We are an independent, advertising-supported comparison service. Our goal is to help you make smarter financial decisions by providing you with interactive tools and financial calculators, publishing original and objective content, by enabling you to conduct research and compare information for free – so that you can make financial decisions with confidence. The offers that appear on this site are from companies from which TheSimpleDollar.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site including, for example, the order in which they appear. The Simple Dollar does not include all card/financial services companies or all card/financial services offers available in the marketplace. The Simple Dollar has partnerships with issuers including, but not limited to, Capital One, Chase & Discover. View our full advertiser disclosure to learn more.
How to Keep Your Family Safe and Entertained During a Road Trip This Year
Families are choosing road travel this year as a safer alternative to flying. Although travel is down (60%) due to the coronavirus pandemic, car travel has held steadier with only an 11% decrease.
If you’re among the many American families planning on road tripping for the holidays, taking long-distance trips with kids requires extra planning to make sure boredom doesn’t set in, and safety is a priority for all.
Staying alert on the road is your best bet to reduce the likelihood of getting involved in a crash and keeping your car insurance rates down. Before your trip, make sure your vehicle is in top shape, your roadside assistance membership is up to date and you’ve planned to keep your kids safe, engaged and comfortable during the trip.
Planning ahead now is more important than ever
Spontaneity isn’t easy when you’re traveling with kids — especially during the pandemic. Most businesses and services are operating with limited business hours and a smaller staff, making planning ahead essential.
When strategizing long-distance car travel, consider the following practices:
- Map out the journey ahead of time to get an idea of travel time, route options and sights along the way.
- Make plans for rest intervals along the way where everyone can stretch out and take a break.
- Drive in the mornings while everyone is freshly rested and avoid driving during the night when you’re tired and visibility is low.
- Don’t expect to drive more than a few hours per day with small kids — the situation can be stressful for everyone.
- Plan overnight stays along the way by pre-booking a hotel, Airbnb or campsite if the weather is fair.
Renting a car vs taking your own
If you own a smaller or older-model vehicle, it’s probably fine for dropping kids off at school or commuting to work. But the car may not be as comfortable if you’re driving out of state for long hours.
Renting a car may be a great alternative. And when you factor in costs such as maintenance, gas economy, wear and tear and mileage, the rental vehicle price may be less expensive overall than using your current vehicle.
David Miller, a former independent insurance agent and vice president of The Plexus Groupe brings up another point. “If your car breaks down or is in an accident, you might be stranded in a strange town for several days while your personal car gets repaired.”
Consider other pros and cons of renting a car instead of driving your own.
- You’ll drive a newer-model vehicle with more safety features and better fuel efficiency
- You may be able to upgrade to a bigger car that’s more comfortable for everyone
- You’ll avoid wear and tear on your personal vehicle
- Rental vehicle insurance could be expensive
- Driving a different vehicle could take some adjustment
Before you rent, speak with your car insurance company to find out if your current vehicle’s policy covers rental cars. If your policy covers you while driving a rental, you can save and avoid having to pay the rental company’s insurance — which is typically charged as a daily fee. Rental car insurance could end up doubling the cost of the rental.
Look for coupons and promotions from the car rental companies — taking advantage of their specials could save you money. Don’t forget to shop around for the best deal but keep an eye on the mileage that comes with the rental before you decide. If the car rental doesn’t come with unlimited miles, make sure your trip is well within the miles you’re allotted. Otherwise, you may be charged for every additional mile, which could add up quickly.
In the end, if you choose to drive your own vehicle, be sure you bring your important documents — you may need to show proof of insurance or other documents if you’re stopped. Miller explains, “The coverage territory for almost all U.S. auto insurance is the United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada. But if you travel to Canada, you may need to provide a Canadian Proof of Insurance Certificate at the border, although your U.S. coverage is valid.”
Before you drive away, make sure you have:
- Driver’s license
- Car registration
- An updated copy of your car insurance policy
- Your roadside assistance membership card
Preparing for your trip
Before you get on the road for the holidays, you should prep your vehicle to avoid any unpleasant surprises — this includes getting your car serviced so it can run properly during your trip. To get you ready for the road, we’ve created a car safety checklist you can download or print, and make sure you have everything you need for the journey.
Road trip safety during the COVID-19 pandemic
COVID-19 adds another element to family safety during a road trip. Besides the car supplies you’d typically keep in your vehicle, you should pack a small COVID safety kit with masks, sanitizer wipes and hand sanitizer gel to keep everyone healthy.
Cleaning and sanitizing
Hand washing is one of the most effective ways to minimize your family’s chances of becoming infected with the coronavirus. A good alternative to old-fashioned soap and water is hand sanitizer. Bottles or pumps should be readily available and used before you get into your car or choose to eat. Sanitizer wipes can come in handy to wipe down all high contact areas in the car — and clean up any accidental spills.
Dining safety tips
When dining, be sure everyone thoroughly washes their hands first. If you choose to eat at a restaurant or roadside stop, elect to sit outdoors if the weather allows it. If not, steer clear of crowded restaurants that aren’t practicing social distancing by separating tables or reducing the number of booths available.
Sleeping – lodging safety tip
Most hotels and Airbnb rentals follow CDC guidelines to sanitize your room. While staying at a hotel or rental, encourage kids to avoid touching high-contact surfaces such as doorknobs and to wash their hands regularly, especially while in the lobby or other public areas.
Bathroom and rest stop safety tips
Although avoiding busy bathrooms and rest stops is recommended, it’s not always possible with kids. If you’re traveling with young children, bringing your own portable potty may be a good idea. Otherwise, be sure to use a mask when entering a public restroom and ensure everyone washes their hands thoroughly when finished.
To help you plan your trip and pack everything you need, we’ve developed a COVID-19 safety kit — a printable checklist of the necessary items to ensure safety for all.
Family entertainment for the road
Traveling with kids means keeping them engaged and entertained so you can focus on the road. We’ve put together a set of four printable games and activities for kids of all ages. Feel free to print them out and keep the pages in handy — you’ll probably use them a few times.
Access the entire Road Trip Pack here! Download all here.