06/27/2014 10:33 am ET Updated Jun 09, 2015

9 Sanity Savers For Car Trips With Kids

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It would be nice to hear the words "family car trip" and think about everyone harmoniously singing On the Road Again and soaking in the beautiful scenery outside. The reality is that a "family car trip" can easily turn more Clark Griswold than Norman Rockwell, and can be part of parenting that elicits cringes.

Unlike the rare urban legend of kids not whining at all and being total angels during an entire 8-hour jaunt, most long car rides require planning, preparation and patience (especially when you've heard your 34th "when are we gonna be therrrrrrre?").

My three kids range in age from 9-months to 9-years-old, yet they all seem to have the same gene of car trips not being their forte. Anything more than an hour can be torturous to them. This has certainly forced us to get creative with filling the time.

The license plate and alphabet games don't cut it in our car, so we've come up with other fun games that keep everyone engaged. My kids are also very food-motivated (they get that from me), so snacks are on the top of my priority list. Here are 10 things that make our car trips more fun for everyone:

What We Play

1. Who Is?: This is a game we made up about family members and is still a crowd favorite. It works for all ages, provided they have an understanding of titles. A complex question for the eldest is something like, Who is your sister's mother's son's uncle's son's cousin's sister? It gives kids the opportunity to think about their family members and how we all relate to each other.

2. Memory Lane: Another favorite in our household is a trivia game of questions from their own lives. Name three classmates from your kindergarten class or What did you order from that Italian restaurant in Florida? are a couple examples of questions I recently asked my kids. It's fun to go back in time, and you'd be surprised at how sharp their memories are.

3. $25,000 Pyramid: I adapted one of my favorite game shows growing up to my kids' lives. You simply call out things that fit into a certain category and await the yelps of recognition once they get the answer. Bridle, saddle, reins...THINGS ON A HORSE! Hmm, I hope I go on a walk today, I love eating food off the floor...THINGS OUR DOG SAYS!

4. Backseat Switcheroo: With a third row in our car, there are plenty of seating options for our kids. By offering a seat change at every rest stop, we can avert the no fair! arguments before they pop up and give them both opportunities to have the coveted seat next to the baby.

What We Bring

5. Individual Snack Surprises: I pack my kids' favorite snacks in individual bags and include other little goodies like hand-written notes and knick-knacks, so it's like a little surprise when the novelty of the car starts to wear off.

6. Pillows: Depending on how long the trip is, a pillow can do wonders for increasing the comfort level of the backseat passengers. It also creates a mini barrier and prevents arguments over who is being touched and leaned on.

7. Technology: While I'm not one to hand over a tablet and let my kids go to town on mindless apps for four hours straight, there are lots of inventive ways to incorporate technology:

- Give each kid a chunk of time to map the upcoming interstate with an app like iExit or RoadTrippers and let them plan out where the next rest stop will be.

- Let each kid create a playlist of five songs and the family has to agree that there are no vetoes on song choice, even if it means hearing Let it Go five times in a row.

- Give each kid 30 minutes to take photos and videos of their backseat experiences to turn into a funny iMovie that you can watch together at the next rest stop.

- Headphones: After hearing Let it Go five times in a row, it may be time to break out the headphones. Headphones on kids leaves a blissfully quiet car for me, and my husband and I can have a conversation that actually lasts longer than 40 seconds.

8. A sense of time: With a baby in tow, everything comes down to timing. If I can plan any one of her naps to take place in the car, it makes one less person whose needs I have to attend to. Whenever we embark on a longer ride, I always try to time it so my baby has been fed, changed and is sleepy.

9. New toy for the younger one: When the baby wakes up is when I break out a new toy. One that has never been drooled on, chewed or gummed. It's just another way to add to that cushion of time before the fidgety whines and cries set in.

There are lots of things that can make a car ride with kids go terribly wrong, but with the right planning, some creativity, lots of snacks and mild bribery, you might be surprised that that the family car trip can turn into a really memorable way to spend time together.

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