Everything You Need To Know About Planning A Big Black Family Road Trip This Summer
Courtesy Brown Family/ArthiaNixonMedia

The Brown family, of Decatur, Georgia, is serious about their road trips. In February they did a three-day jaunt to Beaufort and Edisto Island in South Carolina, and this summer they’ll load up their car and head off to Baltimore. “Although we’re jet-setters, we enjoy the intimate family time that we get on road trips,” says matriarch Tammy Brown. “We have interesting conversations and play games in the car—our favorite is trivia. We also like to sing as loud as we want to. You can’t do that on a plane.”  

Tammy, her husband, Jayson, and their three children, Jayde, Jay’Elle and Jayson (nicknamed Lil Jay), who range in age from 11 to 15, chronicle the family’s vacation adventures in their book Brown Voyage! The Brownies Adventures and on their website, brownvoyage.com. What’s the secret to a successful road trip? They get the car serviced and gassed, then check the weather forecast to determine how to pack and plan for indoor or outdoor activities. They carefully research accommodations, seeking condos or villas with accessible pools and nature trails. To avoid frequent food stops, they pack lots of snacks and drinks. Each family member chooses something they want to do at the destination, so everyone has something to look forward to. Most important, “Before we pull off, we have prayer that is usually led by one of the kids,” says Tammy.  

The Browns will be among the masses hitting the highways this summer and fall. Despite the availability of vaccines, some folks are still leery of flying—but with wanderlust calling, traveling America by car is the ticket. According to research from Tripit, 83 percent of those surveyed said they would be ready to take a road trip in their own car by June. Robert Sinclair, Jr., senior manager, public affairs for AAA Northeast, reports that the auto association is seeing bookings for hotels, car rentals and attractions up 40 percent nationally in recent weeks.   

Before you reach for your own car keys, here’s what you need to know—to ensure a family getaway that creates cherished memories, rather than a trip everyone wants to forget. 

Safety First 
Vehicle maintenance is vital. Check all systems and parts, and don’t overlook tire pressure. If your tires are under-inflated and you’re driving on the highway, they could overheat and blow out. Take your car to a certified mechanic; a breakdown is the kind of drama nobody wants, especially on vacation.  

Safety isn’t only about your car’s condition, however. When you’re “driving while Black,” rigorously follow the rules of the road. For example, rear-facing car seats are required for kids until age 2 or older, depending on their weight. “Make sure there is nothing hanging from the rearview mirror, because some states have laws against this,” says Gretchen Sorin, author of Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights. “You don’t want to provide any reason for a police officer to stop you.”  

Leave Little to Chance  
A vacation is all about fun, but research and planning increase the odds of having a good trip. Both roadsideamerica.com and roadtripamerica.com provide loads of valuable information to help you prepare for your excursion, as well as suggestions for places to see across the country. 

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The big question is, where to go? Much depends on your interests. Are you adventure lovers or water worshipers? And while you may have a central focus, choose a place that has a little something for everyone.  

Once you’ve picked the perfect locale, it’s all about logistics. If you’re not traveling in your own ride, the sooner you book a rental car, the better. “I suggest renting very early and canceling later for free, if that’s an option and something changes,” advises Kristin Braswell, founder of CrushGlobal, a travel company specializing in themed and customized road trips.  

Use a rental-car pricing service like Autoslash.com, hotwire.com, rentalcars.com or priceline.com before choosing a car-rental agency, says Elaine Lee, the editor of Go Girl!: The Black Woman’s Book of Travel and Adventure. Membership in groups like AAA, Costco or AARP may also provide you with discounts.  

Expect the Unexpected 
“Download apps that will help you navigate roads if you lose cell service, such as Maps.Me,” says Braswell. “Also, budget well for costs like gas, which continues to rise.” Lee says, “Don’t forget to make sure your phone charger and USB ports work.” Consider using one phone for navigation, if your car doesn’t have reliable GPS, and another one for entertainment. Fill that spare phone with music, podcasts and/or audiobooks. Bring your laptop or tablet, with uploaded movies, for when you can’t access the Internet. And download a gas station–finder app like GasBuddy. 

Pick Home Away From Home Wisely 
The lodgings you decide on can make or break a vacation. Spend time on the hotel’s or vacation rental’s website, read reviews or, even better, get recommendations. “Call the hotel to see if they can give you a discount on the rate that you found online,” says Braswell. “But keep in mind that many hotels lost a lot of revenue last year during the pandemic, and the hospitality industry will be looking to recoup that in the coming months.” 

Support Black-Owned Businesses 
The pandemic pummeled the travel industry, so be sure to show some love to Black-owned hotels, restaurants and other establishments. Tap valuable resources like the ABC Travel Green Book by Martinique Lewis, which highlights Afrocentric communities, restaurants, tours and festivals, and aims to connect the African diaspora globally. The app EatOkra helps locate Black-owned eateries across the U.S., while the I Am Black Business app is a directory of Black-owned enterprises. For Braswell’s CrushGlobal’s Road Trip Guides, she partnered with Black mixologists, winemakers, historians and chefs to amplify their businesses. As for the Brown family, “We use Google to find Black-owned businesses,” says Tammy. “For example, for our road trip to Edisto Island, we found the Oyotunji African Village and spent a day there, learning about the Yoruba culture and shopping with local vendors.”   

Go For Teachable Moments 
Few things are sweeter than a trip on which Black history and culture intertwine with fun and frolic. For their foray to Baltimore, the Browns will include stops at the Button Farm Living History Center, which depicts 19th-century slave plantation life and the Underground Railroad, and Boyds Negro School, among other sites. Says Tammy: “It’s very important for us to include African American history and culture in our travels.”