the Family Vacation. • So ripe with possibilities. Scrapbook memories in the making. • So fraught with unpleasantness. Frayed nerves from all quarters (especially the backseat). • Still, the school-less summer months beg to be filled with adventure. Or at least a car trip to somewhere that doesn't look like what you see every day. • High airfares are keeping Americans closer to home, and it's likely to be the Summer of the Car Trip for many of us. Blame the London Olympics for the jump in European airfares, which have climbed 11 percent since last summer, according to the travel website Kayak. Even domestic air travel can be pricey for a family of four or more. • Skyrocketing airfares might be the only thing that could make a long car trip look attractive. The are-we-there-yet vacation requires lots of patience and, these days, plenty of extra batteries for all those portable entertainment devices. Forget arguing over who has to sit in the middle. Contemporary kid travelers are more likely to tussle about who gets to use the car's power source to charge their phone. • Most of us have only seen a small fraction of the United States, a treasure chest of vacation possibilities. According to a Hotwire/Harris Interactive survey, 72 percent of adults haven't visited the Alamo, the site of an important battle in the Texas revolution against Mexico. And another 65 percent or so haven't visited the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty or the Golden Gate Bridge. The White House? More than half haven't seen where the president lives. • Okay. So there are plenty of places to go. The real issue — besides discretionary funds — is what to do in the car. Or how to keep the peace. Some ideas:
Between the many handheld entertainment options and cars outfitted with TVs, it's likely your children will be ready and able to entertain themselves. That's good, and bad. They can be so focused on what's streaming into their ears that they don't interact with the rest of the family or notice what's going on outside. On the other hand, they might not be complaining. Check equipment and batteries before you leave home. Perhaps you can use the travel time to get the kids to teach you to use your smartphone or iPad.
ELECTRONICS, PART II
Get some super-good headphones that really cover the ears. Those little buds that perch precariously in the ears fall out, and then everyone can hear what Junior is hearing. Plus, the big headphones can help cancel outside noises. If you're driving through the night, they make sleep a wee bit easier.
KNOW YOUR KIDS
If two of three don't get along, put one in the front seat. Parents don't always have to have the primo spot. Have a child who gets motion sickness? Make sure you have something to ease her queasy stomach. Crackers can work, but you might need medicine. Fresh air helps, too. If you've got a driver-in-training or a teenager with a license, let him drive for a while. Good experience . . . at least for him.
Yes, you want to get there quickly, but there are adventures to be had on the road. Have the kids plot where you might stop for a bathroom break or a walk through an interesting park. This may take you off course a few miles but is that so bad? For instance, if you're heading to Key West, consider a stop at the immensely cool produce market Robert Is Here in Homestead (19200 SW 344th St.; robertishere.com) for a tropical milkshake or at Robbie's in Islamorada to feed the tarpon (Mile Marker 77.5 or follow the signs; robbies.com). Everyone will be happy for a chance to stretch their legs and have some fun, too.
Bring them. Drinks, too. It's more economical to pack fruit and other goodies than to stop every time someone's stomach grumbles. Watch the salty snacks, which will make them thirsty and require more bathroom stops. And about those bathroom stops, don't make them feel guilty when they have to go. Take a deep breath and pull over . . . for the fifth time.
Pack some retro games for the less electronically inclined, like car bingo or travel versions of board games. Or plan a rousing session of I Spy. There's always singing, too. If you need help to stay on key, pop a CD into the player and go for it. If everyone has a device with an Internet connection, how about a Words With Friends tournament?
It's not just little guys who can use a blankie or favorite stuffed animal. Let everyone bring something to calm the savage breast. A favorite pillow or soft blanket doesn't take up too much room. Let them travel in their slippers or stocking feet (just make sure they can get to real shoes for stops). If your car is really too small for a long journey, consider renting one. That's still cheaper than flying. Bring a first-aid kit.
GO WITH THE FLOW
Yes, travel can be an educational experience, but that doesn't mean you have to turn the car into a classroom. They've had enough of rigid rules. Bend yours a little. This is especially important if you have teenagers. You'd be surprised what they are soaking in when they are sulking. If they want to stay in the car listening to music while the rest of you run in to the glass museum, let them (as long as you think it's safe). It's their vacation, too. That said, a plan for where you'll be stopping and how far you'll drive each day is a good idea.
Everyone wants to know the answer to "Are we there yet?"
Information from the Los Angeles Times was used in this report. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.