On the road

Strap your kids in the car and go for a ride

You’ve had the barbecues, hit the pools and run amok in all the local parks. By mid-July, you have time to plan one last summer hurrah before the kids have to start buying new binders and thinking about heading back to school for the fall. And there’s no better way to culminate the season than to roll down the windows and take the whole family on a road trip to your favorite vacation destination.

However, anyone who has ever interacted with children knows that it is no easy task to keep them entertained during long stretches of time spent sitting still in cramped quarters. Family roadtrips take a lot of preparation and imagination—but here are some tips to help you through:

First of all, you will not be content singing “99 Bottles of Beer” or playing “I Spy” for the entire ride. Especially if you’re driving through Nevada, where every other round involves spying something beige. You’ll have to get creative with car games—let the kids come up with their own to play, and carefully mind all of the millions of obscure rules they will develop.

Additionally, there is a wide array of audiobooks and children’s music to choose from. And, as most parents and caregivers are painfully aware, very few of these are any fun at all for adults. In fact, most are so terrible that they are likely to scar you for life. I still have flashbacks of my grandmother playing Jim Rule’s super hip family album “Let It Shine” on repeat. It comes complete with an awkward family portrait on the front cover and tracks such as “Because I Said So!” and “Insanity is Hereditary.”

Don’t do that. There is simply no need to subject yourself, your children and any fellow adults who happen to be traveling with you to such a fate when there are so many more possibilities.

Some children’s music is downright awesome. For example, Music for Little People is a group that collects and produces albums of classic songs and stories from many different cultures and presents them in a delightful manner. One of these albums, “Smilin’ Island of Song” by Cedella Marley Booker—Bob Marley’s mother—features tales of Jamaican folklore as well as an excellent selection of kid-friendly calypso music.

Your road trip is instantly more tolerable once the quality of music is elevated a few notches. And, while not marketed as “educational” audio compilations, these collections will provide the opportunity for you and your children to explore other cultures in an engaging yet informative manner.

Additionally, you can pick up some great, obscure audiobooks filled with children’s stories, which all passengers will listen to with rapt attention. There is no need to stick with tried-and-true Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia books, and Fox in Socks is actually just a really irritating tongue-twister after about two minutes.

Try an unusual story that also interests you. Try some fairy tales from the days of yore, before the standard happily-ever-after ending went into effect. One of the most memorable books-on-tape from my childhood is Hans Christian Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier, a tragic love story of an unattainably beautiful paper ballerina and the misfit toy soldier who obsesses over her from afar. It’s creepy, romantic and a surefire way to ensure that your children will grow up to have a goth phase.

But no amount of fun-having will keep kids entertained in the car forever. Stopping to let kids run around and breathe some fresh air is completely necessary. However, instead of making several short stops to grab some gas and gas station-brand nachos, you can condense your stops into just a few longer stops to maximize your out-of-the-car time by stopping into a grocery store to grab some better-tasting snacks and then heading to a patch of grass for an impromptu picnic.

While most people consider the notion of taking children on a long car ride a nerve-wracking undertaking, it can be a pleasant experience shared by both kids and adults if you plan ahead enough to make the most out of your vacation on wheels.