Helpful tips no matter where you're driving this season.

Holiday Road Trips | CarMax

Over the river and through the woods — it’s that time of year again! Maybe you’re packing up and going to Grandma’s house, or maybe you’re spending the holidays in a quiet cabin in the woods. No matter what you’ve got planned, our road trip guide can serve as a checklist to help you plan your trip!

Learn something new

Downloadable and streamable podcasts are a perfect way to keep the whole family entertained while learning at the same time. There is an endless variety available, catering to pretty much every interest, and you can pipe them through your road trip cruiser’s speakers to keep your passengers hanging on every word. Check out our list of 23 podcasts for ideas, or try one of the podcasts below!

  • Stuff You Missed in History Class: Did you ever daydream in history class and miss out on a few lectures? Don’t worry, because in Stuff You Missed in History Class, cohosts Holly Frey and Tracy Wilson teach you about hidden, cool, or weird events in history.
  • Skimm this: Get a recap of the day’s most important stories and find out why they matter and how they connect. Hosted by TheSkimm’s CEOs, Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, this unique take on the news will keep the whole family updated without having to dig in the weeds.
  • Stuff You Should Know: In Stuff You Should Know, co-hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant explore the answers to odd questions about incredibly complex subjects. If you enjoy witty banter and learning about everything from whether you can die from a broken heart to what the deal is with Baby Boomers, this podcast is perfect for you.
  • The Bill Simmons Podcast: Calling all sports fans! Keep up with the latest sports stories with Bill Simmons and his celebrity guests. As one of the most downloaded sports podcasts of all time, Simmons and crew will make sure you don’t miss any of the action, even if you didn’t see the game.
  • StarTalk Radio StarTalk s hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and each weekly episode features comedians, scientists, and celebrities who have a lively discussion with Neil about the intersection of science and pop culture. The podcast does a magnificent job of breaking down complicated scientific subjects into fun and digestible explanations that anybody can enjoy.
Holiday Road Trips | CarMax

Ban the boredom with Games

End the cries of “Are we THERE yet??” with plenty of road trip games! Here are some ideas for road trip games the whole family can play.

  1. Radio DJ. Set your mobile device on a holiday music playlist and hit shuffle. When a song plays, someone hits pause, and you have to finish the rest of it, karaoke-style. If no one knows the lyrics, it’s on to the next song. The person who knows the most lyrics wins. Of course, the car is a judgment-free zone. Sing loud and sing proud!
  2. Don’t Say It. This game is a nice way to keep everyone on their toes and watching their mouths. To play, you pick a seasonal word (“Frosty!”) that will be off-limits. This is the “forbidden word” — it can be any word you choose. Anyone who forgets and says the word over the course of the trip has to either add a dollar or their name to a cup. At the end of the trip, the money in the cup or the person with their name added the most often pays for gas or snacks of the passengers’ choosing.
  3. Holiday Scavenger Hunt. This game requires a little bit of pre-planning, but it pays off in the end. To play, draw up a list of seasonally related items to search for on the road. The list can include things like holiday decorations, or yard lights. Heck, you can even search for CarMax decals on cars’ tailgates! Print out a sheet for each passenger. Keep in mind the scenery on the road trip — there’s no use looking for cornfields while driving through the city! The most important part is not making the game too easy. The first person to cross off everything on the list wins.
  4. The License Plate Game. This game is a classic, and it never gets old. And it can get competitive, too. As you’re passing by another car, keep tabs of the state on its plate and call out a new state when you see one. The goal is to find license plates from all 50 states, and Washington, D.C. Two people cannot call the same license plate. The game ends when someone spots the most states by the end of the trip.
  5. The Holiday Alphabet Game. Which list of road trip games would be complete without the alphabet game? Put a fun twist on it by requiring the words be holiday or seasonally themed! This game is great because it keeps everyone on the hunt for that next letter, and it can last for hours. Players look for words that start with A, B, C, etc. in sequence. The words can be on billboards, businesses, or road signs. License plates don’t count. Once a person calls a word on a sign, no one else can repeat it. The first to get to Z wins.

Vehicle Prep

Gone are the days of road tripping while riding on a freezing vinyl bench seat waiting for the front air vents to finally get some of that lukewarm air to the back. Modern creature comforts, like leather seats, automatic climate control, and navigation systems make today’s road trips cozy and comfortable. No more relying on hand-cranked windows and constantly poking your brother for entertainment; these days, back-seaters can plug into all kinds of on-board distractions for hours of road tripping without backseat arguments!

And no set of preparations or packing lists are complete without a checklist of road trip essentials — those items you’ll wish you’d stowed on board before hitting the road. Don’t road trip without these items!

  1. FIRST AID KIT. Stay prepared for the unexpected with a basic set of essentials: bandages, gauze, antibiotic ointment, antacids, pain management (aspirin, ibuprofen), antihistamines for allergic reactions, and burn cream.
  2. ICE SCRAPER:If you’re in the colder parts of the country, investing in a quality ice scraper can make a big difference if it rains or snows. Bonus item: Instant hand warmer packs can make scraping that ice more bearable!
  3. JUMPER CABLES. Don’t skimp on cheap cables. Invest instead in a set that’s made with heavy-gauge, insulated wires (the lower the gauge number, the heavier-duty the jumper cables). All sets take up roughly the same amount of space in your trunk.
  4. SNACKS AND DRINKS. Stock a tote of your favorite seasonal snacks, like crackers, nutbars, and sugarplums, or even toss together a homemade box of cookies the night before you get on the road. A mini-cooler of your favorite bottled water or iced coffee will provide a little extra refreshment. Double-baggie some ice for emergency drink coolers or first aid relief.
  5. MASKING TAPE. For creating backseat borders to give your kids designated, no-touching real estate on those really long excursions (see Les Nessman’s groundbreaking imaginary borders concept for the WKRP office).
  6. MOBILE DEVICE CHARGING CABLES. Dead devices tell no tales. They play no videos. They display no emails.
  7. EXTRA PLASTIC BAGS, WET WIPES, AND A ROLL OF PAPER TOWELS. It’s smart to keep these items in your trunk for cleaning up unanticipated messes. Don’t ask us how we know.
  8. TRIP LOG. This is a 99-cent, black-and-white composition notebook, stowed at arm’s reach in the family car to document notable stops, silly situations, and quote-worthy utterances. This will serve as a great permanent record of your travels.
  9. CAT LITTER. If it’s cold and snowy in your area, cat litter can serve as traction under your wheels if you get stuck in a snowbank (or in Grandma’s driveway).


All ready to roll? Before you head out on your road trip, make sure you do the following:

  • Check your engine oil level
  • Inflate your tires to the recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) pressures (this will help you get the best possible MPG on your trip)
  • Download trip maps to your phone (don’t get lost in the event you lose cell coverage!)

Now, go enjoy that holiday trip!

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