Hunger and boredom are the enemies of family road trip happiness. Focus on food and fun to make sure the hours in the care are building happy family memories. For travel snacks, choose healthy foods that are less messy. For example, opt for tiny sweet, easy-to-peel-and-eat Clementine oranges rather than the big, juicy hard-to-peel navel oranges. Or freeze sweet seedless grapes. They will help keep the cooler cool and taste like little popsicles to kids. Bananas are another good, less messy choice. But be sure to toss the peels at the next stop. Learn from my mistake: After a two-hour hike through the South Dakota Badlands in August, you won’t want to get back in a car filled with the smell of banana peels that have been rotting in the hot sun. For more substantial hunger, pack a bag with bread, jam, peanut butter, and utensils for making sandwiches at a rest stop. Fill Ziploc bags with homemade trail mix made of Cheerios, raisins, and (a few) M&Ms. For quenching thirst, stick with water. Kids might prefer juice or milk, but water is good for them and less hazardous to your car seats. Stay green (and save money) by refilling bottles at rest stop water fountains.
Entertain with Ease
With built-in DVDs and personal headphones, it’s tempting to let the TV babysit the kids. But this is not the best way to make family memories. Try books on tape rented from your local library instead. Plug the CD, cassette or your iPod into the car stereo and listen together. Even tweens and teens can be enticed to take out their earbuds and join the fun if everyone else is laughing to the antics of the “Sideways School” stories or debating a plot point in a Harry Potter book. Get kids involved in road trip route planning — and teach your tech-obsessed teens how to navigate without GPS — by encouraging them to follow along on a paper map. Buy laminated maps for younger kids who tend to have sticky fingers. The toughest part of a road trip for kids, especially for kids young enough to need a car seat, is the forced stillness. Stopping every two hours to let kids (and adults) stretch and move is important. But you can get everyone moving during those two-hour stretches of driving as well. Try a rousing game of head, shoulders, knees, and toes. As the song name implies, you first touch your head, then shoulders, then knees, then toes. To make it more fun, speed up the pace. Or give each person a turn singing the song — in any order they choose. For example, try toes, stomach, nose, and head.