Traveling by car has a lot of advantages. You can come and go as you please, you can be as noisy, weird and messy as you please and it is (usually) more economical than mass transportation. On the downside, car trips can take a lot longer and kids are more likely to be cranky or rambunctious when no one else is around. Read on for some helpful tips to make the car ride a fun part of your trip.
If you are renting a car you need to be aware of a few things. It is a very good idea to reserve your car in advance; agencies frequently run out of cars and you may be stuck in a 2 door sub-compact. Shop around for specials and discounts, especially if you belong to travel clubs. Rates can differ dramatically. Make sure you ask for specific features (automatic transmission, cruise control, A/C, tape deck, etc.) before reserving your car. Do not assume that they will be included, often they are not. Also, some rental cars have unlimited mileage, others do not. The charge for excess mileage can be as high as 15 cents/ mile which adds up very quickly.
Planning your trip can save a lot of headaches down the road. Calculate, realistically, how long your journey is. Remember that car trips to take about 1/3 longer when traveling with children than without. If trip is more than 6 or 7 hours it might be best to break the drive into 2 fun, sightseeing days. Children also have less tolerance of the confinement of a car, so plan for frequent stops, about every 1 or 2 hours. If possible, plan your stops around activities so you and your children can get a break and some exercise. A picnic by a playground can really hit the spot when you are on the road. Try to leave early in the morning and arrive before dark so your kids can familiarize themselves with their surroundings.
In the car it is essential to keep kids entertained, or at least occupied. Give kids as much space as possible for toys and activity. A solid writing surface, such as a bean-bag lap desk, is a real asset. Make sure children each have some of their own toys to avoid backseat squabbles (see tips on packing a travel knapsack). Kids love to watch grownups act goofy. Sing songs, tell silly stories, play games, do whatever makes you and your kids happy. Consider the ride a special part of your vacation and cherish the time together.
Even on the most well-planned car ride children will fidget, bicker or whine. It is their way of expressing boredom or discomfort. One way to deal with this is to plan surprises along the way. A special tape or a new toy is a great way to perk up the little ones. Rotate seats to give kids a turn up front as the navigator. This will also allow some precious one-on-one time with your kids. If things get out of control, STOP. Find a park or a playground and let off some steam before you lose your temper.