Tips for enjoying the perfect family road trip.
Now that full-body scans and pat-downs are making the skies seem a little too friendly, vacationing by car is more appealing than ever. It also helps that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has pumped nearly $27 billion into the nation’s bridges and highways since 2009. Here, Jamie Jensen, author of the best-selling Road Trip USA series (Avalon Travel)—and father to 12-year-old twins who are his frequent backseat companions—shares a few pointers on making it a fun and squabble-free ride.
Do Your Homework
Young travelers feel more invested if they share some control over the itinerary. Involve them in online research for destination ideas: a place they’re learning about in school, perhaps, or the location of a movie they love.
Play to Their Interests
If your daughter loves water, find swimming holes along your route—and keep bathing suits close at hand, not packed up in the trunk. If your son plays baseball, think about catching a minor league game, visiting the hometown of his favorite athlete, or stopping at a deserted diamond for an impromptu game.
Keep the Car Cozy
Clear out the detritus of your everyday life to make room for creature comforts: pillows, blankets, and as many familiar playthings as you can fit, from iPods to pacifiers. Organize separate backpacks and make each kid responsible for his or her own stuff, just like at home.
Give Them Jobs
Tasks make kids feel important. If you’re using a GPS unit, budding techies can play navigator, charting your course and suggesting detours or side trips (they can do the same with a road atlas). Or bring a copy of your itinerary and let them track what you’ve seen, places you’ve skipped, and things you want to add.
Hit the Brakes
Bathroom stops are a good thing—they force you to get out of the car and talk with locals. According to Jensen, a 10-minute break every two hours also increases alertness and cuts down on aches and pains.
Related: America’s Best Road Trips
Divide the drive into manageable segments, and don’t overplan. If you find a place they like, stop and enjoy it. And be open to diversions you may hear about along the way (on the radio; from a gas attendant). These are the things that make a road trip so much more than just a long drive.
No-Hassle T+L Tip
“If your kids will miss school while you’re on the road, ask their teachers if they can make up some of the work by writing about the places they visit in a journal,” Jensen says. “It keeps them focused on the trip and not plugged into the Nintendo DS.”
Jennifer Miranda is a contributor to Travel + Leisure.