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By Allan Jay Gordon Burstyn

Ah, the family road trip. No matter how many children and adults are involved, nothing evokes the potential for mind-numbing tedium and disaster like spending endless hours in a cramped car with the ones you love most in the world. We regularly pack our three boys — twin one-year-olds and a four-year-old — into our minivan and head out onto the open road. As daunting as that may sound, a little preparation can go a long way toward making the old adage ring true — “getting there is half the fun.”

Where am I going again?

To get there you need to know where you are going, and for those of us without a GPS that means having a map. AAA offers their well-known TripTik service for turn-by-turn directions, or you can print out directions from Google, Mapquest or MSN Maps.

We like to plan approximate stops points before we get on the road but you should always remain flexible when you travel. If the kids have conked out, think twice before stopping because it’s a surefire way of waking them up. In general it’s a good idea to stop every hour and a half or two hours to stretch, go the bathroom,switch drivers and give the kids an opportunity to run around or grab something to eat.

What’s that blinking light?

My personal worst nightmare is a car breakdown in the middle of nowhere. It’s a good idea to make sure you’ve had a recent oil and air filter change and to check tire pressure before you get on the road. Besides lowering the chances of a breakdown, these steps also improve fuel economy.

If you do break down, roadside assistance can come in handy. Check to make sure your membership is up to date. Just because your card says your membership doesn’t expire for a year or more doesn’t mean your membership is actually active.

Here’s a small list of safety-related gear we like to keep in our car:

  • First aid kit (For those of you interested in putting together your own eHow and iVillage provide a comprehensive inventory if first-aid kit items.)
  • Cell phone charger
  • Flashlight
  • Coolant
  • Blanket
  • Road flares
  • Water


It’s an unpleasant topic, but we keep several items on hand in case one of children loses his lunch … or breakfast or dinner. Our up-chuck kit includes garbage bags, car cleaning spray, paper towels, a regular towel and a change of clothes for the kids. A bucket isn’t a bad idea either.

Timing is of the essence

Timing a trip with children is essential. We like to drive when we know our kids are going to either be napping or sleeping for much of the time. Not that we don’t love and want to interact with them, but it’s a good way to cut down on the hours of frustration and endless screaming.

Keeping them busy

There are an abundance of games, toys, stories and movies available to keep the little ones occupied when they are awake. Mom’s Minivan and BabyCenter offer a wide variety of games and is a great place to download audio children’s stories.

Of course DVD players (either the portable or built-in variety) have become derigueur for long road trips. We were initially ambivalent about whether showing children DVDs on a road trip is a good thing to do. After all, we didn’t grow up having one and we turned out all right, right? But once you have one in your life it is hard to imagine doing without it.

Bringing new toys with you is also a good way to help distract small children. We like to buy several inexpensive new toys before a trip but not give them out right away. We save them for moments of crisis when a child is on the verge of melting down.

We hardily ever give our children sweets or junk food of any kind. However, we make an exception on road trips. It’s remarkable how much peace and quiet a cookie will buy you.

No matter how many diversions we bring along, our children inevitably want just one thing: attention from us. We often take turns sitting in back with the kids to keep them occupied and help them with whatever they may need.

Yes, you’re ready

Before you get on the road take a deep breath and relax in the knowledge that you’re well-prepared for what lies ahead, but most of all — drive safely.

Related Orbitz resources:

With three boys under five years of age. when he’s not at Orbitz Allan can be found changing diapers or breaking up fights. Allan divides his vacation time between local road trips, scuba diving and skiing.

Tagged: Family time

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