5 ½ tips for an extreme road trip with kids

Any road trip that requires more than 12 hours in a car is, by its very nature, extreme. Add kids to the equation, and it becomes a test of your character – and theirs.

We’ve been traveling with our family of five since our oldest (now 13) was in diapers, and we know a thing or two about endurance. Today, we are starting a new feature called 5 ½ tips. Why 5 ½? Because, everyone does 5 tips, and we wanted to be different.

Actually, we are different. Do you personally know any other families who spend more than 300 days of the year traveling and who still talk to each other? Neither do I.

We’ve seen some pretty intense road trips. Anything west of the Rockies is extreme for us. The long, lonely stretch of Interstate 10 from San Antonio, Texas, to El Paso is extreme, particularly when there’s an eight-year-old asking, “Are we there yet?” at regular intervals.

Branson, Mo., to Orlando was a haul, too. We did it in 20 hours even though a charger for my son’s iPad had gone missing, leaving him powerless for part of the journey. He was bouncing off the walls.

Here, then, are our 5 ½ tips.

1. Shut them up with food.
It’s a fact: You can’t talk when your mouth is stuffed with snacks. Of course, the trick is to find the healthy yet non-crumbly variety. Oh, and low sugar, too. We know from experience. Imagine, if you will, a back-seat party featuring graham crackers and Cheez Doodles. Now, picture a heavy downpour. Then picture the scene with hyper kids in the back seat of the SUV. No, don’t do that. We want you to take your family on your next vacation.

Carrots, celery sticks, endive and apples are our go-to snacks, though we don’t usually let the kids eat in the car during shorter trips. We also stick with water as our beverage of choice. When it spills, it can only make things cleaner.

2. Don’t play stupid games.
Sorry Scholastic, but in our car “I spy” is so passé. Kids have cool factor antennae and will resist anything that even remotely appears like an activity from an episode of the Partridge Family or the Brady Bunch. In our car, it’s all about variety. Why not try talking to your kids? No, not arguing, talking. Let them come up with a song list and a few games to play in the car. It’s OK to load up their iPad with a few highly-rated video games and let them veg out, too. But it won’t take long before that gets old. By transitioning from conversations and music to interactive games, you’re refocusing their attention and they’re less likely to notice the time dragging. Your kids may also want to do something creative, like take pictures, video or journal. If it becomes a fight to the death (maybe it will just seem that way), you know you’ve waited too long to pull over for a stretch break. Just don’t be naïve. Your kids can’t play games for 12 hours straight. They’ll want to interact with you and work off some energy so pay attention and keep them occupied.

3. Trick out your car.
We like the in-flight entertainment options on our Honda Pilot (the touring model has a DVD player in the back). But the best way to trick out your car is with our own must-have device, an Escort 2 radar detector, a TomTom GO 600 and GoPro Hero 4. Each fulfills a unique purpose. The radar detector tells us when we’re speeding, thanks to a Bluetooth connection to my smartphone. When you hear her say “over speed” it’s time to slow down. The TomTom is hands-down the best navigation system we’ve ever used. Just say “Hey, TomTom” to change volume, find nearby gas stations, or change destinations. Our kids insisted on getting the GoPro. Just make sure you get the selfie stick and window mount. It takes great video of our family on the road, in the back seat, and on the trail, so we can share our experiences with all our friends.

4. Take turns.
Play musical chairs. Driver switches with passenger. Kids in the back can also shuffle around to avoid the monotony of sitting in the same seat for more than 12 hours. That’s really important when you’re driving. Plus, it gives you a chance to stretch and get your body moving. We have a two-hour limit for drivers, which ensures one person doesn’t do too much driving at one time. Really, the last thing you want is for someone to drive off the road, right?

5. Know when to say “when.”
Not all marathon drives are meant to be completed in a day. If you and your co-pilot can’t keep your eyes open and the kids are bouncing off the walls, then do yourself a favor and call it a night. Honestly, that’s when we’ve made some of our best discoveries, like Florence, S.C., (about halfway between Orlando and Washington) or Chattanooga, Tenn. (about halfway between Orlando and Chicago). You don’t have to go all the way today.

½ tip. Is there a better way to get there?
At some point, driving doesn’t make sense anymore. The trip from Orlando to Denver by car doesn’t make a lot of sense during the winter. Unless you’re planning some stops along the way. A four-hour flight sounds a lot more reasonable, even when you factor in the TSA hassles and all the nuisance airline fees. Taking the train can be a lot of fun as well. One of our favorite train trips was aboard VIA Rail across Canada.

Enjoy your family road trip, but don’t overdo it. After all, there’s a vacation waiting for you on the other side. You still want to like each other, right?