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The Mazda was packed full.

When I was a child, getting into the car every summer is something we just did. With six of us and family across the country, summer vacation was all about visiting family, and not so much about traveling.

In spite of our recent Irish road trip, It’s not something we’ve done much of as a family. Our son doesn’t really like being in a car for long, and our daughter gets car sick if she reads while riding. We managed to get to Montana for our family reunion and back without too much friction, yelling or beatings. Okay, no beatings, though one was threatened. And, if you know me, you might imagine what it would take to get me to even make that kind of threat.

What follows are a few thoughts about getting ready and on the road. This is not comprehensive by any means, but just a few things I think worked for us.

Things to do before you go.

1. Stock up on your family’s favorite snacks and beverages. It’s not that you need a whole lot, but enough to get you through a day or two of grumbling in the car when someone gets gnoshy. Get a few not-too-messy treats for the car and make sure they are easily accessible to someone so that you aren’t stuck with a situation where everyone knows what they want but can’t get to it. Note: If your snacks contain chocolate, you might want to put them in a cooler or cooler bag to keep them from melting. Or, consider taking them inside with you if you will be out of the car in extreme heat. There’s nothing worse than sticking your hand in a bag of melted candy while still in the car. (Okay, I know what you’re thinking about worse things than a hand covered in chocolate, but I’m not covering them in this post.) You might want to add paper towels, plastic trash bags and some handiwipes to your essentials list.

2. Make sure the drivers have their sunglasses.
Summer driving often means long hours in the car heading in the direction of the sun. It doesn’t really matter whether you are heading East or West, at some point the sun is likely to be in your eyes. Avoid the strain and keep safe by having a good pair of sunglasses. I managed to get a pair of new prescription polarized glasses just the week before our most recent trip, and it saved my head.

3. Make a playlist (or two or three) for the car.
Almost everyone has an mp3 device of some sort. Make up several playlists if needed, but put some thought into what you’ll need for the journey. We didn’t do this ahead of time. On the final day of our most recent trip, the husband put together one pretty quickly on my iphone, and it literally saved my sanity and kept our 8YO from inciting me to violence. There’s something about music and singing together in the car that creates a positive atmosphere. We use a tuner connector that plays through the radio. The presence of these devices has most likely killed the need for anyone to ever sing “99 Bottles of Beer On the Wall,” something for which we can all be grateful.

4. Figure out where you are heading, have a paper map or a plan that doesn’t rely on cellular service.
This may sound archaic in the day of GPS and all that, but my brother called me from downtown Seeley asking me where the resort was. His TomTom had told him he had arrived when he was still a couple miles away. Most of America is well serviced by our cellular network, but there are pockets where we had no service whatsoever. Don’t count on technology to be there 100%. And, don’t always count on there being a person around to ask for directions if you get lost.

While Traveling:

The view of the hotel from our 6th story room.

1. Break up your trip as much as you can.
The destination is important, but don’t let that rule you so much you forget to enjoy the journey. I mean this literally and not as some trite life metaphor. This can take many forms and be customized for your particular family situation. For us, it means stopping frequently at rest stops that have enough room to toss a frisbee for a while. We get out, stretch our legs, use the toilets, and move around a bit. We were blessed with being on I-90 where there are regular rest stops along the way that are, more or less, dependable. Some are even staffed with people selling coffee, lemonade and cookies for one service organization or another. If you’re traveling along some of America’s more scenic routes, stop and look at those historical markers and roadside oddities. Visit that castle made of bottle caps or places that tout marvels of the universe. It breaks up the boredom.

We also like to stop in hotels with swimming pools. I love to swim, so this is as much about my own sanity as it is anyone else’s. I also discovered that doing a cartwheel under water in just the right way can also crack my back perfectly—the persistent pain between my shoulders from the first day of driving completely disappeared until we were just a few hours from home.

2. Use SLEEP to your advantage.

If you have little kids who can sleep while in the car, drive…just drive while you can and go as safely as you can without getting caught speeding or doing anything insane. This advice also works for some teens. Get up early. EARLY, like 4:00-5:00 early and put the teens in the car. The natural tendency for them is to just sleep through the morning while you drive. (This is from my brother who was traveling with four, yes, FOUR, teenage girls.) This didn’t really work for us as my son can’t sleep while upright unless we are five minutes from home. When be was younger we did have some success working around his sleep times.

3. Try not to sweat the small stuff and ignore your backseat drivers as much as possible.

I find this particularly hard, but it really is best to just let that camper trailer think be can pass the big rig if he pulls in front of you. It’s not really that long before he’ll pull back in front of the 18 wheeler and you can speed ahead. I hate being behind big vehicles. I like being able to see as far ahead as possible, so I am almost always trying to get ahead of them. The thing about summer is the roads are filled with truckers and campers. My hubby was constantly making motions to indicate what he would be doing differently. I think I only snapped at him a few times, and I never once pulled over, tossed the keys at him and told him to drive instead.

4. Use google and tripadvisor to find yummy hole in the wall eateries.
We had one fast food stop–at a Wendy’s because we needed the toilet and they have really good iced tea. The rest of our dining options were found through a quick Internet search, and we found some good places to eat. Sure, you might know what to expect at a McDonald’s, but…you know what to expect at a McDonald’s. I realize this advice relies on you having a phone or something that can connect to the web while in the car, but, it is possible to plan out stops way ahead and do some research before you go. Unfortunately, the Internet is cluttered with old information, so you might consider calling a restaurant before spending a lot of time driving around a town. When we got into Ritzville, we realized that our chosen place was closed and opted for the less than superb restaurant that was open instead. In Spokane, the Greek restaurant that promised awesome gyros was closed with no explanation.

5. Try to maintain a sense of humor.

When our son asked, for the 80 gagillionth time, “When will we get there?” The hubby said something like,”You’ve asked that a thousand times…” Our son replied,”But, that’s what kids my age are supposed to do.”
What else could we do but laugh?

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