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Are We There Yet?

Family Road Trip Must-Haves

The kids are important but don’t forget the grown-up stuff as well.

Child safety and comfort - You may already have a child safety seat, but is it a comfortable one? The rule of thumb is; the less expensive it is the less padding there is between Junior and a hard piece of plastic. Check it out: Press down on the fabric...is there a lot of cushion, or will it feel like a rock after an hour? Remember to keep'em comfortable, and you'll keep everybody happy.

Shades - If your vehicle's rear windows aren't heavily tinted (and even if they are), you might need a sunshade to keep the sun out of your little ones' eyes. Built-in sunshades are featured on many luxury sedans; several add-on sunshade accessories are available on the Web or in baby stores. Even then, it's a good idea to bring sunglasses for the whole family for those times you step out of the car and into a bright, sunny day.

Favorite blankie or stuffed animal - Torn or ratty, nothing, but nothing, becomes more valuable on a road trip than your child's "lovey." It connects them to home and makes them more comfortable in a strange place. It also helps them sleep, so don't leave home without it.

Entertainment - We could spend all day on this one. Klutz Press publishes several books/activity packs for kids that will have you singing the company's praises, including Glove Compartment Games and Kids Travel — A Backseat Survival Guide, which has lots of puzzles, connect-the-dots, etc. Also try the Survive the Drive or Travel Tots Web site. Travel Tots features gender-specific backpacks filled with fun stuff for 3- to 9-year-olds. Make these kits a surprise "present" that the kids can unwrap and you win the good parent award…for that hour, at least. Bring stories on CD or tape and share them together, or have the kids use headphones if you just can't stand Barney one more time. For older kids, satellite radio is a good bet. With hundreds of station choices, chances are you'll find something you can agree upon. Finally, I hate to suggest it, but on long trips, there's nothing better than a DVD player (either as part of an entertainment system installed in the vehicle or a portable unit) or handheld electronic games. Naturally, there's always the entertainment fallback, traditional (and free) car games such as "I Spy" and "20 Questions" or "Geography."

Munchies - You need lots of snacks, and lots of variety. Water bottles, juice boxes, individual bags of chips or crackers, grapes (cut in half for little ones to avoid choking), fresh veggies (OK, that's for you), Cheerios, granola bars or yogurt sticks (not cups) that have been frozen (kids love this!). And almost all younger kids calm down a bit when they have milk, so bring along milk boxes that are vacuum-packed and don't need refrigeration. (They can be hard to find; check in the powdered milk area of the grocery store.) Use disposable plastic containers and resealable plastic bags, so the car doesn't resemble a Tupperware party. Remember, kids can't shout while they're busy drinking and eating. Don't forget a couple of bags to hold all the trash, too.

Detailed maps or GPS - OK, sounds obvious, but how many times have you had to stop to ask directions during your lifetime? If you're on a road trip and lose your way, vehicle navigation systems are a gift from heaven. If your car didn't come with a navigation system and you have the cash, consider getting an aftermarket unit. At worst, bring detailed maps (not just driving directions) that will show you where you are in case you don't know, uh, where you are. Some maps or guides will also highlight features along the route and the all-important rest stops. Rand McNally, Thomas Brothers and AAA are good places to start. Getting good directions from strangers you meet while traveling is dicey, at best. So don't rely on the guy at that gas station, or you could end up driving in circles.

Travel-sized goods - It isn't just shampoo and deodorant that come in travel sizes today. First aid kits, baby wipes, toys (classics like Mastermind and Connect Four, Etch-a-Sketch), hair brushes, disposable plastic placemats and bibs, sunscreen, bug repellent, just about everything comes in a mini version today, saving you a lot of weight in the suitcase and the need to rummage around looking for things. Pack all these things in one bag that is easy to get to, and you'll save not only time but energy as well.

Prescription medicines - If you forget them, you'll be waking your doctor and scrambling for the number of the nearest pharmacy. Also ask your pediatrician about over-the-counter motion sickness medication if you will be traveling on winding roads.

Change of clothing - Not just for the kids, but for everyone. Diapers and underwear included, of course and don’t forget the jackets just because its summer doesn’t mean the weather will cooperate the whole trip.

Legal documents and money - Bring driver licenses (for all drivers), IDs, vehicle registration, current insurance card, vehicle title document, AAA card (or other emergency assistance card) and ATM/debit card, credit card and cash. This is what you need in case you get pulled over by police, towed, broken down and so on. Keep them in one place, preferably in your front pants pocket. Front pockets are harder to pick. You also won't risk that moment of panic if you realize your purse is hanging on the back of a chair in the restaurant, 10 miles back.

Cell phone - Last on the list but certainly not the least important item to remember and we're not suggesting talking while you drive, but if you get lost, blow a tire, overheat an engine or need medical assistance, a cell phone is indispensable. If your adult partner (or teenage child) has a different carrier, have him or her bring a phone as well, because you never know which carrier will have a working signal at any given moment. Don't forget the car charger and the A/C charger as well.

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