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By Jay

My wife was raised on a real Midwestern farm, and each year we leave the congestion of Chicago and make the 550-mile trek there with our two boys.

The secret to a great road trip, in my opinion, is renting a minivan or SUV. We don’t own a large vehicle, so I prefer a spacious car rental for long road trips. I bring along a shade to keep the sun off the kids.

We’ve found the second most important item is entertainment for our children. You can buy a portable DVD player for under $100 and rent some new DVDs from the library. We also pack crayons, books and electronic games.

During the road trip, we like to stop at a state rest area every two hours. This gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs and go to the bathroom. If it’s raining, McDonald’s play areas make a good pit stop for releasing energy. You can go to the McDonald’s Web site to find out if there are any along your route.

We pack our food and drinks, preferring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to fast food. Starting our drive early — and serving breakfast in the car — also provides another chance to get some miles behind in quiet and beat traffic.

On one occasion, we were caught off guard. My oldest kid threw up, after going through some bumpy road construction. Fortunately, we had some baby wipes to help clean up the car, but now we travel with a rag and a change of clothes.

After we get there, the 550-mile road trip is a distant memory. The boys tour the farm, climb on the huge machinery, fish for bluegill and sun fish, check out the cows up close, and enjoy our family time.

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Tagged: Family time

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