trivia
- Recommended for all ages, family-friendly, and for 1+ players.
- Types of Questions include: Would You Rather ... , If You Could ... , Tell Me About ... , and Travel Trivia.
Classic On-the-Fly Road Tripping Games
Planning fun and engaging road trips with teens does NOT mean you have to pack a bunch of extra stuff. Ever since the automobile became a mainstay in the American family vacation, fun road trip games have been invented to pass the time.
- The License Plate Game: work together or competitively to spot license plates from as many states as you can. Keep a running list!
- Twenty Questions: Each person takes turns thinking of a person, place, or thing. Everyone else asks questions to narrow it down to correctly guess what it is.
- ‘Round the World Storytelling: One person starts a story with 1-2 sentences. The next person adds 1-2 sentences of their own. And so it continues . . . until someone thinks of an ending or a timer runs out.
- The Alphabet Game: players search passing signs, buildings, and vehicles for words that begin with the letters of the alphabet. Write down the letter when you call it out first! The one with the most letters identified wins!
- Travel Bingo and Scavenger Hunt: Pack these space-saving travel bingo cards before you depart. Each time you pass a landmark, have the family take turns checking it off. The first one to get five in a row wins!
- Fortunately, Unfortunately: This version of storytelling requires players to take turns telling an improv story one sentence at a time. Each sentence must begin with “Fortunately” and “Unfortunately” alternately. This gets pretty weird (and fun) pretty quickly!
- Games on the Go! Deck: Fifty in-the-car travel games in a compact keychain Rolodex.
- Turn family road trips into great family fun. Games on the Go is a collection of 50 games and activities that can be played anywhere at any time.
- Includes silly guessing games, perplexing word games, mind bending memory challenges, wacky trivia questions, searching games and much, much more.
- A portable game collection that can be clipped to a purse, bag, or stored in the car
- Games on the Go is perfect to keep all ages entertained during road trips and campouts
- Challenge the imagination, memory, and knowledge of all passengers
Fun and Engaging Travel Board Games for the Whole Family
Jumpstart some friendly competition with one of these fun and engaging car games!
- Follow the hilarious and zanny card prompts to play!
- Contains 200 unpredictable cards, 1 drawstring pouch, and instructions.
- Brought to you by What Do You Meme?
And, it just wouldn’t be right to leave out a classic travel word game that has been played by road trippers since 1958!
- Mad Libs is the world’s greatest word game for anyone who likes to laugh
- Write in the missing words on each page to create your own hilariously funny stories all about travel and adventure
- With 21 “fill-in-the-blank” stories about cars, buses, taxis, hot air balloons, and more, Travel Far and Mad Libs is the perfect companion for any trip, long or short
- Play alone, in a group, or with friends you meet along the way
Solo Car Games and Activities for Teens
When your teen starts showing signs of wanting some alone time, have some fun off-screen ways for them to pass the time.
These are some of our favorite road tripping games to play solo.
And, while we believe in limiting screen time, we’re by no means technophobes. We recommend being a bit slack on regulating technology and social media in the car.
Before the trip, allow them to download a game or two along with some movies to their cell phone, iPad, or mobile gaming system. Let them vegetate until the next pitstop.
Download Some Audiobooks
At some point, the conversation is going to peter out, the car games will become tiresome, and everyone is going to need some chill time.
Audiobooks are a great way to keep the whole family entertained in the car without burying their heads in their phones or tablets. Plus, they can still enjoy a good story while not compromising their safety on the road by being distracted.
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Check out the 45+ Best Award-Winning Audio Books for Road Trips to build a library of funny, intriguing, and captivating stories to keep the family entertained through the miles.
Pack Their Favorite Snacks (and Mix in Some Healthy Options, Too)
No road trip is complete without a bag of snacks and treats to keep everyone happy. But don’t forget some healthy options, too! Fresh fruit slices, trail mix, nut bars, veggie sticks – make sure each person has something that will healthily satisfy their snack cravings.
Also, make sure everyone has their own refillable water bottle or tumbler.
During the Family Road Trip
The secret to an amazing road trip is to make the journey as much a part of the adventure as the final destination. Beyond planning fun games and activities, this means taking advantage opportunities as they arise.
Give Them a Turn at the Helm
Are they legal? Can they pilot the family car without making everyone a nervous, nauseous wreck? Give them a turn at the wheel!
Low-traffic areas and long stretches of highway are perfect opportunities to hone their driving skills. They’ll also accrue some essential experience along the way and learn valuable lessons about time management and safety.
Let Them Navigate … Without a GPS
Road trips with teens are full of teachable moments and navigation is best taught in practice. Have them sit shotgun and learn how to use a road atlas. Let them tell you where to turn and which exits to take for a bit. (It’s not that scary!)
Not only does this give them a sense of purpose. It introduces them to the concept of using maps and other navigational tools instead of relying on GPS.
Plus, this is an opportunity to teach your older kids about governance as you follow their instructions.
Rotate Seating Assignments
This is especially true if you have more than one teen crammed in the back seat. Make sure you switch up their seating assignments every now and then.
And, yes, that means letting them ride shotgun from time to time!
Not only will they appreciate having a different view, but it can also keep them from getting too comfortable or aggressive with each other.
Make Spontaneous Roadside Stops
Of all the ways to prevent hearing “Are we there, yet?” for the entire trip, the most fun way is to make spontaneous rest stops at quirky, unique roadside attractions!
See a sign for a UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico? Check it out! Random Cadillacs sticking out of the ground in the Texas Panhandle? Yes, please! Or how about The World’s Largest Collections of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things in Kansas (yep … it’s a thing!).
See something weird? Pull over, take a pic, and make a memory. Break up the car trip!
Route and Destination Ideas for a Teen Road Trip
OutdoorFamily HQ was born out of the matchless experiences we have had as a family touring the treasured lands of the national park system.
Essentially, we select a national park that serves as our final and primary destination. Then, we plan our route to encounter as many national parks and forests as possible on our way there and back. We make a point to camp a few nights in parks that deserve some exploring.
Aside from national park hopping, we also consider the following to be some of the best road trips in the United States:
- East Coast Road Trip along U.S. Highway 1 (2,390 miles from Fort Kent, Maine to Key West, Florida)
- West Coast Road Trip along the Pacific Coast Highway (656 miles from Orange County, CA to Mendocino, CA)
- Blue Ridge Parkway (469 miles from Rockfish Gap, Virginia to Cherokee, NC)
- Historic Route 66 (2,448 miles from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, CA)
- Border to Border via U.S. 93 (1,359 miles from Wickenburg, Arizona to Eureka, Montana)
- The Great Northern via U.S. Route 2 (3,600 miles from Houlton, Maine to Everett, Washington)
- Coast to Coast via I-80 (2,920 miles from San Francisco, CA to Teaneck, NJ … just outside New York City)
If anything, we’re experts in Texas road trips. We’ve cataloged our favorite routes in The Best Family Road Trips in Texas. Check it out!
Regardless of where you go and what route you take, the most important aspect of planning road trips with teens is to ensure your kids feel like they have some say in the matter. That’s why we recommend taking at least one day to properly plan out the entire trip — together.
This gives everyone time to voice their opinions on destinations and activities. And, it also takes some of the decision-making off of your back!
With a bit of planning and preparation, your next road trip can be epic — one that will create lasting memories for all involved! So hit the open road and enjoy the journey!
Now, get out there!