Take a Family Road Trip

Packing fun into the family road trip

It's a classic family vacation scenario. In the sixties, parents loaded up the wood-panelled station wagon and headed out on the road. Today, it's probably a minivan or SUV. Though the vehicles have evolved, the basic ingredients of a family road trip are the same: parents, kids, maybe the family pet and whole lot of luggage.

It takes just a little planning to minimize the stress of family holidays and maximize the fun.

Oil check

Take care of necessary pre-trip maintenance

  • Make sure your oil is on "full". That also goes for all fluid levels including power steering, coolant and brakes.
  • Check tires for wear and inflate them to the recommended pressure level. Ensure your spare is in good shape and ready to go.
  • Make sure the children's car seats are properly installed.

Stock up on fun and games

  • Before you leave, pay a visit to your local library, book store or dollar store and pick up some items that will help pass the time.
  • Talking books-Younger children love stories by Beverly Clearly, Roald Dahl and Dr. Suess. These stories will engage even Mom and Dad. Still on the topic of CDs, don't be afraid to get silly with comedy selections from Bill Cosby, Weird Al Yankovic or the Arrogant Worms.
  • Magnetic Games-Thank goodness for the grippy little magnet that makes it possible to play board games over even the bumpiest terrain. Usually inexpensive, you can pick up mini magnet versions of many board games such as backgammon, Chinese checkers and Battleship.
  • Sticker and colouring books-Usually inexpensive, these books can keep kids busy for long periods of time.
  • Summer Santa gifts-Sometimes you've done your best to keep the kids amused, but spirits start to flag. Take along a stash of inexpensive, age-appropriate toys that you can dole out in moments of need. For the very little ones it may be a board book or a stuffy, for the older kids, a puzzle, a kaleidoscope or a lump of playdough.

children on the rear seats

Play word games

Thanks to modern innovation you've got some cool tools to help keep the crew amused. DVD players and iPods definitely help, but the old-school strategies are surprisingly fun and engage the whole family.

  • Guessing Games-Even the most techno-savvy kids will enjoy a game of I Spy or 20 Questions. Just remind them that the item they have in mind for I Spy has to be inside the car.
  • Build-a-story-The first person starts the story with one word, each person adds another word, building on the story. It's always fun to see what unexpected turns your story takes.

Take advantage of sleep times

Get plenty of rest the day before you leave and when it's bedtime for the kids, put them in their PJs and hit the road. The theory is they'll fall asleep and you'll get hours of uninterrupted driving done. Some kids, though, might perk up because of the change in routine and may stay up and get cranky.

Alternately, you can get up really early and carry the sleeping kiddies into the car where they'll continue to sleep. When they're awake you can stop for breakfast. This last strategy actually works quite well with teenagers, but they'll have to walk out to the car on their own.

2011 Ford Edge Limited

Photo: Matthieu Lambert/Auto123.com

Pack some snacks

A little in-car snack not only helps pass the time, but keeps the kids happy-and sometimes a full tummy can lead to a short nap.

  • Keep lots of water on hand. It keeps kids hydrated, and doesn't send blood sugar skyrocketing. If spilled, it will dry with out sticky stains.
  • Cheese strings
  • Bananas and apple slices
  • Bagels, cookies, granola bars

Keep a few essentials within reach

  • Sick bags - preferably within easy reach of each child
  • Pre-packaged wet wipes
  • Tissues
  • First aid kit

Consider the following

  • A road trip may not be the best idea if your little one is toilet training. If you have to make the trip, plan on frequent stops and be extra forgiving of slip-ups.
  • If possible, allow each child to choose a stop along the way - a favourite doughnut shop, the Largest Goose Monument, or a kitschy roadside mini-golf. Having a say will put them in the driver's seat (not literally) for a little while.

Remember, when you're stuck on a parched highway with a flat tire, or Junior has lost his lunch all over Dad, it's the low moments that, given time, make the best family stories.