Eight-step recipe for stress-free family travel

Summer is here and it’s time for a vacation. Unfortunately, traveling with kids isn’t exactly a recipe for rest and relaxation. Backseat bickering and mid-route meltdowns often turn what is supposed to be a memorable adventure into the trip from hell. So what is the real secret to stress-free family travel? Entertain. Busy kids are happy kids and happy kids mean happy parents.

Since you can’t always bring a sitter on the road, it is up to you to keep your little ones occupied. Stuck for ideas? Check out these eight ideas for on-the-go entertainment.

1. Lose the technology limits. At home you may holler to turn off the TV or put down the Nintendo DS, but when traveling, give your kids (and yourself) a break. Don’t feel like you are a bad parent for letting your kids spend their travel time staring at a screen – it is often the best way to keep them occupied and happy. And it doesn’t all have to be mindless entertainment. Educational handheld games and downloadable audio books are more intellectual options. Here’s a tip: Make a run to the library before your trip and pick out some DVDs, CDs, or audio books. It’s free and your kids will be excited by something new.

2. Go old-fashioned. There’s a reason the license plate game is still around 50 years later. For no-frills family fun, try old standbys like 20 Questions, Counting Cows, Geography or Travel Bingo. Another source of old-fashioned fun is a classic board game like Sorry, Clue, and checkers, which all come in travel sizes. You may be surprised by how much your kids will love these simple amusements so don’t be afraid to drop the DVDs and start a rousing game of I Spy.

3. Surprise them. Purchase some new toys to reveal on the road. These surprise amusements do not need to break the bank. The simple act of running to the dollar store for a couple of new playthings can go a long way to prolong the period until the next “Are we there yet?”

4. Appoint a co-pilot. Give your kids a map or directions to your destination and ask them to help you navigate the trip. Put them in charge of alerting you of upcoming exits or identifying points of interest. This is a great way to keep older children stimulated and teach them the valuable skill of using a map to travel from point A to point B.

5. Pack snacks. No matter what toys you have in tow, your child will not survive the trip on an empty stomach. Fueling them with their favorite snacks will keep them engaged in whatever activities you brought. Do not rely on plane food or rest stop snacks. Picky kids will turn their noses at the unfamiliar fare, not to mention the selection will mostly be junk food. Bring healthy options from home like PB&J, granola bars, and fruit – and hey, a few sugary treats for emergencies couldn’t hurt either.

6. Get creative. For the artistically inclined child, a sketchpad alone could be enough to occupy them for hours. Let their creativity reign free. Or engage their artsy side by asking them to capture the passing landscape or draw their own version of the family home, complete with their favorite (and much-missed) pet in the front yard. And remember, a simple coloring book-perhaps featuring their favorite Disney character – rarely disappoints.

7. Schedule stops. Stopping regularly is essential to road trip survival. Not only are stops necessary for diaper changes and snack runs, but also for preventing en route meltdowns. Giving kids a chance to run around and burn some energy can be the difference between a peaceful car ride and the road trip from hell. A romp around a McDonald’s play place or game of tag in a park near the highway will reduce antsiness and improve your child’s mood. To add to the fun, bring along a soccer ball, a Frisbee, or jump rope.

8. Buy an activity kit. Activity kits are the simple solution to backseat boredom. Rather than cramming a bag full of games, notebooks, crayons, and craft supplies, simply buy a kit which has it all. Activity kits come with pages of coloring, mazes, puzzles, and car games – enough to keep your little one content for hours. TravelKiddy and Klutz are the best places to find fun activity kits that will make your next family trip pain-free.

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