1) Print out a map of the route and set expectations. Let the kids know it is going to be a long drive, ban the question "Are we there yet?", and give the kids frequent updates so that they can track progress on the map.
2) Make the kids comfortable, hydrated and well fed. The kids should be dressed in comfy clothes and surrounded by pillows and blankets. A bin with lots of water and snacks should also be easily accessible.
Snack packs are fun too. Check out all the details here.
Gum is great for stretching out the time between snacks.
4) Play car games. Search the internet for road trip game ideas. My boys loved a road trip scavenger hunt that I printed out for them.
5) Play music, listen to audio books, and watch movies. When it comes to boredom busting, electronics can be your best friend. Audio books (which are available at the library) are a fantastic idea because they can entertain the kids AND the driver.
6) Make the road trip part of the vacation. There is no need to make a long drive pure torture. If the kids need a break, stop. A five minute break to run around and stretch will make a road trip much more enjoyable. There are also many interesting sites along highways. e.g. We made a quick stop at the "world's largest covered bridge", and we were glad we did.
7) Plan stops or stay somewhere overnight. I have discovered that my children are not designed to sit still in a car for more than eight hours, and if your kids are like mine, it may be worth the investment to take a break and spend a night at a hotel. A swim in a pool, a good night's sleep, and a hot breakfast will set you up for success on day two of your journey. (Bonus tip: Switching seats at rest stops is also a fun idea, as it gives everyone a change of scenery.)
I have heard that some people have had success with driving all night, but my boys are not good at sleeping in a car, so I ruled out this option for us. I also feel that getting to a destination with well-rested kids and exhausted parents sounds like a bit of a nightmare.
I am really pleased with how our road trip adventure unfolded, and I would definitely do it again. With a little prep, road trips can be a positive experience and a fantastic way to create childhood memories.
Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)
PS (Make sure you pack Ziploc bags. They are great for storing wet bathing suits and come in handy if someone gets car sick. Baby wipes also a fantastic thing to have in the van. They are useful for dirty hands and quick clean up.)