Are We There Yet?
How to Organize Your Family's Travel Time

By Debbie Williams of Organized Times

Are we there yet? How far is it? I'm hungry! He's looking at me again! If you are in a car for more than 15 minutes with a child, I'm sure you have heard any or all of these questions in your travels. Summer is finally here, and many of you are planning to hop in the car to drive to an exciting destination, perhaps to your favorite theme park, to camp in the mountains, or to visit loved ones seldom seen. But often the thought of spending hour after hour in a small space listening to a constant whining noise gives you the shudders.

By using some of these travel tips, you'll be able to plan a less stressful outing for your own family, and find the courage to do it again next year, too.

When are we going to be there?
Whether your kids are 2 or 12, they are clueless when it comes to space and time. Telling them repeatedly "soon, dear" does not give them any more indication of an ETA (estimated time of arrival) than saying that Christmas is in December to a 3-year-old. They just don't get it.

Satisfy their curiosity by providing them with the rights tools for the job: a map, a compass, and an inexpensive digital watch. Even the smallest of preschoolers will be happy to find North on a compass, not to mention telling the driver he's going the wrong way!

Give your little navigator an atlas or state map, or make a good photocopy of your original one. Highlight your route, placing stickers or stars at scheduled rest stops. Not only does this point the way, but it also takes care of the next two challenges: perpetual hunger while in motion, and boredom. It helps your little travelers to know when and where they will be stopping to stretch and get the wiggles out.

I'm hungry!
It's inevitable, no sooner than your minivan leaves the driveway, a small voice from the backseat cries, "I'm hungry!" At the risk of giving professional car detailers everywhere a jump in business, I highly recommend putting the kids in charge of their snacks. I'm not endorsing a junk-food frenzy, but you can make food and drink accessible to them so that they have a sense of independence and responsibility.

Put a small cooler with drinks (juice, milk and water) in a central location where everyone can reach. In our SUV, I have a small cooler between the seats, Velcroed to the carpet to minimize slippage. But you can place this on the floorboard or between the seats. It can even double as a seat divider to diminish those cries of "Mom, he's TOUCHING me!"

Fill paper lunch sacks with pre-measured snacks of fruit, crackers, cookies and trail mix. Use your imagination, or let the kids help you make these in advance. They just love being in charge of their meals, and this is a good way to let them help while you pack the car for your trip.

But I'm B-O-R-E-D
There's nothing to do. I'm tired. I don't want to play another game of License Tag Bingo! Tired of the old standby car games? Plan a few new ones this year with a quick visit to your local toy store, or invent your own. Magnetic board games, handheld video games, a Discman or Walkman with books on tape (story tapes for the smaller tots), or your child's favorite music are a great start to car harmony.

Assemble Activity Bags in paper lunch bags filled with a snack, an activity, and a toy. For toddlers and preschoolers, this can be a small box of raisins, a travel-size Magna Doodle and a Beanie Baby. Older kids might enjoy Fruit Rollups, word search puzzles and a comic book. These don't have to be new items, either; just raid the toy box for items that haven't been used in a while. You'll be recycling their toys as well as their interest (for a few miles, anyway).

Take the Activity Bag one step further by placing colored stickers on the outside of each bag: 1 sticker for the first bag, 2 stickers for the second, 3 stickers for the third, etc. If you hide these and don't let the kids know what's up until you get in the car, it's like a treasure hunt on wheels. At a predetermined spot on your map (and theirs), they can open Bag 1, but they have to wait until the next spot to open Bag 2, and so forth. Put a star on the map indicating when (and where) they can open their bags. This passes the time, keeps their interest varied, and even teaches basic geography skills all at the same time.

Another simple twist on the Activity Bag is to wait to open them until you are stopped at a rest stop. The bags contain snacks, physical activities, and provide a little structure for the wiggle worms in your care. Last summer during a long driving vacation, I stashed bubbles, a small Frisbee, and a Hot Wheels car in my son's bags. He was excited about the contents of his activity bag, and stayed busy with Dad while I unpacked our picnic lunch. It also gave him something safe to do while we were stopped.

Driving trips don't have to be dreaded all year long. With a bit of organization, planning, and teamwork, you can supply your travelers with some simple and effective ways to pass their time. Before you know it, they will no longer be asking, "Are we there yet?" but rather "Dad, can I drive?" Enjoy the scenery, have a safe trip, and don't forget to send me a postcard.

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Debbie Williams is an organizing strategist and founder of the online organizing forum, She is the author of  Common Sense Organizing, from Champion Press. 

Copyright 2001, Debbie Williams