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Getting There Can Be Half The Fun

By Robbie Tarpley Raffish

Family vacations on the road For some families, driving to the grocery store can be agony; yet others seem to get to far off destinations refreshed and ready to go. As a parent whose family is usually in the first category, I have often wondered, "What do they know that I don't?"

Seems there's a lot. Many parents reach back into their childhood, teaching their children traditional car games (Ghost, Eye Spy, and the perennial favorite, the License Plate Game). More than one parent I spoke with half-jokingly noted that Benadryl and Dramamine play a big role in keeping the (drowsy) peace.

Yet some parents have taken road trip entertainment to a new level by turning up the creativity, and in doing so have made trips fun, creative, family-bonding experiences.

"Our philosophy is to have our kids have as much fun getting there as being there," says Sharon Tillman of White Hall, Maryland. She has her kindergartner bring a small spiral notebook and colored pencils, in which she writes letters, plays games and draws pictures, often for an hour or more. Her preschool age son has a box of "go toys" - ones he is only allowed to play with on long rides, which keeps them fresh and interesting.

Small notebooks are just a start, as travel-sized art supplies and kits are plentiful and affordable. Wrebbit's Color 'N' Roll is a travel size desk with refillable coloring book inserts, Crayola has travel sets that include stencils and Crayons, and Dover makes small coloring books in perfect sizes for preschool hands.

If you are on a more stringent budget, a simple clipboard helps kids keep papers secure on their laps and is great for passing tic-tac-toe and Hangman games back and forth. Teens of both sexes enjoy making in-vogue "surfer" necklaces and bracelets from macramé twine and glass beads from a craft store. When all else fails, making constructions with a roll of tin foil and colored piper cleaners can often save the day.

Suzy Naber of West Chester, Pennsylvania usually packs a few small wrapped presents for her kids, ages 12, 10 and 2 ½ and schedules times in the ride for distribution. "Our age range make things interesting, so we need to keep them occupied. I take things like a new small doll for the baby or a game for the older ones. It gives them something to look forward to."

Success for some is in the timing. "For long rides we pull out of the driveway at 5:00 a.m. while the kids can still sleep," notes Courtney Simmons, who often travels with her children, ages 9, 6 and six months. "When rush hour hits we stop for breakfast and a break, then get back on the highway once the worst of the traffic is over."

When Jan and Mike White of Newark, Delaware travel with their preschooler, they resting is the last thing they should do at a rest stop. "We often pack an inflatable beach ball, which we blow up at the rest stop. We play catch and dodge ball to blow off steam, and then deflate it for easy re-packing." Frisbees and hacky-sacks are good choices for older kids and are equally easy to store.

Reading plays a key role in travel, too. Several parents mentioned trading books on tape with other traveling families and borrowing them from the library. Jill Miller from Baldwin, New York often has her pre-reading son, Matt, look for letters on billboards until he has completed the alphabet.

Travel is also a way to teach geography. One family gives each child a copy of the route map with key landmarks highlighted, and another uses the map as a variation on a game of "Bingo" (with the first person to spot key signs getting the points.)

Music is useful for bridging the age gap. Debbie Israel of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania noted that her teenage daughters often bring their own music, which gives her a chance to hear what her kids are listening to. Also suggested: lullabies, classical music and jazz; kid tapes like "Free to Be You & Me" and "Elmo's Sing Along Travel Songs"; and parental favorites Peter Paul & Mary, Jimmy Buffett and Loggins & Messina .

Food is both needed and a diversion, and stops along the way can greatly increase the price of the trip. Suzy Naber's answer is to pack individual snack packs that include fruit, celery sticks, goldfish, crackers, chips and boxed drinks. Another mother said that she saves certain favored snacks for the ride, such as M&Ms and certain brands of cookies. (Take paper towels, tissues, baby wipes and Wet Ones for fast clean-ups, too.)

My family has found one piece of equipment indispensable for our small children - a portable training potty, which has saved our car upholstery more than once. And keeping a bag close at hand with an extra change of clothes for each traveler makes inevitable messy moments easier. We also keep Children's Motrin and Children's Mylanta in ours for fast access.

There is no doubt that technology is playing a larger role in calmer trips. "My son Jake just got a Game Boy and it is hard to tear him away," said Bob Budlow of Chatham, New Jersey. His observation was echoed by several parents, one who noted her son played from Philadelphia to Orlando with hardly a peep.

Ellen Weber, also of West Chester, Pennsylvania, is planning to bring her laptop with DVD player on the next family trip; our family has also used the laptop to play computer games. There is also the opportunity to bring videos along with TV/VCRs that are made to play in cars and vans.

But my favorite is the "if you can't beat 'em, pay 'em approach," with a game called Penny Ante. Each child gets 25 pennies at the start of a trip; then they get fined a penny each time they whine or argue. Most parents who mentioned it said they doubled the number of pennies remaining for each kid at the end of the trip; one parents of teen pays a dollar for every penny left at the end of the trip - a great incentive for acquiring souvenir funds.




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