3363262014_5fa5e911b4While driving isn’t the fastest way to reach your vacation destination, it is fairly economical, self-paced, and a great chance to bond with your family. Here are some tips to keep everyone in the car sane and happy on your next road trip with the family.

Leave earlier than you think you should. This is especially important if you have time-sensitive plans on your vacation agenda, such as tickets to a show or ball game. Having a bit of wiggle room in your schedule allows for more frequent stops to use the bathroom or grab a snack, and it ensures that minor setbacks, like a flat tire, don’t ruin your plans.

Keep your kids comfortable. A car seat that is cozy enough to drive around town may feel lumpy or cramped after several hours in the car. Add covers to the straps of car seats or seat belts to prevent them from rubbing your kids’ necks, and offer them small travel pillows and their favorite blankets for in-car naps. Make sure that you stop every couple of hours to allow your children to stretch their legs; many interstate rest stops have playgrounds or open, grassy areas where they could toss a ball.

Provide plenty of options for entertainment. Handheld games, DVDs, MP3 players, e-readers and other gadgets can keep your kids occupied for hours on long drives. If you prefer a more “unplugged” approach, bring along several card games, books, word puzzles, and other small, quiet activities. It’s a good idea to provide each child with one new activity for each hour or two they spend in the car to stave off boredom.

9026493426_b326f575fbBring along a cooler and snack bag. Cut-up fruit and veggies, sandwiches, trail mix, snack mix, crackers, pretzels, string cheese and flavored water are healthy snacks or quick meals that travel well. Offer your kids something to eat every couple of hours to prevent cranky melt-downs brought on by low blood sugar. Packing your own snacks also reduces the temptation to hit the drive-thru in every town you pass.

Work around your kids’ needs. If one of your children becomes motion-sick easily, for instance, books or other activities that require focusing on a page or small object may exacerbate the issue. Motion sickness medications may help for older children. Another issue a child may have is sensitivity to noise; enforce a mandatory quiet period every couple of hours to allow your child to recharge in peace, and don’t seat your quietest child next to your most rambunctious, if you can help it.

Most importantly, keep the mood positive. A rough road trip can set the tone of your entire vacation, so it’s important to stay upbeat on the road. Sing along to silly music on the stereo, tell one another your best jokes, and share your favorite memories from previous road trips as you start to make new ones.

Putting the focus on your children’s happiness and comfort during your road trip may take a bit more preparation, but it ensures that the drive to your destination will go much more smoothly. Try these ideas on your next family vacation!