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Family Travel: Road Trip Tips

Are we there yet??? Below we offer some tips for making road trips with kids an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Pack snacks that kids can help themselves to in the car. Finger sandwiches, raisins, plastic baggies with a single serving of cereal, soft pretzels (they don't crumble), bite-size crackers, and other stuff kids like. Avoid excessively crumbly or mushy foods, chocolate, gum, and purple juices, all of which are decidedly incompatible with your car's upholstery.

Let kids take turns being navigator. Navigators get to look at the map, help plot the course, answer questions about how many miles you have to go, and inform the rest of the family about the area you're driving through. If you belong to AAA or another road service, such information is often included in your trip packet. You can also find interesting things in travel guides, atlases, and other travel literature. Make this available to the navigator. P.S.: Navigators also get the front seat.

Contact the local Chamber of Commerce or visitor and convention bureau of towns you will visit or pass through. You'd be surprised how much neat information is available -- for free -- from these organizations. They can offer suggestions for lodging, dining, attractions, local emergency phone numbers, and directions, among other things.

Try out local restaurants. Relying on the same old fast-food fare is boring, and it doesn't give you a feel for the local area. One way to discover the real "flavor" of a new place is to visit the places local residents like and recommend. It's also a good way to introduce kids to regional foods.

Keep your itinerary flexible. One of the advantages of road travel is that you pass interesting sites and signs along the way. "Gold panning here," "world's largest prairiedog," or "museum of light bulbs" may catch your family's attention -- either because it sounds interesting or really silly. Whatever the catch, go with it and give yourselves a chance to explore the America you can't see from an airplane.

If your kids get car sick, tell them to focus on the horizon. You may want to put a sick child in the front seat for awhile, too, because looking out of side windows exacerbates feelings of motion sickness.

Pick up a bunch of inexpensive books of car games and travel activities. Bring them out one at a time to keep kids interested and surprised. Reusable vinyl stickers are also excellent for kids in cars. They can play with them on the side windows.

Give each child a Walkman or other personal tape player with headphones. It's hard to find privacy on a family road trip, but being able to "get away" for a while can minimize sibling squabbles. Let kids pick out several tapes to bring with them so they really can enjoy the time to themselves.

Pack lightly so the whole car isn't filled witluggage -- and bring a bottle of handwash detergent. Most kids' clothes dry overnight in a motel or at a campground, or even laid across the luggage in the back. Taking fewer clothes minimizes stuff and maximizes space. And besides, children NEVER wear everything you pack for them. It's also a good idea to bring along one of those laundry stain sticks, the kind that let you treat the stain and wash up to a week later. That way, if something spills while you're traveling, the clothes aren't ruined forever.

Don't plan on more than about eight hours of driving in a day. Any longer than that and your family will be cranky, tired, and bored. Vacations are about fun!

Stop every two to three hours on a long road trip. This is what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for families. It doesn't have to be a long stop -- just enough time for kids to run around and expend a little energy. If the weather permits, picnic lunches, as opposed to restaurant stops, are a good choice for this reason.

Dress children in layers for a car trip. If you start out early in the morning it's chilly, but it can get mighty hot by late afternoon. It's a drag to go searching through luggage once you're on the road; if kids are in layers that they can take off and put back on according to their individual needs, parents have that one less thing to do.

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