Summer is here, and that means it's time for vacation. And what type of vacation facilitates family bonding more than the classic road trip?
Road trips allow you to see different parts of the country, travel at your own pace and enjoy the little things, like a scenic view outpost or a great ice cream shop.
If you're planning on logging some long hours on the road with the kids in tow, you're going to need to be prepared with snacks, activities and a sense of humor (or just a high tolerance for the phrase, “Are we there yet?”)
Luckily, plenty of parents have done this before.
Here are five of our best strategies for zapping boredom on the road:
1. Make travel choices together.
One of the biggest mistakes parents make when deciding to take a road trip with their kids is not including them in the planning process. Even preschoolers have the skills needed to participate in choosing places to visit. You just need to give them the right tools.
As you map out the trip, pick a few child-friendly places in your intended destination cities and ask them which ones they'd like to visit. You can then help your child construct a visual map that shows where these places are on your route.
With older children, discuss the vacation plans as you would with other adults by simply asking where they want to go. Often, older kids feel like they're being dragged along on some strange project of their parents' making when on a road trip, but when you build in some stops they've asked to visit, the trip tends to be much more enjoyable.
2. Consider your adventure vehicle.
Taking a road trip in an unsuitable or overly crowded car may bring back memories of your own childhood, but do you really think back to your spot on the hump seat all that fondly?
Your children don't want to be crammed in too closely with their siblings any more than you want to sit in the middle seat on the airplane. It's uncomfortable, people are touching you and it's not an enjoyable way to travel. If you're going to take a road trip, you need a car where everyone has a little room to stretch out.
In addition to space, it helps if your backseat has enough cup holders for each child, as well as USB ports for a few devices. You may also want to build in extra storage for the duration of the trip.
During normal travel, too much storage means things can get lost or forgotten (including moldy snacks and sour milk), but there's no such thing as too much storage when you've got hundreds of miles ahead of you. You can repurpose things like over-the-door shoe racks for perfect backseat storage.
3. Be snack smart.
Great snacks are the fuel for any summer road trip, but they're also ideal territory for siblings bickering over who ate the last handful of Goldfish crackers.
To put a stop to the snack wars, pick up a craft organizer box for each child (a flat box with lots of small compartments for storing beads and things like that).
Let each child decorate his or her box and decide what snacks he or she wants. (You can bring extras and refresh the boxes from the trunk as you go.) With each box assigned to a particular child, your children can't blame anyone for the gummy bears being gone.
4. Try trip tickets.
There are always a few high-value treats that go with any road trip: picking the radio station or CD, choosing the DVD to watch (pick some up at your library to cut down on costs), picking a snack at the rest stop or picking the next car game.
At the start of each trip, make a set of these tickets for each child with whatever incentives and activities work for your family. As the trip goes on, the kids can trade in tickets for rewards and activities.
You may also want to make a set for yourself if you want to hear anything other than the "Frozen" soundtrack for days.
5. Eat less fast food.
One of the worst things about road trips is the limited number of food options at rest stops. And while the kids may be happy to eat McDonald's every day, you won't feel great filling up on this junk. Luckily, road trips actually offer much greater flexibility around meals than we typically consider.
Since you're already planning to be off the beaten path, skip the rest stop and have a picnic at a scenic stopping point. You can either pack the picnic provisions in a cooler at the start of the trip, or stop at a local grocery store. Take advantage of this time outside to get a little exercise, and everyone will get back in the car feeling refreshed.
Once you've mastered the art of road trip distractions, you'll be well-equipped for vacation travel for years to come, and you'll make memories that will last a lifetime. Equipped with these tips, it's time to finish planning and start driving. New places and adventures await.