All across America, families are planning to drive many miles for summer travel. If a road trip lasts more than half a day, the kids begin to get bored and cranky resulting in a lousy experience for all. Here are a few tips and hacks to make the road trip less stressful, more safe and part of the holiday fun.
1. Create a list of phone numbers of doctors, family and the dog sitter. I suggest a paper list stored in the car as it will last longer than a phone battery and will become invaluable if your phone is lost or stolen.
If an unfortunate accident should occur, this paper list will be easier for police to use than searching through a phone contact list full of names not important. Make sure all family members know where it is.
2. Get a Weather App. Don’t leave the house without knowing if a tornado is heading straight for your route or snow is predicted. Flexibility is the key to a safe road trip.
3. Bring a second pair of prescription glasses, even an outdated pair that can be used for driving. A small separate ice chest is recommended for medications to keep them cool and out of the sun.
4. Make sure the car’s manual is easy to find and jumper cables are in good working condition. Pack an emergency kit with a flashlight, batteries, gloves, Swiss Army knife, first aid kit and flares. I am a big fan of AAA and been a member for 38 years. But whoever you choose, auto emergency organizations are priceless when sitting on a lonely road with a flat tire.
5. Prepare an ice chest full of non-gooey non-crumbling finger food. Eating out every meal is expensive and not always the healthiest. A big meal can make a driver sleepy. Stop at roughly two-hour intervals in pre-planned places and munch on the goodies to keep everyone alert. My favorite items are apples, grapes, cheese, smoked salmon, olives, French bread and M&Ms.
6. Pack a bag with extra napkins and wash cloths. If time is of the essence, lots of eating and drinking will be done in the car. Be prepared for spills or sticky faces. Recycled jars with wide mouths and screw lids (peanut butter or jelly jars) make perfect spill-proof snack containers and are easier to hold for little hands. Before leaving, the kids could create their own snack jars with their name on the lid.
7. Download the SitorSquat app which helps people on the road to find clean public bathrooms. Pack plenty of sanitary wipes that can be used for toilet paper at unexpected stops along the way or to clean a toilet seat in a not-so-clean bathroom.
8. Research car games your grandmother played. Watching movies on IPads is popular, but the screens are hard to see with sunshine glare. Batteries die and sometimes not everyone wants to watch the same movie, so be prepared to play active games designed for road trips.
9. Take everyone’s favorite pillow. Not only are they helpful for little naps in the car, but make sleeping in an unfamiliar place much more enjoyable. Put a different pillow case on each one to eliminate the argument of who has who’s pillow. Pillows can be stacked up to separate arguing children, used as a gametable or placed underneath a small child so they can see the scenery better. When your legs get stiff, prop the foot under a pillow. A favorite book or toy can be stashed inside their pillowcase, keeping the car neater and toys from disappearing. Don’t forget Fido’s pillow if a pet is along for the ride.
10. Make paper travel maps for the kids to trace the route and cross off important landmarks. Leave space for their personal notes creating a lifetime diary of the trip. After arriving home, print photos and post on a bulletin board with the maps or make a scrapbook. But most important, start the trip with a positive and fun attitude. Be prepared for things to go wrong, but remember it is not the end of the world. The things that go right will become road trip memories lasting long after the trip is over.
Ann Bush is an East Texas-based freelance writer and photographer. She's also a veteran of many a long road trip.