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10 keys to a stress-free road trip with the kids

Road trips are a lot of fun, but they can also be stressful if you’re not properly prepared for them.

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to reduce stress and keep everyone happy. Based on my own experiences as well as conversations with other parents, I’ve pulled together a list of some favorite stress-management tips:

Get the kids involved. Get the kids involved in planning the trip, from choosing where to go, where to stay, and what to do along the way. When kids take ownership of something, they’re less likely to get bored or act up. Your phone probably has a GPS navigation system. Still, buy an old-fashioned paper map and have the kids help you navigate.

Take plenty of pit stops. If you plan to drive for many hours a day, schedule regular pit stops. These stops are not just opportunities to get something to eat or to take a bathroom break, find places along the route where the kids can have some fun. Roadside attractions, play grounds, and parks are places where the kids can run around and release some of their energy.

Pack plenty of entertainment and snacks. Bring lots of entertainment - electronic games, board games, and playing cards. Kids can easily get bored during long drives. Also bring plenty of snacks. Even if you’ve carefully mapped out your trip, there’ll be times when it’s difficult to find a place to eat.

Engage the kids. Keep your kids as engaged as possible while you’re on the road. Instead of having adults sit up front and kids in the back, one grown up should hop into the back seat and interact with them – after all, one of the main reasons to take a road trip is to spend quality time with your kids.

Play music and audio books. Get the kids off their head phones, do the same yourself, and listen to some music together on the car radio. If you have time, create a joint playlist before the trip starts. Try listening to audio books. Even if you have very different reading interests, you should be able to find something like a suspenseful novel or a book of jokes that can grab everyone’s attention.

Give the car a check-up. One thing that can definitely reduce stress is knowing that the car is in tip-top shape before you hit the road. Have it checked thoroughly by a mechanic, including brakes, fluids, lights, and tire pressure. Make sure that your emergency road service membership is current, and pack your membership card.

Pack emergency supplies. Things can happen on the road. To be on the safe side, pack emergency supplies. This includes stuff for you and the kids, such as antiseptic wipes, band aids, batteries and phone chargers, a first-aid kit, hand sanitizer, motion sickness pills, and water. Don’t forget stuff for the car - flashlights, jumper cables, and a spare tire.

Bring your kids’ friends. If you have enough space in the car, why not bring one of your kids’ friends along with you? It’ll keep the kids happy and you stress-free. If possible, try and allow each kid to bring a friend (or take turns!) or else you may have a case of sibling jealousy.

Packing and unpacking. Pack your things in a way that you don’t have to empty the entire car each time you arrive at a new destination. Instead of giving each family member their own suitcase, pack smaller bags that contain what everyone needs on any given day; the toiletry bag should be packed separately: it makes no sense to pack multiple toothbrushes for everyone!

Read about the places you’re going and passing. Bring travel books about your destinations and the places that you’ll pass along the way. If the kids are young, read out loud to them. If they’re old enough to read on their own, ask them to share what they’ve learned with the rest of the family. That’ll keep them occupied and make time in the car so much more fun for everyone.

Tanni is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences, and Disorders. 

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