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10 Tips for Better Family Road Trips

How do you nip the inevitable 'Are we there yet?' in the bud? Readers of share 10 affordable ways to ease backseat boredom.

Summer is on its way, which means that families are gearing up for road trips. readers share 10 easy ways to smooth out the journey and banish backseat boredom.

Tip #1: When you are on a road trip and need a bathroom break, keep a lookout for a budget chain hotel. They are easy to find, often conveniently located just off highway exits. They tend to have rest rooms in the lobby area and, in my experience, these bathrooms are usually much cleaner than those in gas stations and fast food restaurants. --Amy from Kingston, NY

Tip #2: My kids are always squabbling in the back of the car. The last time we took a long car trip, I came up with a little project they could do together. I gave them each a roll of low-tack masking tape and told them they could build a divider between themselves, right down the middle of the back seat. Soon, they were busy and giggling and they ended up with a tremendous wall of tape. When we got to our destination, the wall came down in one fell swoop. No muss, no fuss. --Julia from Gunnison, CO

Tip #3: I have four kids under the age of 11. When we go on a road trip, I pack a toy bag with essentials that encourage my kids to burn off some of their excess energy at highway stops: a few jump ropes, bucket stilts, a couple of inflatable beach balls, and sidewalk chalk (for playing hopscotch and four-square). Oh, and I also like to pack an inexpensive stopwatch, since my kids are more motivated to run to, say, a big tree and back, if I time them. --Beth from Cedar Mill, OR

Tip #4: My kindergartner and preschooler love eating at chain restaurants that give out kids' activity placemats and coloring materials while you wait. When my husband and I want to bring the family somewhere that isn't as obviously kid-oriented, we bring our "Restaurant Kid Kit." It's simply a large plastic Spacemaker container filled with crayons, activity books with word searches and mazes, Hot Wheels, and other small toys. We keep it in the car so it's handy during car trips and outings. We get to visit a wider range of restaurants, and our kids whine less. --Kristin from Nevada City, CA

Tip #5: My son just loves doing word search puzzles. Before we go on a family vacation, I make up customized word search puzzles for him to do in the car or on the plane, using words about our trip and destination.'s PuzzleMaker makes this simple and fast. You just type in words that you want included, and the program generates a word search puzzle that can be printed out. Easy and fun! --Kirsten from Eau Claire, WI

Tip #6: An inexpensive metal cookie sheet makes the best lap table for a child during car trips. It can be a food tray or a writing desk (the raised edges keep crayons from rolling off). It can be a clipboard with the addition of a clip-style fridge magnet. It's an instant play table for all sorts of magnetic toys. On various trips, we've brought simple letters and numbers, LeapFrog farm animal magnets, magnet books, Magnet Wheelies kits, magnet dress up toys, and Magnetix. My daughter likes to play with a magnet puzzle shaped like the United States. When we see a license plate from one state, she adds it to her magnetic map. --Brooke from Carlisle, PA

Tip #7: We like to drive in little or no traffic, so for at least part of our journey we are usually driving in the dark. I give my school-age kids glow sticks (my kids like the ones that can be looped and connected to make a necklace or bracelet), little book lights, or tiny flashlights -- or sometimes all three. It makes the trip more fun for the kids, and the soft light doesn't distract the driver up front. --Kendra from Bridgeport, CT

Tip #8: Here's another idea for a creative car ride. Buy a package of pipe cleaners in assorted colors from any craft store. My kids love to create with pipe cleaners -- making necklaces, swords, bracelets, towers -- anything their little minds can think up. --Rich from La Habra, CA

Tip #9: Make up your own road scavenger hunt game. Write out a numbered list of 20 things that you'll likely see on your route. Include vehicles (truck, minivan, motorcycle, police car), animals (cow, dog, horse, bird), and buildings and other roadside items (barn, stop sign, church, fence, bridge). Photocopy the page for every child, and hand each a crayon. The first kid to spot all the items on the list wins. For kids too young to read, use pictures instead of words. --Karen from Brunswick, ME

Tip #10: Before our last road trip, I collected a small jar full of quarters with U.S. states on the back. During our journey, when one of my kids spotted a state's license plate, I'd give her a quarter with that state on it. If I didn't have a quarter for a particular state, I gave a dime or nickel, taped to an index card with the state's name written on the back side. When we got to our destination, the kids got to keep the coins to buy souvenirs. This incentivized version of the license plate game kept them much more eager to play! --Holly from Janesville, WI is an award-winning family travel site. It features reviews of kid-friendly hotels and resorts, expert planning advice, readers' travel tips, vacation deals, and more. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.