Planning for a family road trip can feel like planning for a major military operation -- all that laundry and packing, plus all those lists and tasks, can make you long for a vacation from your vacation. Not to mention all those small voices whining, "Are we there yet?"
But there are ways to make getting away as a family a less daunting task. We asked parents and experts for their top tips for surviving a family road trip, and, with their help, you really can make getting there half the fun. 1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Before you even leave the house, make sure you've made your lists and checked them twice -- or even three times. Amy Kossoff Smith, a mom of three boys, all younger than 14, says planning ahead is the best way to stave off any on-the-road hiccups.
"Do everything in advance," the Maryland resident tells ParentDish. "(Have a list) of your itinerary, your snacks, your activities, everything."
She writes everything out to the letter, and says she also includes a back-up plan for the inevitable times when things don't go exactly as planned. Additionally, Smith keeps a separate list of "don't forget" items.
"I'm queen of the Post-It note on the counter for the last-minute items," she says. "There are always things you need the night before but may forget in the morning, so make a list as you pack so you don't forget (like your) toothbrush, contact lens cleaner, etc." 2. It's about the journey.
Everyone is eager to get to the final destination, especially when you're headed out for an exciting vacation. But you can make the journey, itself, almost as interesting, says Jill Parvin, a mom of two daughters, ages 18 and 4, from Vista, Calif.
"We did a 2,000-mile road trip last summer, and the most important thing I did was plan stops every three hours to explore," she tells ParentDish.
Parvin adds that she did her best not to drive for more than eight hours at a time, so she and her girls didn't get stir crazy.
Author and father Jeff Siegel agrees. His new book, "RelationTrips
," was inspired by a 10-year quest to see every Major League Baseball stadium in the United States with his son, Spence.
"Take the opportunity to explore new destinations along the way," Siegel tells ParentDish. "Pick out two or three new places to stop while in transit, such as a new landmark or roadside restaurant." 3. Let the kids take control.
Siegel also advises parents to turn the wheel over to the kids for a day or two. Choose one or two days during your trip, he says, and let the young ones decide how to spend them.
"Let your children research and plan all the activities. Encourage them to create an agenda that includes a theme and soundtrack for the day," he suggests.
Families with more than one child can either make it a joint effort, or assign each kid their own day or a portion of a day to plan. 4. Go for gadgets.
When we were kids, entertainment on the road mean counting license plates and playing "I Spy." These days, there are plenty of gadgets to keep the wee ones quiet for at least a few hundred miles.
Parvin made packing her teen's mp3 player -- and a pair of headphones -- a top priority. She also packed a small electronic game for her younger daughter. Even the preschool set has access to hand-held gaming systems these days, along with headphones designed for even the littlest bodies.
If electronics aren't your thing, Coco Peate of Westlake Village, Calif., suggests making a run to the dollar store to get a grab bag of inexpensive toys to surprise your kids with.
"Consider packing a bag for each child where you can hide his surprise toys among his own toys from home, snacks, crayons, coloring books, etc.," she says. "They'll each have their very own goody bag with their own toys and treats, which will hopefully prevent fights and provide hours of fun." 5. Snack attack.
Nothing soothes the savage beast like a good snack -- and it prevents meltdowns and unnecessary stops along the way.
"Take more food than you think you'll need," says Lisa Cottrell-Bentley, author of the "Wright on Time
" series of children's chapter books about an RV-living, homeschooling family who travels the United States. "Food always gets eaten."
Cottrell-Bentley, a mom of of two from Sahuarita, Ariz., suggests packing non-perishable things such as nuts and fruit leather.
"The more food you take with you, the less you'll need to buy on the road," she tells ParentDish.
Just remember to choose healthy items. The occasional treat is fine, but you don't want to risk getting sick on your vacation by going too far astray from your usual good eating habits.
Cottrell-Bentley also suggests getting your kids to help with the selection.
"Have the kids help pick out the items," she says. "They're more likely to eat what they've helped to purchase."