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Happy kids make for pleasant road trips

By Marnie Hunter
CNN

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(CNN) -- Take heart as you embark on your next summer road trip: There are ways to tone down the "are we there yet?" chorus coming from the back seat.

Careful packing and planning can make getting there part of the fun. The main thing to remember about taking road trips with children is that it will take longer, said mother of two Pauline Frommer, of Frommer's travel guides.

"The kids simply can't be in the car for eight hours straight, you can't just do a drive-through meal and only stop at gas stations," she said. "That's the way to really have a hellish vacation."

CNN consulted Frommer and other child-friendly experts about making road trips more enjoyable for the whole family.

Research in advance

Researching your route ahead of time may yield a stop at a nice park or an attraction that could be fun for kids, Frommer said.

She also urges families to steer away from the same old chain restaurants.

"There's a terrific site called roadfood.com, and it lists the more authentic restaurants in the areas you're going to be going," Frommer said. "It lists the clam shacks and the barbeque joints and the really special diners along the road."

Leave early or late

Frommer encourages parents to depart on long road trips in the evening or early in the morning.

"If you can leave early or late, you not only avoid traffic, hopefully the kids will be tired and take a little rest," she said.

Make regular stops

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a stop about every two hours to give you and your children a break.

Getting out of the car is also a good idea if a child is feeling carsick.

"The best therapy for motion sickness is to stop traveling and walk around on terra firma for a bit," said Dr. Andy Spooner via e-mail. Spooner is the director of general pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

"If that's not possible, looking outside the vehicle can help," he said.

Most pediatricians avoid using medications to prevent motion sickness in children unless they tend to experience extreme cases because the drugs are profoundly sedating, Spooner said.

Pack activities

Magnetized board games, song and activity books and even pipe cleaners can provide hours of back seat fun.

Klutz, a company that makes creative products for kids, offers a number of travel-themed activity books and craft kits.

Some of the books contain simple crossword boards designed to be filled in with words from billboards along the way and there's a game modeled on the full-body game of Twister, called Finger Tangle.

"It's good if you really want to make friends with the person sitting next to you," Klutz co-founder John Cassidy said.

"A lot of families just do the basic backseat fight where the two siblings draw the imaginary line between the two seats and then they fight over the rest of the trip."

Cassidy's own children are fans of "backrub stories" -- simple tales with a series of gestures the storyteller performs on the back of the listener.

"The story is accompanied by all this tapping and whacking and touching and rubbing and bumping on your back, and trust me, that's a huge hit," Cassidy said.

Make a scrapbook

Encourage your kids to collect mementoes like ticket stubs, postcards and brochures along the way and put them in a scrapbook on the way to the next stop or on the way home.

Frommer's older daughter, now 6, drew pictures in her scrapbook next to things she collected in Ireland two years ago and dictated memories to her mother to write down.

"Even now we look at it and it reminds us of our trip there," Frommer said.

Bring audio books or DVDs

DVDs can preserve harmony on long trips.

"I know pediatricians are supposed to frown on excessive TV watching, but these days, the in-dash DVD player is the state of the art for surviving long trips with kids," Spooner said via e-mail.

Audio books also are a great way to keep kids entertained, he said.

Enjoy the journey

Bring home good memories of the whole trip by making the most of getting to your destination.

"Sometimes it can be frustrating, but for the most part we all look back on the road trips with our parents and we forget the frustrating times," Frommer said.

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