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Written by:  Malia Jacobson
Date: June 1, 2012

Planning to hit the road in search of summer adventure? You're not alone. Despite high gas prices, the road trip is a cherished summer tradition — 95 percent of vacationers reach their destination by car, according to AAA. The thought of spending hours in the car with antsy kids, however, isn't always appealing.

Short of barricading the backseat with a wall of DVDs and video games, is there anything parents can do to make road trips more pleasant? Absolutely, says Tom Crosby, vice president of communication for AAA Carolinas. Road trips should be enjoyed, not endured. "Parents should consider the trip a part of their vacation, and not just an ordeal between point A and point B," he says.

Ages 0-5
Schedule sync

When traveling with babies, tots and preschoolers, keeping everyone happy is all about timing. Amanda and Michael Riley of Raleigh have logged countless miles on the road with their 1-year-old daughter, Stella. They plan most road trips during Stella's naptime to help keep trips peaceful. For preschoolers who no longer nap, traveling at night lets kids snooze while parents focus on the road.

If traveling during naptimes or at night isn't feasible, entertain little ones with the element of surprise. Fill a bag with inexpensive treasures (like stickers, a drawing pad, cardboard books, small stuffed toys or a small dry-erase board with markers) and let them choose a new "surprise" every 20-30 minutes.

Plan a little extra travel time, because driving with young children typically requires frequent stops. Take a break every one to two hours so kids can use the bathroom, stretch and grab a snack.

Ages 6-10
Fun and games

Elementary-age kids are excellent travel companions. They're young enough to appreciate the wonder of a trip and old enough to play car games. Turn a car trip into a fun learning opportunity by playing travel Bingo: Make a list or grid of geographical markers, landmarks and historical attractions along your route that kids can mark off as you go. (Check out momsminivan.com for printable travel Bingo cards, tic-tac-toe boards and other free travel games.) Head off "Where are we, anyway?" queries by giving kids a map of your travel route so they can chart your progress.

To fire up kids' imaginations, pull out Story Starters in a Jar cards (Free Spirit Publishing, $9.99). Then let family members take turns pulling out the cards and spinning tall tales.

Ages 11-18
Connections to go

By paving the way for questions and dialogue, car trips present an opportunity for parents to bond with tweens and teens. Before pulling out of the driveway, let older kids know you're expecting some family chat during the trip; set media limits so teens aren't texting or zoning out in front of a screen for miles on end. Equip teen shutterbugs with a camera to document the trip. (See page 31 for more kid-friendly photo tips.)

Tweens and teens can join in more intellectual travel games like "Dictionary," during which each player says a word and others have to guess if it's real or made up, or "Who's In the Next Car?" when travelers invent life stories for the people in neighboring cars. Question-and-answer books like "If ... Questions for Teens" (Kindle Edition, $11.99) by Evelyn McFarlane and James Saywell also help get the car-chatter rolling.

Malia Jacobson  is a freelance writer and mom of two.



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