Planning Road Trip Pit Stops

Want to get to your destination faster? Looking for fun along the way? We’ve got you covered with top tips for planning road trip pit stops.

Families often wing it when deciding when to stop during a road trip. The gas gauge is getting close to “E,” the kids are restless or nature calls, so you take the next exit to Randomville and take care of business.

But who says pit stops have to be so pitiful? With a little advance planning, road trip pit stops can be part of your vacation fun OR help you get to your destination faster. Here, we offer tips for either pit stop priority.

Planning fast road trip pit stops

A trip from Detroit to Chicago takes around 4½-5 hours depending on what time of day you leave. But let’s be real. A lot of families have a mission – and it’s to beat that Google Maps ETA – by a lot! They want to maximize their time at Navy Pier or eating deep dish pizza, so getting to their destination is all about efficiency.

With kids in tow, families often have to make more pit stops than they’d like to, which can certainly cut into that arrival goal. Suck it up, though, and expect to stop every 2 to 2½ hours of driving (and let your kids know in advance when you’ll be stopping, so there’s no grumbling or surprises). For younger kids or littles that are potty training stop every 60-90 minutes.

So how can you make all of those stops more efficient?

Set expectations in advance with your kids to minimize dawdling.

For kids who aren’t as focused on getting to your destination faster, you may want to incentivize them to share your goal. For instance, if you get to your destination by or better than the ETA time, they get a cash reward to spend on some totally useless souvenir they’ll want on your trip.

Choose exits that have facilities and gas near the exit.

No wild goose chase exits that take you miles off course! Interstate Rest Areas will help you pre-plan your rest area stops, so you don’t have to fully exit the highway. User reviews offer additional time-saving insights, such as which direction each rest area is located (eastbound or westbound on I-94, for instance), so you can plan accordingly. Of course, trusty Google Maps can help you plan your trip – and your stops. You can even download maps in advance, so you don’t have to worry about cell phone dead zones.

Planning fun road trip pit stops

You know the expression, “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey”? Well, if that’s your road trip philosophy, then you aren’t necessarily looking for every pit stop to be fast and furious. Instead, you’ll want to maximize the opportunities to blow off some steam and have some fun. Here are some ideas for weaving in some good times on your journey:

Plan to grab a snack or meal at some cool diner or spot.

Sure, you could stop at McDonald’s or Starbucks. But, ho-hum – you can do that at home! Instead, plan ahead to identify some nifty watering hole or diners that aren’t in your back yard. For instance, on your way to the Windy City, you could hit up ChocolaTea in Portage for a malted milk frappe or a passion fruit lemonade.

Look for small, unique attractions.

You’ve heard of the larger, destination museums and attractions across the country, but small museums (such as the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Mich.) might not be as well-known, but are still worth the stop. Consider a longer break with a stop at a zoo, museum, to look for statues around town or find historical markers. Wondering how to identify these notable stops and diversions? Apps like Roadtrippers.com can help. The app, which has a free and paid version, allows you to identify “waypoints” (their term for pitstops) if you enter your starting point and destination. Choose among efficient gas/bathroom options or food and fun places worth a stop on the way to your family road trip destination.

Metro Parent Editorial Team
Metro Parent Editorial Team
Since 1986, the Metro Parent editorial team is trained to be the go-to source for metro Detroit families, offering a rich blend of expert advice, compelling stories, and the top local activities for kids. Renowned for their award-winning content, the team of editors and writers are dedicated to enriching family life by connecting parents with the finest resources and experiences our community has to offer.

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