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Family road trip ideas

Nina Spitzer is a SheKnows.com columnist and a freelance writer living in sunny Cave Creek, Arizona.

Bonding Time

Whether it's a short trip to Grandma's for Christmas dinner, ninety miles to Aunt Betty's, or a vacation to a new and exciting place, family drives are the perfect time for bonding.

One thing I've learned through experience is kids grow up way too fast. Before you know it, they're too busy with their friends, sports practices, homework and a phone to want to spend time with us. We have them as a captive audience, however, when we're headed somewhere in the car. We need to take advantage of these times for family bonding and creating special memories, no matter whether our kids are youngsters or teens because, really, they do grow up way too fast! With the Christmas and New Years holiday right around the corner, many families will be hitting the roads for long car rides to visit friends and family. Utilize this time of year to start enjoying the time together in the car as a family!

Set limits

Before you even turn the key in the ignition, set limits on use of MP3 players, cell phones, texting and video games. Off means off…or they're gone. Be prepared with subtle ways for positive communication and interaction. Make up your mind beforehand to use positive, non-threatening discipline tactics in the car.

Prime time and no TV

Car trips of any length are a wonderful opportunity for family members to get to know one another. Find creative portals of entry into conversations. Are you loading the car with items from a store? Maybe you can tell the story about when you were a kid and accidentally sat on the bag of eggs in your dad's brand new car. Are you stopping for gas? What a perfect opening to talk about gas prices when you were a kid or get into some personal history about your first car. Kids love to hear stuff about our past and how things were different in the good ol' days, even if the good ol' days don't seem that long ago to us yet.

Older kids

Throughout the ages, parents and teens have always had a communication gap. Use any time in the car with them to help span the chasm. Turn off the radio and the cell phones. Get their feelings on current events and social issues. Relate the discussion to your own experiences. Believe it or not, they will be interested. They may act like parents are stupid, but they really do value what you say.

Classic car games

We've all played them and they're fun ways to interact with your kids, no matter how old they are. Looking for license plates from different states is fun and can take hours. Another easy game is to claim a specific car type or color to count. Various alphabet games and guessing games are fun too. My kids and I always enjoyed making up silly stories of people in other cars - who they were, where they were from, where they were going and why. Singing songs can be entertaining for a while, as well. Try to steer away from Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall, however, if you value your sanity.

Long trips

Plan ahead if a long road trip vacation will involve a lot of seat time in the car. Get the kids involved in the trip with assignments appropriate for their ages. Someone can be the official map-reader while another can keep track of expenses. These activities will provide something to talk about as well as put school-learned skills into use. For younger kids, assign each a travel folder with a notebook for keeping a log and drawing pictures of what they've seen. It can also hold brochures of where you've been. These items can serve as topics of conversation, keep the kids occupied during down times, and be useful in putting together a class assignment about the vacation later on.

Even good times need a break

As great as the drive may be going, the kids do need a break from you every so often. Stop for a stretch, walk, ice cream and potty break. Frequent stops help keep the trip interesting and the discipline problems down. A quick stop to burn off energy is sometimes all that's needed to keep everyone happy.

A happy ending

The marvelous opportunity for bonding with our kids during car travel can't be emphasized enough. Whether it's conversation or playing games together, the valuable time spent interacting will strengthen relationships and create precious memories. You may even reach your destination having learned something new about each other that you never knew before.

Related articles:

Are we there yet? How to organize your family's travel time
Surviving long car rides with young children
Tips for cross-country car trips
Avoiding power struggles: Parenting without bribes or threats

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