The Essential Checklist for a Quick, Cheap, and Stress-Free Family Vacation

Wanna get away? Sometimes, after a particularly hectic week at work, it’s not a matter of “want to,” it’s a matter of “have to.” Last week was one of those for myself, my wife, and even our kids. After years of trial-and-error, I actually believe I have compiled a bare-bones checklist that guarantees a good time for all for a last-minute weekend getaway. I will now share my hard-earned knowledge with you.

All you have to do is print this out, check off the items, and let the good times begin.


1. Choose a Spot Within 100 Miles

Obviously, you want to spend as much time at your destination as possible. Plus, short drives makes for happier kids and hence, happier moms and dads. Pick someplace with way more to do than you could possibly accomplish in just a weekend.

2. Pack Up the Car The Night Before

Nothing gets your trip off on the wrong foot more than running around at the last minute and starting off behind schedule. Wake up, eat, and hit the road. Pack dark colored clothes for the kids because they hide dirt and stains better.

3. Make Sure Your Ride is Ready

Breaking down on the road is a sure recipe for a bad time. Check your tires, fluids, belts, etc. to make sure you’re ready to roll.

4. Prepare for Car Sickness

Even if your children never get car sick, not being ready if they do is truly awful. Have a large, wide-mouth container or bucket in the back seat with them. Bring plenty of paper towels and wipes, and even motion sickness medicine.

5. Fully Charge All Electronic Devices

Want to hear a kid scream? Then let your portable DVD player, tablet or phone run out of juice in the middle of a movie or audio-book. Also, don’t forget to bring your chargers with you, including chargers you can use in the car.


1. Bathroom Breaks

Stop at roadside chain hotels. They’re cleaner and less crowded than gas stations or restaurants.

2. Go for Driving Activities Overkill

Kids get bored quickly, so be ready for it. Get creative. Besides bringing DVD players, we like to create and download a bunch of destination themed word-search puzzles from Another fun thing to do that really keeps our kids occupied and engaged is to let them make a journal of their trip. Give them a camera and a tape recorder (or use the voice-memo function on your phone.)

3. Drive an Extra Mile and Save Money on Gas

Gas stations right off the highway charge more than those just blocks away. Use your GPS or just look around and you’re sure to find one.


1. Be Nice to The Front Desk Person

Not only will this make them more likely to take care of any special needs that arise, it may just get you a room with a better view, or that is more quiet. Plus, they’re a great resource for anything interesting going on in the area.

2. Think About Safety

Don’t forget that most car remotes have a panic button. If you’re at a campsite, cabin, or hotel room within site of your car, hit that button should the need arise.

3. Gather Beaucoups of Brochures

You may have missed something when planning your activities, plus kids love them. It helps them to have fun to let them pick some of the activities themselves, especially if it’s a extra activity they’ve discovered on their own.

4. Sleep Well

Who wants to be tired and cranky on a vacation? No one. Bring a white noise machine along to drown out any disturbing outside noises. Also, let the kids bring their favorite blanket, pillow or stuffed animal. Making the sleeping arrangements as much like home as possible will make everyone sleep better.

Okay, now that I’ve made my checklist, it’s time to plan our trip. Where we going? I go to and search for places within 100 miles of my zipcode. Bingo. Big Bear, California. Tons of stuff to do and it’s about a 90 minute drive. The kids want to go camping, but the wife says “no way.” Alright, how about a cabin? It’s out in the woods and we can bring our own food to cook, saving a bundle on eating out. Plus, there’s a pool there. Sold.

I book the cabin using a discount code I found and the family starts packing as I check out the car to make sure it’s road-trip ready. Great – one of the tires has picked up a nail. I head back in to tell everyone I’m off to have it fixed, and my wife tells me that if I had used mobile app to book I could have saved $25 more. Drat. But at least now I know.  

If you found this article useful, interesting, or you just like to give advice, tell your friends by sharing via the links at the top of this page.

By: Peter

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