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SALT LAKE CITY — There was a time when a family road trip meant piling into a station wagon with a map and a destination. Boredom might have felt like an inevitable part of the interminable trip. But with the technology and luxuries available today, road trips don't have to be torture. It takes some preparation, but getting there can truly be half the fun.
Apps are your friend
If you have a smartphone, a few dollars worth of apps can take you off the beaten path.
Roadside America, from the Apple Store, is a $6 app that can lead you to 7,800 oddities and detours within the United States. There are directions, pictures and information for each unusual attraction you may otherwise miss. It will direct you to graves of the famous, movie locations, haunted houses and businesses, places of infamous crimes, factory tours, and places of religious miracles — just to name a few. If you're passing through a town that hosts the biggest ball of wax in the world or a monument made of LEGO bricks, Roadside America is the app that won't let you pass it by.
And Roadside Presidents is a historical alternative to Roadside America. It leads travelers to anything and everything related to U.S. presidents, vice presidents and first ladies.
Pack the gadgets
While enjoying each other's company is the goal of a road trip, there's no shame in bringing along technology to alleviate whining. If you can't afford a sound-proof partition, bringing along the following items for older passengers is a good alternative.
- Handheld games
- MP3 players
- Nooks and Kindles
- Portable DVD player and DVD's
Batteries not included
If you're traveling with little ones, don't forget to enjoy the tried and true time killers that don't require batteries. Attempting to zonk them out with Benadryl isn't recommended, and waiting until the night to drive while they sleep can very easily backfire on you. Be prepared, not scared!
I Spy, Out of State License Plate and 20 Questions are all games that get families talking to each other — and isn't that what a family vacation is really all about? If you missed out on these games as a child, or just want to brush up on your Slug Bug rules, a great site to visit is justalittlecreativity.com to organize road trip games.
To keep little hands busy in the backseat, pack an arsenal of cheap and easy games to occupy them:
- Inexpensive disposable cameras for kids to document the trip themselves.
- Window markers will keep them busy drawing masterpieces on their passenger windows that can easily be removed with baby wipes.
- Make clips out of clothes pins for each passenger to be kept on the sun shade. The clip comes off as a penalty for whining or bad behavior. If it's still on by the end of the trip, passengers receive a small reward.
- Make a car visual to attach to you car's ceiling to give the kids a clear idea of how close you are to your destination.
- Give each child a plastic organizing container or new tackle boxes to keep their snacks in.
- An empty DVD container can hold colored pencils and paper, and be used as a hard surface to draw on.
- Make a map with pictures of landmarks on it, so kids will have another visual of their path.
- Hand out glow sticks when traveling at night.
- Download recordings of your child's favorite books.
- Play Road Trip Bingo.
- Bring books and magazines
What you'll need more than anything is patience and a good attitude to enjoy this part of your vacation. Expect meltdowns from younger passengers, and even older ones. But avoid major catastrophes by remembering the necessities and printing off a check list before your trip. Have your car serviced beforehand, and don't forget the following essentials.
- First aide kit
- Spare tire, and tools to actually put it on
- Thomas Guide, because cellphones die and navigational systems have a tendency to be plain wrong
- Snacks and drinks
- A trash bag
Nicole Pollard currently resides in Canyon Country, Calif.