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8 tips for family road-trip success

When the summer hits, many Western New York families head for the highways. But a road trip is not as simple as it sounds, and there is some planning to do for successful — and safe — travel. From making sure you have your car prepared in the unlikely event of a roadside emergency, to keeping the kids occupied and staving off the “I’m boreds," we’ve got you covered. Here are eight tips to be road trip ready for your summer getaway.

1. Get your car in gear

A pre-trip automobile maintenance check is crucial, especially for longer road trips, said Steve Pacer, Public Affairs Specialist, AAA Western and Central New York. Travelers’ pre-trip car checklist should include the battery, tires, fluids, brakes and wipers.

Pacer also said a car emergency safety kit is critical and should include a cell phone and car charger; a flashlight with extra batteries; a first-aid kit; drinking water; extra snacks/food for your travelers and any pets; battery booster cables; and emergency flares or reflectors. “While preventative measures go a long way toward minimizing breakdowns, unexpected vehicle problems can still arise,” said Pacer. “It’s better to have your kit and not need it than need it and not have it.”

Claire White, mom of four young daughters in Buffalo who road trips to Iowa several times each year, recommends families get the car detailed pre-trip. Claire explained, “The kids appreciate it and want to help keep it clean throughout the trip.”

2. Stock the car with travel essentials

Rose Fernandez, mom of two girls in Buffalo, has a number of “must-haves” in the car for all road trips. These include bags for motion sickness and trash, napkins, plastic forks and spoons (stored are in plastic bags), safety pins, a box of sanitizer wipes for quick cleanups, motion sickness wrist bands, sunglasses and hard candy for the emergency, “I’m hungry.”

White has her girls pack their own personal backpacks with entertainment they want for the drive, including drawing pads, crayons or markers, books and their favorite stuffed animals.  White also packs light to leave as much space as possible for passengers.

“When traveling with little kids, I use one very large duffel and pack each child’s clothes in one or more reusable shopping bags. Next I pack all the other baby/kids stuff, sunscreen, diapers, pack n’ play sheets, shoes, etc., in additional shopping bags, then load all the bags into the big duffel,” said White. “I swear by this. It keeps things organized in the duffel for unpacking purposes, and cuts back on having a zillion suitcases.”

3. Plan your route ahead of time

Pacer of AAA recommends planning your route in advance to minimize stress, allow for unexpected traffic or weather-related delays and to create realistic time estimates. He also suggests using a GPS, printed directions and a map (yes, all three), if possible, for trip navigation. Pacer explained, “In the event that your GPS signal is lost, you can refer back to printed directions. If there is congestion or construction happening, referring to a map may save valuable time while you find an alternate route. Apps like our aaa.com/mobile can also help navigate to closest rest stop, restaurant, etc.”

4. Schedule your departure to avoid crowded roads

If it’s possible, leave before or after the typical “rush hour” time-frames to minimize your chance of being stuck in traffic, recommends Pacer.

“Everyone should be prepared for busy roads during the most popular times of the year, especially the afternoon and evenings before a major holiday,” Pacer said.

For a 10-hour road trip, Rose Fernandez typically plans a lunchtime departure with two stops to break up the monotony for her 14 and 11 year-old. Fernandez said, “Mostly I like to drive with sleepy kids in the back. Starting first thing in the morning ensures that I have too-lively kids!”

5. Safety first

While some people prefer leaving mid-day, Pacer does advise to “try to do most of your traveling during daylight hours when visibility is best. Drivers should remember there is no substitute for sleep and not to over-extend themselves. Make it part of your plan to stop every two hours or 100 miles and consider changing drivers at this point, too.”

AAA recommends traveling at times when you are normally awake and staying somewhere overnight rather than driving straight through to your destination.  “If you are feeling sleepy, stop and find a hotel,” said Pacer. “Sleepiness slows a driver’s reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs judgment, just like drugs or alcohol.”

Standard rules of the road always apply, Pacer added. “Pay attention, buckle up, secure children in car seats, don’t drink and drive, and be courteous to avoid encounters with aggressive drivers. Also, remain distraction free,” he said.

6. Pack your own snacks

Skipping fast food on the highway and packing a cooler not only saves money, but everyone will feel much better when you reach your destination. Take a few extra minutes to pack your kids’ favorite sandwiches, fresh fruit, and personalized “snack bags” with each kid’s favorites – like raisins, cereal, goldfish, pretzels, nuts, chocolate chips or M&Ms. White gets input on food from her girls. “I give them some options and then ask them what they want so I can say ‘you asked for this’ later,” said White. “Everyone takes a water bottle — but half full — so we don’t have to make excessive bathroom stops.”

7. Old school games make the miles fly by

Electronics like iPods/iPads, DVD players and handheld video games are obvious go-to’s to keep kids busy, but throw-back games like car bingo, the alphabet game, the license plate game and “I packed my grandmother’s trunk” make time pass quickly and are fun for all ages. For White’s girls these days, “The two biggest hits are probably singing and audiobooks,” she said.

8. Enjoy the (peaceful) ride

To stop sibling squabbling in its tracks, White relies on a tactic her father used when she was growing up. “We play the ‘Quiet Game’ which my dad played with us all the time when we were on family road trips (eight kids and two parents in woody station wagon!),” said White. “Everyone shouts at the top of their lungs for a minute until dad says ‘Quiet!’ and then the first one to make a peep loses.”

At the end of the day, a road trip is true family quality time. “I have actually come to look forward to these drives, as crazy as it sounds,” White reflected about her drives to Iowa. “I also think it’s great for the kids to see as many parts of the U.S. as possible. I feel a nice sense of pride and accomplishment that we’ve actually done it together as a family.”

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