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Road Rules

When our kids were small, we took a road trip from our home in Austin to San Antonio. Although our destination was less than two hours away, we planned to stay overnight in a hotel to immerse ourselves in the sights and sounds of a great getaway city.

We each chose an attraction that meant something to us. Our son Josh chose the Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not Odditorium for its macabre and rare collections. Daughter Rachel picked the Alamo because she’d gone there on a class field trip and wanted to share it with the rest of the family. My husband wanted to enjoy authentic Mexican food. And I opted for an afternoon riverboat cruise through the famous Riverwalk district.

Because we each had a chosen destination, we all managed to tolerate and enjoy the other family members’ choices because we would soon experience our own pick.

Road trips can be wonderful experiences and the destination need not be far away to have a good time. Planning well in advance will take some of the guesswork out of the trip, and allow you to concentrate less on the logistics and more on the actual moment-by-moment experience.

Michelle VanAuken of Hamilton, mother of a 13- and 16-year-old, took her family’s first road trip when her son was just a month old. She believes that the primary rule of road trips is to allow plenty of time to get there, without being in a rush.
“Regardless of how accomplished your parenting skills, being in a hurry or missing an arrival time leads to stress and tension,” says VanAuken. “So allow enough time for unscheduled stops.”
Since your vehicle will be your rolling home, pack the essentials within reach of adults and older children. Fill the pouch behind the seat with plastic grocery bags to collect trash, consolidate small items and for car sickness. Take along a pack of wet wipes and use them for everything from cleaning sticky hands after snacks to freshening up after a catnap.

Pack healthy foods and take along a cooler with ice. Stow washed and cut fruit in zip-top bags, pepperoni slices, 100 percent fruit juice boxes and water. Avoid chips, sugary snacks and candy.

Mealtime doesn’t have to mean stopping at another boring fast-food chain. Seek out the mom-and-pop diners and hometown eateries for a taste of the local area and a memorable stop. Or you might stop at the grocery store for lunch meats and fresh whole grain breads.

Take your deli lunch to a nearby park or rest area and give the kids time to run and play while you assemble sandwiches. Individually wrapped popsicles will stay frozen for a short time in an iced cooler for a quick cold treat before you pile back into the car.

Because food should never be used to combat boredom, pack a variety of entertaining activity starters. Take along coloring books and zip-top bags of crayons or colored pencils. Magnetic travel games work great as long as your kids don’t get car sick.

VanAuken says one activity that never grows old is her constant conversation with the kids. She engages them in discussion about things they see from the car. Talk about the construction zone you’re driving through and ask for their thoughts on why we slow down, and why it is important to maintain the roads, adjusting the topic and questions for your child.

“This practice has made my kids alert and observant of their surroundings,” says VanAuken. “And as they got older, they continued to notice and comment on things around us.”

“My kids would sit on pillows so that they could see better out the car window and play games where they pretended that they were driving the tractor trailer that passed us,” says VanAuken. “Or they’d play ‘squish’ where they’d ‘capture’ trees or houses or cars between their index finger and thumb and squish them in midair.” Parents should establish ground rules for good behavior and rewards for those who play nice.

With the high price of fuel, summer trips may require scaling down expenses. At restaurants, try ordering one fewer entree than you have people (ask nicely for extra plates) and then serve up the food family style so everyone can sample. With smaller kids’ appetites and generous restaurant portions, tummies are usually satisfied and you’ve saved a bit of money.

“Don’t be afraid to ask a hotel if a lower rate is available,” advises VanAuken. “Let the registration desk know that you have a budget for lodging.” If you arrive late in the day, hotels would rather sell a room at a lower rate than have it go empty. Feel comfortable enough to negotiate the room rate, especially if you are spending more than one night. This strategy may not work if the hotel is full, but it is worth a try.

VanAuken recommends that families with road trips in mind invest in a AAA membership. With annual dues starting at about $50, members get free road maps and destination guidebooks, often with discounts to attractions.

Sometimes the journey is as much about getting there as finally arriving. The trip can be a valuable, and often overlooked, part of the journey. Plan well, be flexible, and use the time in the car to really connect with your kids: They’ll be a captive audience! Are we there yet?                            

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York