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It is possible to make long drives with children an enjoyable experience.


Holiday car travel ideas
Holiday car travel ideas that help keep children entertained

Holidays, whether summer or winter, bring an expected increase in travel. Much of this travel is done by families -- and by car. For example, car travel is at 83% during the Christmas season, exceeding all other modes of holiday transportation, including the next most popular -- air travel -- which is at 15.5%.

Travelling with children can be challenging, so here are several ideas proposed by the GM Motor Club, with additions by CarTest editor Bill Roebuck based on many years of experience making long drives with children, that can help make your family car travel more enjoyable.

Don't ignore the basics

- Include children in the planning. Even preschool age children can appreciate stories about who and what they're going to see.

- Plan some sightseeing stops along the way, if time permits. Pick up some travel guides for the family from local bookstores.

- Allow for extra travel time. Recognizing, in advance, that there will be unplanned stops and delays along the way will help create a more stress-free trip and gives you the flexibility to make spontaneous stops.

- Have each child pack a small duffle bag or backpack with toys, books or games to keep them entertained on the drive.

- Limit your drive time to 6-8 hours each day and plan several rest stops along the way. If possible, switch drivers every two hours -- you'll be amazed at how easy a long drive becomes if you do this. Allow longer, 20-minute breaks for smaller children. Parks, rest areas or churches with grassy areas to run, walk or stretch are best.

- Get on the road right before baby or toddler nap times, if possible, and never make a rest stop when children are sleeping. This is the perfect time to close in on your final destination. If you leave before dawn, children are likely to fall back to sleep quickly in the car.

- Pack a cooler with snacks, drinks and a zipper bag with child wipes. Make sure the cooler is easily accessible throughout the trip.

- Secure children correctly in a child safety seat or safety belt. Avoid packing objects around them -- by making them as comfortable as possible, you will minimize their irritability. Another tip is to place a food cooler or bag between two children in the rear seat, so they can't easily jostle one another and start an argument. The separation gives them the sense of having their very own space.

Make the trip fun

When travelling with children, expect to be a comedian, storyteller, performing artist and magician -- all at a moment's notice! To assist you in your many roles, bring along several fun toys, games and books. Here are a few age-specific suggestions:

- Babies -- Bright objects with interesting shapes, pop-up toys, a plastic mirror and rattles.

- Toddlers -- Hand puppets, shape sorters, board books, musical toys and plastic containers that children can easily open and close -- provide them with objects they can put inside (nothing too small, so pieces don't get lost in the cracks).

- Preschoolers -- Wrapped boxes containing surprises or treats, magnetic alphabet letters and a metal tray or tin, picture books, bubbles and balls to use at rest stops.

- Younger school-aged children -- Felt boards, activity books (stickers, colouring, mazes, crossword puzzles), coloured beeswax (great for modelling and doesn't stick to most surfaces) and action figures or dolls.

- Older school-aged children -- Travel-size board games and hand-held electronic games, shorter reads like Highlights or Sports Illustrated for Kids, brainteaser puzzles (think updated versions of the Rubic Cube), GeoSafari Talking Globe Traveler and Mad Libs (stories with fill-in-the-blanks).

For other car game ideas, check out these books: Klutz Glove Compartment Games or Miles of Smiles, or use your favourite Internet browser to search on "Games for Travel."

Use Your Imagination

Of course, not every game requires props and equipment. In fact, some of the most popular travel games require little more than imagination or keen observation skills:

- I Spy -- Everybody takes turns being the "spy." He/she spots something in the car or along the landscape and then announces, "I spy something _____" (fill in a color) and the others in the car take turns trying to guess what it is. The person who guesses correctly is the next "spy."

- License Plate Tag -- The easiest version encourages youngsters to identify letters of the alphabet by finding them within license plates on the road. A more challenging version, for young and old alike, requires you to spot a license plate from a state or province that begins with different letters of the alphabet, beginning with "A."

Tapes and CDs

Music or books on tape can provide hours of enjoyment in the car. Some great children's music options include: Silly Sing Alongs, Toddler Tunes or any selection from Joe Scruggs, Raffi or the Sugar Beats series. Some music CD's that will keep the entire family entertained include: The Only Broadway CD You'll Ever Need, The Beatles 1962-1966 and Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles. And don't forget Sharon, Louis and Bram tunes for a Canadian flavour.

When it comes to books on tape, there's a list too long to print, but some of the most popular include the recent Harry Potter series as well as classics like Cinderella.

Why not take advantage of travel time to make learning fun? Audio books can deliver captivating narratives about history, geography, traditions and trivia along your trip. If you're travelling in the U.S., a unique Ride With Me system synchronizes its programs with highway milepost markers -- so travellers can listen to stories about the areas they're driving through.

Videos and DVDs

Many vehicles now have built-in VCRs or DVD players -- creating hours of movie entertainment for passengers. If your vehicle doesn't have a VCR or DVD player, consider borrowing or renting one.

Create special memories

Whatever tricks you use in keeping your children content and entertained on your next car trip, remember most importantly that car trips offer you the opportunity to have your children as a captive audience. Capitalize on this opportunity to talk, laugh and build closer family relationships, creating many special memories along the way.

Copyright 2004