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Planning your summer road trip

Plan ahead and set expectations before your road trip. Pick up some fun travel games, puzzles and books to keep the kids busy and enjoy making memories along the way.
Plan ahead and set expectations before your road trip. Pick up some fun travel games, puzzles and books to keep the kids busy and enjoy making memories along the way.Sandy Wallace

As summer beckons with the promise of warm breezes, sunny days and evenings filled with family time, many families are planning their annual summer road trip.

Let each of your kids pack a backpack with toys, books and quiet activities to enjoy alone or together
Let each of your kids pack a backpack with toys, books and quiet activities to enjoy alone or togetherSandy Wallace

Whether you're traveling to the beach, the mountains, a distant amusement park or to visit relatives, your trip will be easier and more carefree with a little advance planning

Back in the day, vacation planning was more difficult and time-consuming. Travel apps like US Travel for iPhone and iPad or Google Maps for Android phones offer maps, travel guides and information about what to do on the road and at your destination.

You're one step ahead of the game if you know which big cities you'll pass through while traveling to your final destination. Look through the choices of things to do in the cities you'll pass through on the way and you'll find a variety of activities. Then plan a stop of an hour or two each day to break up your trip.

If you're traveling with young children, you may want to look for parks, zoos or other outdoor areas. If you're traveling with older children, you might want to find museums or other places of interest.

Older kids can do some web searches before you leave home and also while you're on the road. Write down several choices for cities in each state so you'll be prepared.

By planning ahead instead of exiting somewhere and trying to find something to do, you'll know that in 10 or 15 miles, you'll have a few good options in the stopping point of your choice.

Traveling with kids can be fun but is also usually stressful. Sometimes our travel expectations aren't realistic. Parents may think that the kids will be happy and grateful for the opportunities travel offers. Parents may also thing that teenagers and toddlers will enjoy doing the same things and that everyone will get along in the car.

In short, parents often assume that everyone will act differently on vacation than they do at home. Think about it for a minute. Everyone is packed into a tight spot with no way to escape and be alone. Fuses get short for everyone, including the adults.

Keep your expectations reasonable. You probably can't do all of the things you want to do each day. Your kids probably will argue and fight on vacation if they do at home. Your older children will probably be bored by activities geared to younger children. But in the end, you'll probably still remember the good things more than the bad things.

Here are some tips to plan ahead and set expectations to make your summer road trip more pleasant and memorable.

Have clear expectations and discuss together in advance. Set a few basic rules of behavior that you all agree upon. Parents set the pace for expectations. Short attention spans result in restless kids. Plan fun activities that each child can do alone and that the entire family can do together.

If you know that your kids don't travel well, consider traveling at night, taking turns sleeping. Have a backup plan to stop for the night if your little ones are cranky and stay awake instead of sleeping.

Let each child pack a backpack with activities to do, electronic or hand-held games, books and snacks. This allows the kids to amuse themselves for short periods of time. Bring a portable DVD player and a selection of movies for the ride. A variety of activities will help the miles fly by.

Visit your nearest Cracker Barrel location and you'll find lots of inexpensive travel games to keep the kids busy in the car. Here are a couple of classic car travel games to play together.

The Alphabet Game: Use each letter of the alphabet in order to make a funny story. Example: Annie is going to Alabama and she's bringing apples. Each person in order has to repeat all previous stories and add their own.

The Billboard Game: Look for words starting with each letter of the alphabet in order on signs and billboards as you travel. Q, X, V and Z are hard to find so you might let those letters be anywhere in the word instead of at the beginning.

Set rules in advance. Keep hands, feet and objects to yourself is one of the first rules taught in kindergarten and all kids follow this rule at school. Following this rule in the car will keep the driver and all passengers safer.

Parents who are driving can be distracted by fighting kids in the backseat. It's easiest when there's more space per child but that's not always possible. Talk in advance about what is expected. Set clear boundaries for each child to follow.

Plan ahead to keep the kids busy and reduce stress. Set expectations and establish rules in advance and get a good night's sleep before you hit the road. Family road trips offer many opportunities to make memories that your kids will cherish for years to come.