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What parent hasn't cringed at the plaintive question "Are we there yet?" uttered in a whiny five-year old voice? Are you tired of refereeing WWIII in the back seat? Have you ever considered slipping tranquilizers in the juice?
If so, you're not alone. The thought of a car trip with kids is enough to give most adults a major anxiety attack. It is possible to actually have a pleasant drive with your kids but it requires planning and determination on your part.
Get your children involved in the trip planning. Talk about where you're going and what you'll do there. Have them do a little research on your destination. Discuss what you'll be seeing on the way. Pull out the maps and have the kids help you trace the route and note points of interest on the way such as parks, historical sites, etc. as well as possible side-trips.
Plan what you'll need in the car. A lot depends on the ages of your children but everyone needs a small pillow for those blessed naps. An insulated bottle for each child can hold water or juice while a small soft sided cooler can hold little snacks and some wipes for a cool cleanup. Make sure everyone packs a security toy. Prepare a surprise bag for each child to include a puzzle or coloring book, markers, stickers, or travel sized games. Personal cassette players with story tapes for younger children and music for older ones can bring some much-needed quiet time for the adults.
If you have several children, give each an area of reponsibility. One can be the navigator, in charge of the map. They can tell you how long til the next rest stop and use a guidebook to announce points of interest along the way. One can be in charge of snacks- let them plan what to bring and how to parcel them out. One can be the trip recorder, taking pictures and collecting brochures and postcards along the way. Inexpensive disposable cameras can make lasting memories and keep kids looking for that next "great shot".
Include frequent stops to let everyone stretch. Bring a ball or jump rope to let them burn off some energy. Consider a picnic lunch if your route passes a good place to stop or resign yourself to fast food with a playground- either way allow enough time for everyone to eat and play before piling back in the car for the next leg of the trip. Stop early enough for the night for the kids to swim at the motel before bed. Bring cereal, milk and bowls for breakfast in the room the next morning and don't forget to do a last-minute sweep of the room (look under the bed) before pulling out in the morning to make sure no security blanket is left behind!
In any case, don't be in a hurry. Accept the fact that travel with kids takes longer and you'll find yourself enjoying your time together more. Remember the journey to the fun can be as memorable as the destination itself!