Real Simple asked experts, including travel-industry insiders and seasoned parents, for tips on executing the perfect summer weekend getaway, so you can take your show on the road more successfully.

By Ingela Ratledge
Updated May 18, 2016
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Illustration: Families on the beach
Credit: Putri Febriana

The primary pitfall? Trying to accomplish too much when time is short. Here, some smart planning strategies to help make the most of your time away.

Illustration: Families on the beach
Credit: Putri Febriana

Stay Close.

Don’t spend all weekend in the car. Pick a destination that’s no more than a three-hour drive, including traffic, says Dana McCain, a mom of two and the cohost of the culture and travel podcast Deep South Details. “If I have to eat two fast-food meals to get there, it’s too far,” she says.

Pro tip: Pick a destination that’s hosting a festival, even if the theme doesn’t strike you as a winner. “You may have zero interest in the Vidalia Onion Festival,” says McCain. “But along with the onions, you’ll find carnival rides and a petting zoo. They’re all in the same place, so you won’t have to spend the weekend driving around.”

Don’t Leave on Friday at 3 p.m.

Want to skip out of work a little early and head for the shore? So does everyone else. Instead, wait until after dinner, let the kids fall asleep in the car, then ease them into bed at point B. Bonus: “It’s so much more pleasant for you to not spend that time on the road meeting other people’s needs,” says McCain.

Pro tip: During car rides, start the togetherness by playing a podcast or an audiobook that everyone can enjoy. “We’ve been surprised that, for older kids, even a TED Talk can spark great conversations,” says McCain.

BYO Sleep Essentials.

You want to pack light, but bringing items from home that are crucial for kids’ sleep is key. “Good sleep can make or break a vacation,” says Alice Callahan, Ph.D., the author of The Science of Mom. Pack pillows and a sound machine—and even a sleeve of the swim diapers that you know work (rather than hoping you’ll pass a Target on the way there).

Follow the “rule of one.”

That means one major activity per day, says Callahan, not a jammed-to-the-minute schedule. The rest of the day should be flexible downtime (napping, relaxing, eating). For maximum impact, select outings that are new to everyone (white-water rafting, laser tag). “Kids get really excited when the whole family is experiencing something for the first time together,” says Guy Winch, a psychologist and the author of Emotional First Aid.

Pro tip: Make the getaway feel longer by starting it earlier in your minds. “Build anticipation by talking about what you’ll be doing,” says Guy Winch. (Paint a realistic picture, though: the stop at Six Flags and the lines.)