4 tips for making family road trips easier

 By Geri Dreiling

If you live in the Midwest, driving is a fact of life. When I was growing up in Kansas, family vacations to California, Florida and Montana all involved road trips. I didn’t fly on an airplane until I was 19.

As an adult, I settled in St. Louis, Missouri. Although my kids have taken many airplane trips during their short lives, they’ve also spent a lot of time as passengers in various four-door sedans. We’ve taken road trips to visit relatives in far-flung states and driven to Washington D.C., Florida and even the Boundary Waters located on the Minnesota and Canada border.

I have found that there are four things I can do ranging from old-fashioned to high-tech that can improve the family road trip experience.

1.  Blankets and pillows

A favorite blanket and a small pillow can help set the mood for sleep. I’m not a late night driver but I can easily start a road trip at 4 am. When my children were small, waking them up at the last minute, loading into the car in their pajamas, covering them with a familiar blanket and tucking a small pillow under their head or using it make a car seat softer were surefire ways to secure a few hours of quiet.  

2. An entertaining diversion

As a kid, I’d read books during road trips. Unfortunately, it also made me car sick. Now, entertainment choices without causing an upset stomach abound. Portable DVD players, laptops plugged into cigarette lighter converters, audio books and even cars equipped with Bluetooth so that you can stream podcasts offer a variety of ways to forestall the inevitable, “Are we there yet?”

3.  A cooler

Gut-busting fast food doesn’t have to be a given on a road trip. Bring a cooler filled with ice and pack healthier alternatives like sandwiches, carrots, celery, apples and string cheese. Stock the cooler with miniature bottles of water, sodas or juices to avoid the problem of kids who need someone to hold half-consumed beverages so that they can take a nap. The miniature bottles may be more expensive than the bigger containers but if you buy them at the grocery store ahead of time, they’ll still be cheaper than the gas station offering you pick up en route to your destination.

And once you’ve reached your destination, the cooler can be re-stocked with items from a nearby grocery store. If you’re staying in a hotel, free ice is often available.

4. A Business Locator App

During a road trip to the Smoky Mountains and Knoxville this summer, I used the Around Me app to find a variety of stores and services. I used it to locate a nearby grocery store to purchase deli sandwiches. I needed more sunscreen and it helped me find a pharmacy. While in Knoxville for a baseball tournament, I even used the app to find a movie theater so my daughter and I had something to do during a rain out.

Traveling long distances by car with kids can seem daunting. Of course, family air fares add up quickly. If you opt for a road trip, advance planning can make the experience easier. And along the way, you might see something new and surprising that would have gone unnoticed if you’d spent your time in a plane.