If your family is looking for "something different" to do this year on your summer vacation, have I got an idea for you: Why not take a long car trip? My own personal family has done this a number of times, and believe me, nothing quite compares with the experience of driving a long way in a car with your loved ones, except maybe the experience of having the dental hygienist poke the cleaning instrument through the roof of your mouth. Sound like fun? Then let's start planning that long car trip!

WHERE TO GO: Travel experts agree that the best place for a long family car trip is on the interstate highway system. There's always plenty to see and do on an interstate! For example, you can read the signs that tell you interesting facts about the area you're traveling through, such as WACO 673 MILES. Sometimes you'll pass this sign, then you'll drive for three more hours, then you'll pass another sign that says: WACO STILL 673 MILES HA HA. That's one of the fascinating characteristics of the interstate highway system: It expands in warm weather.

This is why it's very important to keep moving. Travel experts recommend that, to get the full benefit of an interstate vacation, a typical family of four should drive at least 1,400 miles per day. So it's a good safety idea to divide up the driving chores, with Dad starting out in the driver's seat, and Mom periodically making sincere offers to take over until, many hours later, she realizes that the only conceivable way Dad will permit her to take the wheel is if she kills him with a tire iron. Even that probably wouldn't work. Dad would probably continue to grip the wheel, using rigor mortis to shake his head at Mom and thus convey the message: "No thanks, I'm fine." Because Dad knows that Mom does not have the toughness a person needs for interstate vacation driving. She is too easily talked into stopping for things like food, sleep, the Grand Canyon, etc.

Not Dad. Dad realizes that the whole point of an interstate vacation is to keep moving, and he sees no reason why the family can't eat in the car and relieve themselves in empty Yoo-Hoo bottles, the way the pioneers did. "If we stop every single time somebody gets hungry or tired or requires emergency medical attention for a burst appendix, we'll never get anywhere," is Dad's interstate driving motto, although he doesn't say it out loud. Dad doesn't talk at all: He just stares straight ahead. Nobody knows what he is thinking. What he is thinking is: "Thirteen thousand three hundred and twenty-three." This is the number of times that little Jessica, sitting directly behind him, has kicked the back of his seat. To pass the time, Dad thinks about what he might do to little Jessica when she reaches 25,000 kicks. It is probably a good thing that Dad's hands have become permanently cramped around the steering wheel.

But there's still plenty for Mom to do on a long car trip. She can try to find something on the radio besides "Soybeans on Parade"; she can chew Valium pills as if they were Tic-Tac breath mints; and of course she can think up fun travel activities.


1. "Odd and Even" -- One child is designated as "odd" and the other child as "even." Each time a car or truck goes by, the children look at its license plate and add up the digits. They do this for one and a half minutes, then one of them spits a wad of partially chewed barbecue potato chips into the other one's hair. Then they pound each other and shriek until a little chunk of steering wheel actually breaks off in Dad's hand.

2. "Trans-Kansas Pie Eat" -- When you get to one end of Kansas, you open up a box of Stuckey's miniature pecan pies, then you see how many of them you can eat before you get to the other end of Kansas, a distance of 370,000 miles. The record is 11 pies, set in 1974 by my wife, Beth.

3. "Highway Avenger" -- Have the kids keep a sharp eye peeled for a car with one of those bumper stickers that say: "SHOW DOGS: DO NOT TAILGATE," then have Dad release his pent-up hostility by coming up behind this car and gently tapping it with his front bumper for several hundred miles or until the police shoot out Dad's tires and take him, still clinging to a jagged sector of the steering wheel, off to jail. This would also be a good time to stop for the night.