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Road Trips with Kids: 6 Tips for Smoother Travel

Hitting the road this holiday season to visit loved ones? Road trips can be a great family bonding experience — but with everyone in a small space for an extended time, it's easy for children and adults to get a little cranky. Whether you're driving for two hours or two days, a little pre-planning can help any road trip with kids be a smoother, more enjoyable experience.

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  1. Cover the basics: Be sure your vehicle is ready for the road. Before hitting the road, give your car a quick tune-up. Check the oil and tire pressure, top off fluids, and check your belts, hoses and wiper blades. Next, check your car's emergency kit. In addition to the spare tire, you may wish to bring jumper cables and roadside flares. Take a moment to brush up on best practices for driving through inclement weather. If your travel takes you through colder climates, pack a can of deicer, tire chains, and a small snow shovel. Finally, take a moment to review your car insurance policy and contact your agent should you have any coverage questions.
  2. Get the kids excited about your adventure. Depending on your children's ages, they may enjoy being involved in the planning process. Share your general route and potential stops along the way, such as a national historic site or monument, or a major city you'll be passing through. Print out a roadmap for the kids to keep track of your progress through these milestones.
  3. Plan fun alternatives to screen time. Sometimes, a movie on a tablet is the best way to help your children pass the hours. But if you're looking to minimize screen time, classic road trip games provide great entertainment. Popular options include the "Alphabet Game," where players must find objects starting with each letter of the alphabet, and "I Spy, " where players choose an item they can see in the car and share clues to help participants guess what it is. If you're traveling through multiple states, play the "License Plate Game" and have your children keep track of all the different state license plates they see.
  4. Pack healthy snacks. Keep a small cooler or lunch kit packed with easily accessible snacks. For younger children, consider mess-free options like fruit pouches or cheese sticks. For older children, packaged yogurts, sandwich wraps, and bananas are nutritious snack options that will keep kids from being tempted by gas station junk food.
  5. Conquer backseat boredom. When possible, avoid games with loose pieces that can easily be lost. Many companies make smaller, travel versions of popular games. Look for bingo boards with slide-able markers (no stamps or chips needed), mess-free markers and crayons that will only show up on paper (rather than your car's backseat), and magnetic checkers. Keep all the activities organized in a small, inexpensive plastic bin or shower caddy.
  6. Prepare for the unexpected. Car sickness, traffic jams, construction detours — even the best-laid road trip plans can go awry. Pack a small emergency kit in the front seat to keep you ready for surprises. This can include basic first aid supplies, a back-up snack stash, and extra water bottles. If you're concerned about motion sickness, bring a few disposable, medical-grade bags. Many online retailers offer these bags, which can do double duty for a nauseous child or someone who can't wait until the next exit to use the bathroom.

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