Have a fun family road trip. I’m serious.

The iconic family road trip. The video store shelves are flooded with comedies written about these all-important rites of summertime passage. Why? Because nine times out of 10, they quickly devolve into unmitigated catastrophes.

If you watch Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” Robin Williams in “RV” or this summer’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” it might seem like a potential tragedy is lurking at every exit. My family once started an August road trip with a lost purse, four broken fishing poles and a busted air conditioning unit in our minivan. We then proceeded to get a flat tire and spend several hours at a Wal-Mart while a pair of trainees replaced it. Not fun!

But don’t assume all roads lead to Destination Disaster. By planning ahead and keeping expectations in check, a road trip can be a sure route to cherished family memories.

  • Do not overpack. I say again – do not overpack! Putting literally too much junk in the trunk leads to insane amounts of stress when you depart, when you return home and every time you have to move the set of golf clubs around the pile of tennis rackets that knock over the box of Legos just to find your child’s favorite swim goggles. “NO, Mom! My other swim goggles!” Keep clothing and accessories simple, mix and match outfits and plan to do a load of laundry mid-trip. Any item that proves to be essential for family fun can likely be picked up at a gas station, dollar store or Walgreens along the way.
  • Snacks! One area not to skimp is in the snack department. Nothing keeps crabbiness and boredom at bay like some well-timed treats. But if sugar makes your kids bonkers (like mine), skip the Skittles and licorice bites, and bring along pretzels, popcorn, yogurt-covered raisins and trail mix. Tip: My girls love anything miniature-sized that comes in its own carton, like those mini cereal boxes, Lunchables or single-serve Pringles tubs. Expensive? Yes. Worth the price? Absolutely!
  • Show on the road? My kids can’t even ride to the post office without asking, “Can we watch a movie?” So for long road trips, we pack a stack of DVDs in a travel CD case to save on space (and sticky fingerprints), and give each girl her own headphones. This summer, we are also bringing along the Narnia series of books on CD – though my husband and I want to listen to those, too! On really long vacations, I give each girl one small, wrapped gift per travel day. (Just something simple like a sticker book, trivia cards or fresh markers and paper – little things I would’ve purchased anyway.) The catch is that they cannot unwrap that day’s package until we are at least one hour down the road.
  • Comfort is key. Do not attempt a long summer road trip without air conditioning. Just, don’t. Rent a vehicle, if you must. Bring extra fans and/or blankets for family members who run hot or cold, and for goodness sake do NOT dress your kids in any clothing that is too new, too tight or too itchy for the long haul. On travel days longer than eight hours, I’ve been known to let my kids ride along in their pajamas and flip flops; pretty sure my “Mother of the Year” trophy will be arriving any day now…
  • Set realistic goals and expectations. Driving 20 hours straight through to Orlando might look good on paper. But it’s going to look really ugly somewhere south of Nashville. Make the journey part of the trip, and set up interesting stops along the way. Also, you probably could see all the sites of Yellowstone National Park in one day … but why would you want to? A family vacation is the perfect opportunity to slow down the pace, relax with your kids and savor these fleeting moments of childhood. If time is an issue, take an airplane. Road trips are all about the memories, and relaxed family members are going to make for happy travelers.

What are your favorite destinations or tips for relaxed road trips? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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