America lacks the scenic railway and streamlined public transit, but we make up for it with over FOUR MILLION of miles of open road. In Wisconsin, we have access to about 238,000 total lane miles, and no tolls. Looking at you Illinois. With terrain ranging from marshland, to pristine forest, to prairies, to bluffs, Wisconsin roadways zip past a snippet of what makes America such a unique and diverse paradise. But before you repack the family van for the sixth time (only to forget to put the cooler on the bottom, yet again) jot down some notes from our road trip planner.

The mess under the hood

It’s not really a mess; a car’s engine bay is truly a work of art and a masterly feat in engineering. But golly-gee that’s a lot of parts. Luckily, only a few require your attention here: oil level, coolant level, hoses, and drive belts.

Detailed instructions on fluid levels are listed in your handy-dandy owner’s manual. That little binder is actually pretty nifty, and not just designed to make your glove compartment unusable. Check your hoses and belts for and fraying or looseness. If they give way, your road trip will only be fun at least six months later when you put on those rose-colored glasses.

If you’re overdue, or near, for an oil change, schedule one before you leave. Don’t be like my dad and make the family wait in line at the Jiffy Lube for 45 minutes halfway through the journey. You will never live that down. You’re almost ready to load up the car. Check the tire pressure, make sure all lights are functioning, clean out the leftovers still tucked underneath the passenger seat since two weeks ago, and start packing.

Less is more, unless it’s food; then more, a lot more

The most you’re driving here is about 7 hours. That’s from Runaway Bay on the Illinois and Wisconsin border to the Wisconsin ‘burbs of Duluth. The time will fly. Unless you don’t have snacks. It’s an important question: If a road trip doesn’t include snacks, is it a road trip?

So next to the granola bars, cookies, and grapes (keep it healthy folks) what do you need? You have the obvious essentials: toothbrushes, warm and cool clothes, towels, the spare tire. You will, almost without fail, forget one of these items. But that’s okay, you’re never far from a convenience store. This is the stuff you really need: camera, comfortable shoes for walking, and things you need to stay alive (ex. medications). Without a camera, someday you’re going to forget all about that time Sue mistakenly ordered head cheese at that family restaurant. And nothing ruins a trip more than blistered, sore feet.

Seriously, pack light for quick trips. You never know what you might find along the way to bring home, and more room means more comfort for the whole family.

Planning a route

Now with everything sorted out inside the vehicle, you can turn your road trip planner to the fun stuff. Part of the allure of traveling by automobile is the feeling of freedom. You set the pace, stop when you want, go where you want. Take full advantage of your drive and stop at sites along the way. Wisconsin’s full of goofy photo-ops: the world’s largest fish, goats on the roof at Al Johnson’s, and Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron.

If you’re stuck on where to stop, try a themed trip. Narrow that down further. What does everyone love? Food. What’s the best food of all time? Cheese. So, what should you do on your trip? Eat cheese? Great idea! Take a peek at this map for a statewide listing of every cheese factory that provides samples and tours (though they are missing a few, don’t ask me how I know that). Trip of a lifetime! Or I guess you could do something like an art museum or botanical gardens.

Downtown Wisconsin

You’ll want to avoid interstates and large cities (Milwaukee and Madison) at peak traffic hours. Stay up to date on traffic incidents and construction works. And if you want to let technology guides you to interesting locations along your way, use Furkot road trip planner or a similar app.

A road trip planner that fits your family

All families are unique and deserve an equally one-of-a-kind road trip plan. Some families are more than content to take country roads, driving through small towns, and stopping for a few meals along the journey while if it were my family, the groans coming from the backseat would be deafening.

Planning not your cup of tea? No worries, some of the best road trips are when you just corral your family in the van and set off on a spontaneous, short trip. Just being with your family, exploring Wisconsin’s hidden and famous gems, is what matters. It’s easy to sit around the house all summer and just relax but challenge yourself to experience something new this summer. You’ll be glad you did.


Up next…

Our first destination from Wisconsin summer adventures, a travelog is a vintage Wisconsin vacation. I’m taking you to a historic lake town in Northern Wisconsin. Fishing, ole’ fashioned candy, and water acrobats make for a magical summer adventure.

View the introduction to Wisconsin summer adventures, a travelog.