Holiday Driving Tips For Families

by  Paul Eisenberg | Nov 22, 2011
Family roadtrip
Family roadtrip / Epiximages/iStock

There will be more than 38 million auto travelers on the road this Thanksgiving weekend, predicts AAA, and if you and your kids plan to be among them, it’s not too late to change your mind and stay home.

Seriously, we both know that’s probably not an option this weekend. That being the case, let’s look on the bright side: Sure, a gallon of regular unleaded will average about $3.39 – 50 cents more than this time last year, confirm our friends at AAA – but that’s better than the nearly four bucks per gallon you paid in May. If you want to try your luck at gaming gas prices a little this weekend, the free GPS-driven AAA TripTik Mobile app for Droids and iPhones will let you compare gas prices, pull up maps, and hear verbal commands about when to turn, should you not already have a talking GPS device in your vehicle.

If it’s been a little while since you’ve hit the road with the brood during a holiday weekend, here are a few more things to keep in mind:

While it may seem only slightly more realistic than not traveling on the holidays, do whatever it takes to get some sleep before you hit the road, as it’s all too easy to make mistakes when you’re tired, advise the automotive experts at Southern California quick lube retailer EZ Lube, noting that you should “make sure at least one passenger stays awake to keep the driver company and stay alert.” I would add that while it’s fine for whomever is riding shotgun to enlist the kids in the back to sing incessantly and do other annoying things to help keep the driver sharp, this task should never end up being the sole responsibility of the kids in the back.

One way your children can keep themselves and the family awake and entertained during the car ride is to engage in a little on-the-road journalism, suggests RelationTrips author Jeff Siegel, who says you might have everyone in the family “create a statement about what the holiday means to them, then share it,” and then “encourage them to snap a photo or draw a picture about their statement while on the road.” Siegel likes this idea for such fall holidays as Veterans Day, Halloween, and Columbus Day, and I like it for Thanksgiving, too, since your elementary school-aged kids will likely have to write an essay along these lines the week they get back to school anyway (ditto for when they return to school after the December holidays), so all the better to get them thinking – and scrapbooking, says Siegel – to add some dimension to their schoolwork.

My hats off to the EZ Lube folks for coming up with yet another good reminder, which nods to the fact that “driving at a constant speed is one way to minimize the likelihood of carsickness,” and likewise “eating light snacks and cracking the windows can also be helpful.” Also of aide is to discourage your car passengers that easily get nauseous from reading while on the road. And it’s smart to refrain from using the word "nauseous" or any synonym for "vomit" while in the car, because really, what good ever comes of that?

I’ll admit that every few years I haul out the advice of allowing unexpected pit stops to interrupt your holiday drive, in part because it’s a tip that pays off one hundred percent of the time. Last year on Thanksgiving weekend while motoring on I-84, my family spotted signs reading “Free Coffee” on the approach to Exit 2. Without really thinking about it, we pulled into the Danbury Welcome Center off Exit 2 in Connecticut, where Boy Scout Troop 52 was not just offering free coffee and hot chocolate, but free donuts, too (pictured above).

Through near tears of joy I gave my kids a few bucks for the scouts’ donation jar – proceeds fund camp, outings, and troop equipment – and tried to make my brood appreciate that by standing roadside in the frosty temperatures, those scouts were doing a very good thing. Troop 52 mans their sheltered tent on five holiday weekends – Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Friday through Sunday this Thanksgiving weekend. Should you find yourself approaching Exit 2 or a similar roadside attraction, you owe it to yourself and your family to stop. For a few moments, you’ll find yourself forgetting how stressful the holidays are supposed to be.

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