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Prepared vacations likely to be low-stress

April 28, 2006

The idea of a 15-hour car ride with your kids can make you nervous, and airports and planes can't promise to ease the tension. But the odds of stress-free travel with kids favor the prepared.

New trinkets, mess-less arts and crafts and games to avoid nagging questions, are parenting hallmarks for getting kids from Point A to Point B.

Here are some ideas, with help from information from Web sites such as momsminivan.com and kidstravelfun.com, for keeping children occupied while en route to the family's destination:

  • For older kids, give them a "travel budget" of maybe $5 or $10 that they can use to make a purchase in the airport or at a rest stop during a car trip. Having the ability to make some choices while in transit might be a great distraction.

  • Give each child a responsibility for the trip. Depending on their age, it might be taking care of their own luggage, organizing the games they want to bring along or preparing a mixed tape the whole family can listen to.

  • Prepare a map to chart the trip. Give kids a map to help them understand where they are and how far it is to the destination. If you have time, prepare trivia about each state and quiz kids about state nicknames, state birds and state facts.

  • Play the license plate game. Keep a list of all the license plates family members spot while on a car ride.

  • Pick up a few travel games. Many popular games such as Monopoly, Battleship, Make 7, Chinese Checkers and Scrabble are made in travel versions with pieces that stay put. These games usually cost less than $10.

  • Plan a random pit stop. If making a long car trip, plan an elongated stop where kids can do something fun or learn something new. Roadsideamerica.com maintains a list of unusual and bizarre sites that can be found around the country. For example, if traveling near Winston-Salem, N.C., plan a stop to check out a giant coffeepot erected in a field, or, if you're near Ashville, Ohio, stop to see the world's oldest traffic light.

  • Bring along a few surprises. Make a trip to the dollar store before your trip and pick up a few trinkets to keep young children occupied with a new toy or gadget. Wrap them and dole them out slowly over the course of the trip when boredom sets in.
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