Surviving a road trip with kids

“Are we there yet?”

“Mom! He’s looking at me!”

“I have to go to the bathroom REAL BAD.” (Said for the third time in an hour.)

It’s hard to determine which of these backseat pronouncements, all of them staples of a road trip with kids, is most annoying.

We are venturing to Maine this summer, a 12-hour trek one way. Cooler temperatures, whale-watching and lobster rolls are too good to resist, even if being confined to a minivan — that is not equipped with a DVD player — for 1,500 miles is mildly terrifying.

After a few less-than-stellar family trips we have learned that when you travel with children, the more planning you do, the better. While bathroom stops and sibling squabbles are inevitable, we are taking several steps ahead of time to minimize our frustration and that of our kids, ages 9 and 6.

We have the usual activity bags, with books and crayons and paper, to entertain them in the car and the hotel, but in our experience, those don’t get you very far. So we consulted an expert.

John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, suggests involving your child in planning the trip. From packing his clothes to choosing a favorite stuffed animal to bring to helping shop for snacks, giving him ownership of the vacation can maximize his excitement and minimize his boredom.

Books and coloring pages are other great ways to entertain a child. Townsend suggests getting material that relates to your destination. He also said car and board games can stave off the crankiness that comes with being confined for several hours.

In our case, that means having two maps of the United States for each child. One is for coloring the states as we go through them so they can track the progress of our trip. The other is to mark off license plates that we see. We have toyed with the idea of limiting the “Are we there yet” queries to two per kid.

Ramona Quimby will be joining us on the trip, in the form of several Beverly Cleary books on CD that we borrowed from the library. Ramona’s entertainment value is one of the few things we all agree on.

One of the benefits of traveling in a minivan is a third row of seating. We plan to put one child in the back and one in the middle, to cut down on the looking at, touching and general antagonizing that have become their favorite pastimes recently.

We are breaking the trip up into smaller segments, with stops to visit kid-friendly sites such as Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut and Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts. Ideally, we won’t be in the car for more than 6 hours in one day.

For the first time that I can recall, I made sure that every hotel I booked has a pool. When my husband and I traveled before we had kids, we always focused more on location than amenities. So when we went to Acadia National Park in Maine alone, we chose a bed and breakfast right in town, close to restaurants and shops. With two kids in tow, we’re opting for a motel closer to the park that offers a pool and playground, because nothing can erase a bad day of car travel faster than a couple of hours splashing in a pool.

If things get particularly testy or we get stuck in traffic, we will have a few electronic devices at the ready. As much as we would like to think that our own (admittedly over-romanticized) childhood experience of playing I Spy or counting billboards was just fine, you can’t put a price tag on the peace that 15 minutes on a tablet can buy you, which leaves you refreshed and ready for the next adventure.

What are your secrets to successful road trips with children? Tell us in the comments section.

Mari-Jane Williams edits community news for Local Living.
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