Planning family day trips can be a great way to create family memories and reconnect. These tips for planning a day trip will help you shake up your routine and feel like you are on vacation, even for a day.
We love family day trips! They are an easy way to break out of a rut of being home and can often be a budget friendly way to be a tourist in your own town.
It does take a little bit of organizing to plan a day trip with kids but the effort is worth it for the awesome memories that you will create.
Some of our favorite family day trip ideas were planned the day before. We will discover a new place within driving distance and plan a family day out around that one destination.
How to Plan a Family Day Trip
There are 4 main things to consider when planning your family fun day: They are Itinerary, Prepping the Car, Get the Family Organized, and Putting it All Together.
Family Day Trip Itinerary
The day trip itinerary may be the most important step and where you should start when planning your day. We have planned trips around an amazing doughnut shop and worked our way around it.
If you have an idea of a place you want to go, you should start researching places nearby that destination. When we did the doughnut stop, we started looking at Google maps for attractions close by to explore. Read about our doughnut day trip, its number 5 on the list.
If you are at the beginning stages and not sure where you want to go ask yourself the following questions:
- How much time do you have? Are you planning a morning day out? Are you planning a sunrise-sunset day out? Think about the time you have for the day trip.
- Where to go? Do you enjoy outdoor activities? Do you want to visit museums? What does your family like to do?
- Where will you eat? Will you stop for 3 meals, 2 meals, 1 meal? Will you stop for snack or ice cream? Maybe you will pack a picnic.
- What is your budget for the day?
- How much driving do you want to do?
When thinking about how much time you have you should also consider the ages of your kids. Will they enjoy being in the car for long periods of time? Do you need a lot of breaks? Should you plan a short family day out?
Think about what your family likes to do and let that guide you. Do you enjoy the beach and a hike, or would you prefer an art museum or children’s museum? Or BOTH! Create a day trip that is custom fit for your family to enjoy.
We love to try new places to eat and my husband is usually in charge of the research for this. Typically we like to find small mom and pop places to include in our day trip itinerary.
It is always fun to plan at least one stop for a special treat. If we are doing a full day trip we will also pack food. (I get into more details below about packing the car.)
You can do a budget day trip or a not-so-budget friendly day trip. It all depends on what you would like to plan. We have planned day trips where we spend very little money and also day trips where we stretched our budget.
We do like to keep the cost down when possible, especially as a family of five. Going out to eat can quickly use all of our budget for the day.
To do this we search for coupons or deals before we leave. We also use our local zoo and museum memberships to get discounts. Check out this post for more money saving ideas for traveling with kids.
The final thing to consider is how much driving you want to do. I suggest keeping it under 2 hours one way, then plan stops along the way back. We do multiple stops so we are not in the car very long.
Our longest trip was a one day drive to Toronto. This was about 4 hours one way but we broke it up with stops in Niagara Falls. It was a fun day but that was the maximum we would drive for a day trip.
Related Post: 101 Things to Do in Rochester, New York
Prep the Car
Now that you are ready with your day trip itinerary you need to get the car ready for your trip. I like to do this the day before so we are ready to hit the road the morning of our trip.
I start with what I dread the most: cleaning the car! I will vacuum and clean the car before our trip. Then I will remove anything we don’t need and put together a bag for our trip.
Currently our day trip bag has paper towels, hand sanitizer, a garbage bag, disinfectant wipes, and masks. During times of COVID-19 you need to be prepared for where you are visiting. States have different health guidelines and you should check before you visit.
Once the car is ready I will make sure we have a full tank of gas. As I mentioned above we try to stay on a budget when possible. Saving money on our day trips is easy with Marathon MakeItCount™ Rewards.
I started using Marathon MakeItCount™ Rewards this summer, and I can’t wait to see the rewards add up. Members save 5 cents off every gallon, every day!
Not only do you save off your fuel purchase, you also earn points that can be redeemed on gas, airfare, hotels, and retail purchases. Some of their partners include Southwest Rapid Rewards®, Wyndham Rewards®, Target, and Petco (among others).
When signing up, you will choose which partner program you want to earn points through and link it in your MakeItCount™ account. This was an easy process.
I linked our Southwest Rapid Rewards® account in a few minutes. I can’t wait to see how our day trips and everyday busy life will earn us points for future travel. Marathon has locations from coast to coast and I love how convenient they are. I actually have two locations within 3 miles of my house!
The stations are clean and convenient! As an extra treat, we have the kids pick out special snacks for the day. On qualifying select purchases you can earn more points.
When you are fueling your car you may also want to check the tire pressure and wiper fluid so there are no surprises during your day.
Get the Family Ready
Now that you have the car ready you can get the family ready. We like to pack the car with a few things for the day to keep everyone happy and comfortable.
A few of our favorite things to pack are:
- Create a Day Trip playlist. We love to make “Jammy Jams”, as we call them, for our day trips and road trips. Usually this is a collection of music we are currently enjoying. The best part is the music becomes part of the memories. Every time we listen to old playlists, we reminisce about a trip we have taken.
- Movies or DVD’s. Depending on the length of our trip and the age of our kids at the time, we will bring movies to watch in the car.
- Electronics. If we have a very long day trip in the car, we will allow electronics, but when we are exploring new places, even by car, we like to have the kids off their devices. This is family-specific and you should do what works best for you.
- Snacks! I always pack lots of snacks and food. I try to balance healthy snacks with some special treats. Marathon also great snack options that the kids love, and can earn you points!
- Water bottles. The most important thing is bringing everyone’s reusable water bottle. This saves on waste and can be filled at rest stops and destinations throughout your day.
- Change of clothes. You may need to pack clothes if you are headed to the beach or a hike. We like to bring hats, sunglasses, and a sweatshirt on all of our day trips.
- Check out this post on road trip essentials for more things you may need on your day trip.
Put It All Together
The final step of planning your family day trip is putting it all together.
Plan out your route and decide where you want to stop. Be sure to include quirky and fun road side attractions. Even if you stop for a quick picture and a 5-minute stretch, these places can add a lot of fun to a family day trip.
Check the schedules and rules for museums, parks, restaurants, and any other places you included in your day trip itinerary. You may need to plan around the times and it is better to know in advance.
Be spontaneous and flexible. Have a plan but if you discover something new and interesting, don’t be afraid to change plans and have an adventure.
Family day trips are all about fun and family. Take the time to enjoy the moments and plan an incredible day making memories with the people you love the most.
Leah has been traveling with her family of 5 since 2012 and sharing her expertise on planning family vacations and visiting theme parks since 2016. Leah has been featured in Visit Rochester, Undercover Tourist, and Home Publications. She has worked with brands like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Hersheypark, Toyota, and various Tourism boards and destinations. Leah creates family travel itineraries based on real trip experiences with her family. Her guides and tips help others plan great family vacations. Learn more about Leah and Five for the Road.