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Surviving Long Car Trips With Kids

Being prepared can help reduce back-seat whining and fighting on long family car trips.

By GreatSchools Staff

The longer the trip, the more you may dread piling the family into the car and heading off on a family vacation together. Being prepared can help reduce back-seat whining and fighting.

Car travel does have its advantages for family trips. You're literally in the driver's seat so you can control when and where you stop, as well as your departure time. (Arrival times are another story!) You don't have to worry about bothering other travelers with the noise of your little ones, and you can pack as much as you need in the car. Here are 10 tips to make the trip pleasant and safe for all:

Leave plenty of time to get to your destination.

Include extra time for stops along the way--for food, refueling and restroom breaks, and to allow time for running around and releasing pent-up energy. In your "ETA," factor in unforeseen traffic delays. Vicki Lansky, author of Trouble-Free Travel With Your Children, advises adding one-third more to your normal driving time when planning a trip with children in tow. If at all possible, avoid driving near major cities and well-traveled routes during morning and evening rush hour. Include older children in the planning. Before you set out, get out maps and guidebooks to plan the driving time with your children. Discuss with them how long you should drive before stopping, what you will see and do along the way, and how long the whole trip will be. This might cut down on the number of times you hear the question, "Are we there yet?"

Bring toys, CD players and a few surprises.

Come armed with plenty of activities for your children to do. Favorite toys (avoid those with small pieces), a CD player for each child with CDs (Don't forget to bring extra batteries!) and one or two new items will keep them occupied. Stories that the whole family will enjoy listening to and talking about are a good idea, too. has a list of its favorites for family listening.

Play car travel games together.

A simple one, called "A to Z," goes like this: Find words beginning with "A"on signs around you. Have your children take turns, after "A,"go to "B" and so on. Can you get to "Z" and finish the alphabet? For more travel games, see Are We There Yet? Travel Games for the Road.

Back-seat bickering is inevitable.

Playing games, listening to stories and music will help lessen the amount, but it's just normal for kids to fight, so prepare yourself. Praise and reward good behavior (the power of positive reinforcement), but when things get out of hand, threaten to pull over and stop (and follow through on your threat, if necessary) until the fighting stops. Another option is to rotate seats in the car using a consistent time schedule (every hour or two hours).

In Trouble-Free Travel With Your Children, Carole T. Meyers, a California mom suggests this technique: "I use a technique called 'Mad Bag/Glad Bag' to help our children monitor their behavior when traveling. Each is given a 'Glad Bag,' (a fabric pouch) with spending money in it. The parent owns the 'Mad Bag.' When a child misbehaves, you determine how much he or she must deduct from their Glad Bag. Used in moderation, this system can work well. P.S. Give the kids the opportunity to earn their money back for good behavior!"

Above all, keep your cool and your sense of humor. Fighting in the back seat tends to bother the adults more than the kids.