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10/02/2013 12:19 pm ET | Updated Dec 02, 2013

How to Own Your Next Family Road Trip

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Image by: Flickr/lowjumpingfrog

Road trips: In theory, you picture yourself, your significant other and your kids all singing Life is a Highway with the windows rolled down, taking pleasure in each other's company and the thrill of the journey and destination ahead. In reality... there's probably a lot more whining and crying than laughing and that song gets old real fast. Maybe your drive won't be movie-scene perfect, but it can still be a fun time for everyone in the car.

Pack Ahead

Make sure your entire car is packed and ready to go the night or day before you leave. The last thing you want as you're getting on the road is the added stress of having to pack the whole car. The only things that should have to go in the car the hour of departure are your few last minute bags and your passengers.

Leave Early or Late

With little kids, the best time to leave for a long road trip is either really early in the morning or really late at night. This is a decision you can make depending on if the people in your family are morning or night people. Either way, your kids will be tired and will hopefully sleep for at least the start of your trip. It will also help lighten the traffic you'll face on the road.

Bring Snacks

Unless you want to spend a fortune on needless fast-food stops, pack snacks and cold drinks ahead of time. This will save you time and money on your trip. Sometimes, all a crying kid in the car needs is a few goldfish crackers to smile again.

Make the Most of your Pit Stops

When you're traveling with kids, bathroom breaks and rest stops are inevitable. Make sure you stop at places that can give you the most bang for your buck. Stop at the rest areas that have a gas station, restroom and food choices if you need something for dinner.

Comfort is Key

Make sure your kids have a blanket and pillow (and their favorite stuffed animal if you have room). If your kids are comfortable in the car, they're more likely to fall asleep and provide a calm and peaceful ride for the whole family.

Play Games

While hopefully the iPads, Nintendos and DVD players will come in handy during the car ride, sometimes kids (and adults alike) just need a little diversion. Take some old-fashioned car games like the license plate game and add a new touch to them. My mom used to print us out maps of the U.S. and every time we saw a new license plate, we colored in the state on the map. Give an incentive for playing, like the family member who colors in the most states gets a special prize once you reach your destination.

Set Milestones

If your kid is nagging, make sure you set milestones, like: "When we cross the Virginia border we can get Dairy Queen if you guys are good." Have a countdown for the mileage. When it comes to kids, nothing works better than a rewards system.

Keep the Stress Level Low

This one's a lot easier said than done. It can be hard, especially when you're traveling somewhere new not to argue with your partner about directions. If you do have a difference of opinion on the roadways, try to keep your voices neutral and low as to not disturb the peace in the backseat. Kids respond negatively to stress and that wrong turn you made at the exit could turn into World War III in your car.

Make it fun!

Remember, you're on vacation! Make it a fun one. Tell your family stories about your road trips as a kid, the funnier the better. Make a playlist on your iPod of great road tunes to play for a while. If you're going to DisneyWorld, have a Disney playlist; get your kids and yourselves psyched for the destination. The anticipation will keep their attention like nothing else. Who knows, maybe you will get to sing a chorus of Life is a Highway together after all.

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