In Kids & Family

No matter where your destination is - and even if it isn't in summer - every trip is a learning experience. (PHOTO: r. nial bradshaw/Flickr)

8 essential family road trip tips

Summer! It's time to uncover the grill, determine which swimsuits still fit the children and plan the annual summer vacation.

In our family (with three kids), we like to switch things up, so last summer we decided to road trip from Milwaukee to North Carolina (about a 12-hour drive, without stops).

No matter what your destination, and even if it isn't in summer, every trip is a learning experience.

So here are my tips from my family to yours.

1. Consider your final destination

Do you have friends you could stop for a night and see along the way? Wouldn't it be great to see your roommate from freshman year of college again who now lives in Lexington, Ky., or wherever? This accomplishes many things: creates adult time, provides new friends for your kids to meet (assuming they have kids of their own), saves money on a hotel and, best of all, breaks up a long or any drive.

2. Hit the dollar section at Target or your local dollar store

It doesn't take much to entertain kids, so adding new, inexpensive things into their backpacks keeps them occupied for at least 30 minutes ... ugh only 11.5 hours to go! Each of my kids has his or her own backpack for the car. I do the packing, so they are always surprised the first time they open it, usually right out of the driveway. In addition to the fun stuff I find in the dollar section at Target, I also add things like a couple packs of gum, markers, a new coloring or activity book, a travel game and books for reading. Lastly, I hide a few of their smaller toys weeks in advance of our vacation and then add these in as well. Works great with Matchbox cars and LEGO minifigures.

3. Pinterest

Still not on it as you are worried it's a time sucker? Well, it is. However, there are great uses for it, and road trips are one of them. There are a lot of great free printables you can find on Pinterest. Pin them to a personal board, and you have them for future car rides. I purchased these great clip boards that have storage for papers (aka all of the FREE printables I found) and then pencils or pens at the bottom. Here are two searches to make it easier on Pinterest for you: Road Trip Activities for Kids and Free Road Trip Printables.

4. Pack snacks

This is an easy one. The only thing to consider is how trashed you want your car by the end? Or, if you think along my lines, your car is going to be trashed no matter what, so pretzels and raisins in Ziploc baggies it is!

5. Large storage size Ziploc bags

If you are doing a road trip where you are stopping every few days, separate clothes by day for the entire family. So Monday's bag holds the whole family's clothes for that day. When you stop, all you need is Monday's bag and your separate travel bag that has all the toiletries and everyone's pajamas. It makes it so much easier than unpacking five suitcases every time you stop.

6. Determine the car rules

My children have limited screen time at home, which works in our favor in the car with a DVD player. Our No. 1 rule is you can watch one movie and then we have an hour break. They can read, play a game, look through their backpacks, stare out the window or eat a snack, but they need to give their "TV eyes" some time off. Another rule: If we stop for one person to go potty, then everyone else has to test it.

7. Use your local library

Get some books on the states you are driving through and your final destination. It is a great way to get the kids more excited and involved in your vacation planning. We love the book "101 Places You Gotta See Before You're 12" and consult it for ideas before every trip. This book has provided us with numerous interesting places to see while traveling around the country and even in our home state.

8. Stock your car with all kinds of supplies

Water bottles for everyone, including you and your spouse. If you are on a long car ride and need to refill, you can purchase large bottles of water and add to each individual water bottle versus buying each child a water bottle of their own that they will never finish.

Also: wipes. If you have kids, you get why that's important. Make sure you have a few plastic bags tucked away that you could quickly access in the event of someone throwing up. If this does happen, then you will need air freshener. I just keep a bottle in the car all of the time now.

Tissues are another thing to stock up on before leaving town. Kids love to pick their nose. Would anyone like a tissue?

Lastly, flip flops. I have my kids wear these in the car, so when we stop, it doesn't become a 10-minute production of locating shoes and/or socks and then tying them.

And with that, safe travels!


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