My husband and I packed our station wagon recently and took off on a 3,000-mile, 10-day jaunt to Florida. The trip was reminiscent of earlier times, when the two of us had stopped here and there, lingering over anything of interest, with no firm itinerary in mind. We wanted this kind of journey again, but now there was a major difference: This time we were taking the children. Frankly, we were skeptical. Our children, at ages 5 and 7, had never shown much interest in long rides. Trips to grandparents, a mere three hours away, usually had been peppered with the much-asked question "When will we get there?" Yet we felt that they were old enough, at long last, to enjoy our kind of sightseeing trip. I realized that the 13-hour drive from Virginia to Florida could be a disaster. I visualized two bored and tired children progressing from mildly restless to full-blown warfare before we stopped for the first night's lodging. So I decided to plan the children's car activities very carefully. I reasoned that the busier they were, the happier we all would be. As it turned out, the careful planning paid off. The children were not only content while en route, but they were still interested in those planned car activities on the return trip. But how to make sure all went smoothly? First, I let the children help plan their own activities. I gave each child a cloth bag for toys of their own choosing. I did not question their choices; they were told only that they could take what the bag would hold comfortably. After much deliberation, their final selections were some small stuffed animals, an assortment of miniature cars and small figures -- toys that were perfect for dramatic and imaginative play in close quarters. Next, I took a sturdy cardboard box with lid and put in it items I felt would meet a variety of interests. It was quickly named the Busy Box. I packed a board game, a set of building blocks, sketch pads, coloring books, crayons, colored pencils and pencil sharpener, a set of easy-reader books, a set of favorite story and picture books and the biggest hit of all -- a tape recorder with story and music tapes. The box was kept in the back seat, easily accessible to both children. It could be repacked readily to take into the motel room or safely left in the car. Meals were the second main consideration in planning. Although children always seem to be hungry, their eyes are often larger than their stomachs. This is particularly true of our 5-year-old, who claims hunger and then only eats a few bites before emphatically exclaiming, "I'm stuffed!" We wanted our children to eat well, but we didn't want to be wasteful of food or money. One solution we found was to order an appetizer for the children to share at dinnertime. They liked this idea not only because they got to choose from a variety of things, but because appetizers are mainly finger foods. The idea of mommy and daddy saying it was perfectly all right for them to eat dinner with their fingers was probably as much fun as the foods they got to sample: Miniature drumsticks, fish fritters and popcorn shrimp were popular choices. The appetizer, teamed with a salad and milk or fruit juice, made a satisfying dinner. Their meals were easily supplemented with food from our own more-than-adequate plates and from the table breadbasket. (A dessert, if desired, was usually purchased at a convenience store. Popsicles, a rarity in our household, were truly appreciated and were a much less expensive dessert than a restaurant one.) Breakfast and lunches usually found us at a fast-food restaurant, where meals are at least quick, an important feature for travelers. There's plenty of variety, too, with pancakes, bisquits, pizza, roast beef, fish, Tex-Mex and that old stand-by, hamburger, at every corner. To supplement those quick, sometimes nutritionally lacking meals (have any restaurants heard that fruit exists?), I packed a thermal hamper with wholesome snacks. Not only did the snacks curb those inevitable hunger pangs en route, but they provided a cheaper way of doing so. We covered a lot of ground, visiting Florida's St. Augustine, Epcot Center, Disney World, the Everglades, Key West and Miami, and South Carolina's Hilton Head. With few exceptions (everyone does get out of sorts at times), our children behaved beautifully. I think the two biggest reasons were because we waited to travel until they had a well-developed attention span, and we made sure we saw the least-interesting sights -- at least from a child's point of view -- first when we stopped to tour. For example, the children were eager to visit Disney World, but my husband and I chose to see Epcot Center first. We felt that Epcot, which is geared more to an adult's interests, would be a letdown to the children if they saw Disney World first. Our children did well touring Epcot Center, partly because of their excited anticipation of entering the Magic Kingdom the next day. The only place their interest truly lagged was the walking tour of historic Key West and Ernest Hemingway's home. The latter would have met with complete disinterest if there had not been 40 cats and kittens, all descendants of Hemingway's pets, in residence. The children spent their time playing with the cats as we toured the home. There is usually something of interest to children on any tour, so don't bypass anything without a try. As we approached Washington on our last evening on the road, tired and glad to see familiar streets, our conversation turned to our next family vacation. When could we plan a trip West? We knew our venture had been a success.