10 tips for road trips

Boy hugging teddy bear in car seat.

Road trip! The mere words are enough to strike fear in the hearts of parents everywhere. 

Long stretches in the car. Short stretches stretching.

Fly-by-night dining. Last-minute beach or lake visits. Lots of last-minute wet stuff to find a place for.

How can a parent prepare for such unpredictables?

Relax! With these 10 tips for road trips, you might actually look forward to the road trip this time.

1.  Family Planning Tips for Road Trips

No, not that kind of family planning. It's a little late for that.  We're talking family planning tips for road trips here.

The kind where you and the kids look at the map and talk about how long the trip will take, and what kinds of exciting things there might be to see and do on the way. Try to schedule at least one fun stop for each day of the trip. And let each kid pick at least one of the attractions.

2.  Plan a Stealth Night Departure

For kids, there is something wonderfully wicked about jumping into the car in the middle of the night. Wow! Up past bedtime and headed for adventure! The good news is that they are also headed for sleepy time, and you're headed for at least eight hours of driving without whining or fighting.

3.  Plan for Comfort on the Road

Each kid needs his own blanket and pillow. Consider an electric car blanket for long trips during the colder seasons. Cotton blankets and other soft blankets are also a good choice, along with a neck pillow.

Encourage kids to dress either in PJs or sweatpants and T-shirts. Or something with an elastic or tie waist. This is a long drive, after all, not a quick ride to the market.

4.  That's (Family) Entertainment

Riding in the car is tedious. (Remember?) Have each kid pack a mobile entertainment kit with books, iPads, puzzles - whatever they will enjoy and, that will fit in the backpack.

5.  Plan for Meals on the Road

When it comes to eating on the road, look for picnic areas where you can enjoy a deli meal while they run around, let off steam, and act like kids.  Or, choose fast food places with playgrounds attached or pizza parlors disguised as amusement centers (think Chuck E Cheese).

No, it may not be fine dining. But it may help keep your sanity. Unsure if eating in the car is a good thing for your family? See Dashboard Dining: Yes or No?

6.  Plan Potty Stops

Stop often for potty breaks and insist everyone go - even if they don't 'have to.' Carry your own toilet paper (for those times they can't wait till the potty stop), and lots of antibacterial wipes for babies. (They're the gentlest.)

7.  Plan Surprises Along the Way

Wrap some inexpensive surprises as presents for good little riders. If the kids aren't fighting or whining, they get to open a gift every 100 or 200 miles (depending on how long your trip is).

Also, give the children a small amount of money to spend (blow?) when you stop at restaurants with stores attached. If the plastic shark amuses little Dalton for the next 50 miles, it's worth the 99 cents.

8.  Tips for Road Trips: Stop for Attractions

Remember that getting there is half the fun.

Parent in child sitting in minivan hatchback looking at mountains.

If the kids see signs for a Petrified Forest, stop and see what it is.

One of my friend's daughter's most memorable side trips was when she managed to persuade her goal-oriented mother to stop the car at the Donner Museum on the way to Lake Tahoe (she was studying the Donner party in school).

The family enjoyed the museum almost as much as their ski vacation.

9.  Tips for Road Trips: Talk, Look, and Listen

Plan to use road time to talk with your kids, and listen to what they have to say. Look at the sights you pass and discuss them.

10.  Don't Pack Light Pack for Spills and Emergencies

Yes, there are stores along the way. But none will be within 30 miles when Ashley throws up on herself.

You'll need bottled water, paper towels, extra clothes, medications, a first aid kit, and the aforementioned toilet paper and seat covers. Have a great trip!

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