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Surviving Long Car Trips With Kids

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By GreatSchools Staff

Keep plenty of non-messy snacks and drinks in the car.

Stop frequently for meals and to stretch. But to avoid desperate hunger pains, keep snacks in easy reach in the car. Good choices include pretzels, animal crackers, rice crackers, water and fruit. Individual pre-packed Ziploc bags are a good idea to avoid fighting over quantities, too.

Make use of state highway rest areas.

Most state highways have designated rest areas. These areas are easily accessible from the highway and most have restrooms, picnic areas and room to safely run around. Some have visitor information and vending machines. You can find out their locations by checking your state Department of Transportation Web site. These Web sites will also tell you what facilities are available-useful information to print out and save when planning your travels. Check out this sample from the California Department of Transportation. Take along a Frisbee, soccer ball, or baseball and mitts. These are good items to take out at rest areas for letting off steam.

Do your driving at night or very early in the morning.

If there is no way to avoid sibling squabbling, a good alternative is to drive at night when kids are sleeping. Or start out very early with the kids still in their PJs, and if you're lucky, they'll fall back asleep and wake up in time for a breakfast stop. Just be sure the driver is awake and alert!

Use car seats and booster seats for young children.

Never hold a child in your lap when driving. For safety's sake, obey the laws. Each state's laws are slightly different, so it's a good idea to find out what the state law is for the states where you'll be traveling. As a general rule, the safest place for a child under 12 is in the back seat. Once children are too big for car seats, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends they remain in booster seats until they reach 4 feet, 9 inches tall or weigh 80 pounds. Since the weight limits of booster seats vary by model, parents should check the guidelines on the seat they buy. Many states have booster seat laws as well as car seat laws.

Adults need to set a good example and buckle up, too! Make it a rule that you don't start the engine until everyone is buckled up. Older children may like being given the responsibility of making sure everyone has their sear belt buckled.

Make sure the car is safe, too. Before heading off, have the car serviced, check the tires, change the oil and have it tuned up, if necessary.