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SUV driving through the dramatic landscape of Band
Are we there yet? / © Jim Smithson/Corbis

Your most beautiful vacations

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Your GPS is programmed for the family’s summer vacation. But detours and distractions abound. Can everyone arrive at the destination with a smile? These tips lead to a great getaway.

Don't leave home without ...

• Enough snacks so a missed meal won’t cause a tailspin.

• Chargers for all electronics.

• A garbage bag for trash and zip-seal bags to stash wet bathing suits, protect e-readers and keep bottles of wine from leaking all over your suitcase.

• Headphones for everyone to allow individual listening.

• Earplugs.

• Clipboard and paper.

“Our girls use them to draw and to make quizzes about our trip,” says Jenny Rosenstrach, author of Dinner: A Love Story . “It keeps them busy and is a nice keepsake.” Don’t forget old standbys like joke books and Mad-Libs.

5 audiobooks everyone will like

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn read by Elijah Wood

The Red Pyramid: The Kane Chronicles, Book 1 by Rick Riordan, read by Kevin R. Free, Katherine Kellgren

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, read by Hope Davis

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, read by Lynn Redgrave

Magic Tree House Collection, written/read by Mary Pope Osborne

Source: Audible.com

Here's the pit-stop plan

Time meals with fill-ups and take breaks in historical sites or museums, pitstopsforkids.com’s Amy Whitely says. She uses apps like Rest Area Finder and Google Earth for detail. Skip highway rest stops for parks with restrooms.

8 road-worthy summer snacks

• Chilled or frozen grapes

• Frozen tubes of yogurt

• Rainbow gorp

• PB&J sandwiches

• Hard-boiled eggs

• Granola bars

• Pre-sliced salami

• Gummy Worms (or other treats that won’t melt in the heat of the car)

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If the littlest person has the most cargo

Instead of cramming highchairs, cribs and safety gates into your car, see if the hotel or rental home has some of it, says Amie O’Shaughnessy, founder and CEO of ciaobambino.com. Another option: equipment suppliers that rent anything from exer-saucers to swings. Get babiestravellite.com or hotelbabies.com to ship diapers and formula to your destination. (Grandparents with guest babies might use the services.)

How to deal with eye-rolling teens

“Force over-it teens into action,” suggests Chuck Thompson, travel writer and author of Better Off Without ’Em. His choices:

Huntington Beach, Calif. The Wedge, a bodysurfing break near shore, safe, big and fun. surfcityusa.com.

Ocoee River, Tenn. Raft trips near rapids at Chattanooga. ocoee.com.

North Cascades National Park. Mountain hikes feel like the Alps. nps.gov/noca/index.htm.

Seattle. The Experience Music Project is actually a cool museum. empmuseum.org.

Get more fun for the buck

Rent a home or condo. It slashes vacation costs if you stay more than a day or two or need more than one room. Bonus: You can eat in. See sites like homeaway.com for rentals.

B.Y.O.B. Give everyone water bottles to refill.

Join the club. Look into museum memberships. “It’s not that much more than the total ticket price, and often comes with discounts for the restaurants or gift shops,” says Deborah Dubrow of deliciousbaby.com.

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Get inside info. Ask Facebook friends for tips.

You're rained out?

It’s smart to toss a few packs of cards, puzzles or board games into your trunk. Grandparents can teach kids how to play solitaire or show them how to knit. A more ambitious idea: Arrange a scavenger hunt around hotel grounds to keep adults and kids busy plotting and searching.

At last: Peace in the back seat

Divide and conquer. “The greatest single thing you can do is to create a barrier between kids,” advises Michele Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. “Stick a small ice chest between them.” Bonus: It makes a nice desk for the kids to write on.

Forget sharing. Pack two (or three) of everything.

Keep quiet. If you blow your top, kids are likely to yell, too.

Tire them out. Stop every hour or two and encourage the children to cavort. “Toss a Frisbee around for a bit,” Borba says, “and when they get back in the car they’re more likely to sleep.”

Turn around disasters with these rules

Flat tires and other vacation snafus don’t have to put you on the road to divorce! Turn it around, says Harriet Lerner, psychologist and author of The Marriage Rules, by recognizing:

• “It’s normal. Everyone acts like an idiot sometimes.”

• Vacations are stressful, so lower expectations. Consider a trip without an ER vacation a success and everything else just icing on the cake.

• “Anger is contagious, but so is calm. It’s impossible to think clearly in the midst of an emotional tornado.”

• One day it’ll be a funny family story. So laugh now.

OK, so you're there. How can you relax?

By making a plan. Yes, we know your day-to-day life is filled with planning, but thinking ahead is a vacation salvation. “There’s nothing more stressful than rushing back from the beach and figuring out what you’re doing for dinner,” Rosenstrach says. “Take a few minutes each morning to think about what we want to do that day.” So if you know you’ll take an afternoon hike, pick up sandwiches for a picnic lunch and a few hot dogs for dinner in the morning, leaving the rest of the day to unfold at its own pace.

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