Is the road trip dreaded or beloved? Both, according to our panel of mini road warriors who offer tips for this summer's family drive.
Kids say the darndest --and most insightful -- things. That's why we turned to a panel of travelers, ranging in age from 5 to 13 and with thousands of miles traveled among them, to help map out the keys to road-trip bliss.
The good news: The anticipation of what they'll see often makes the first leg of a long-haul drive free of drama. Then the kids get antsy. Dad forgets his Breathe Right strips. Mom says no to bathroom breaks, acting as if she's training for the Indy 500. And the car starts to smell.
These are all things that our well traveled experts say can toss a perfectly good road trip into agonizing "Are we there yet?" chaos. Fortunately, these kids offer clues to hitting the interstate without the emotional bumps: what to bring, how to stave off boredom and how to keep the peace in a tightly packed vehicle.
Ahhh, family togetherness. After all, it isn't about the destination, but the journey -- and the memories made along the way.
Trips: Jellystone Park in Wisconsin; Bar Harbor, Maine; Outer Banks, N.C.; Smoky Mountains, Tenn.; Black Hills; Niagara Falls; Washington, D.C.; New York City.
Miles traveled: 80 miles (Hayden), 1,000 miles (Landon).
Wheels: Grandma's 35-foot RV.
How do you keep from getting bored? Mommy gives us snacks and we build puzzles. It's a long way to get there ... like 5 or 10 miles (Hayden).
Activities: Games like I Spy, movies, activity books, talking about the places we've visited.
Favorite trip: When we went to "Agra" Falls (Hayden).
Favorite snacks: Green pop and suckers (Landon). Mini-blueberry muffins and ring pops (Hayden).
Why do road trips rock? Riding in an RV and watching movies in the back (Hayden). My mom gets toys for us (Landon).
What would make your road trips better? If I could sit next to all of my brothers (Landon). A downstairs in the RV (Hayden).
Dream road trip: The Kalahari in Wisconsin Dells and Yellowstone (Hayden). An island in Hawaii or something (Landon).
Worst part about road trips: Just sitting there and doing nothing (Landon). Stopping at stores (Hayden). No, that's fun, because we get candy (Landon).
Rules: No jumping and getting out of our seats while the RV is moving.
Trips: Arizona twice a year, Itasca State Park.
Miles traveled: 1,000.
Wheels: Dodge Grand Caravan (would rather travel in a limo).
Worst trip: Arizona. My dad was getting really crabby.
Activities: Coloring books, designing my dream home, books, latch hook, games like I Spy, Punchbuggy and the Alphabet Game.
Advice: Bring your favorite stuff to do and your favorite movies, because you don't want to be bored and fall asleep.
What to eat: Suckers because they last long. It's not fun to be hungry in the car.
Rules: My parents say if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all. If we break the rules sometimes we get sent to the back where it's not very comfortable.
Dream road trip: New York and France. It would probably take 3-5 days in the car or 2 days in a plane.
What would make your road trips better? If my parents could work on not singing as bad. I get embarrassed when they sing with the windows open because they don't sing that well. And stop more often to let us use the bathroom, and bring better snacks. Most of the time we just have apples and cheese.
Trips: Black Hills; cabin on Deer Lake near Grand Rapids, Mich.; Duluth, Wisconsin.
Miles traveled: 100-something. Maybe 1,000-something.
Wheels: Mazda MPV minivan.
What to eat: Bugles, Sour Punch Straws, water.
Activities: Harry Potter audio books, car boxes filled with crayons, pencils, paper, markers ... but I don't draw or read in the car because it makes me sick.
Dream road trip: If there was a big bridge to England, I would go there, but there's not, so ... I guess I would go to Canada.
What would make your road trips better? If we had a TV in the car and if I didn't sit next to my sister. She seems to not like me and I seem to not like her.
Least favorite thing about road trips: Sometimes the car doesn't smell very good. It's hot and sticky and smelly.
Advice for amateur road-trippers: Bring audio books, snacks and an air freshener if the car doesn't smell good. And don't stop at restaurants that won't make you feel well, like fast food. Don't go to Dairy Queen because that might give you bad brain freeze.
Trips: California, Madison, Wis., Yellowstone National Park.
Wheels: Plymouth Voyager minivan.
Activities: Reading, knitting, puzzles, Bananagrams, Alphabet Game, count the number of "Where the heck is Wall Drug" signs. The most we counted was 86 or 87 (Suzie).
How do you settle arguments? Rock, paper, scissors.
Worst road trip memory: When Dad forgot his Breathe Right strips (Suzie).
What to eat: Don't get hot Cheetos because they leave cheese on your fingers and make you thirsty (Stella).
Advice for amateur road-trippers: Use a cookie sheet as a table. It's magnetic, and keeps crayons and pencils from rolling off. And bring a stuffed animal to keep from getting homesick (Stella).
Dream road trip: If it were possible to move cars over water, a tropical island. Otherwise, Florida (Stella). France, but I'd settle for Quebec (Suzie).
Why do road trips rock? We get to see what people are like and listen to all the local radio stations (Suzie). You get a chance to rely on each other and a sense of togetherness with your family (Stella).
Favorite music to listen to in the car: Queen (Suzie) and Lady Gaga (Stella).
What would make your road trips better? A car that could turn into a plane to get through the boring parts. And if Mom let me go on her iPad more often so I could watch the "Bohemian Rhapsody" video (Suzie).
Rules: Don't do anything that startles the driver. So, no beach balls (Suzie).
Trips: Missouri, Iowa, Michigan, Black Hills, Wisconsin, Chicago.
Miles traveled: 8,400.
Wheels: Chrysler Town and Country minivan.
Activities: iPad, read new books, play games.
Why do road trips rock? I get unlimited food and my parents loosen up.
Least favorite part about road trips: The long part. If I'm in the car too long, sometimes I throw up.
How do you keep from arguing with your siblings? Just don't talk to them.
Rules: Save some snacks for the way home.
Favorite places to stop: I like rest stops better than gas stations, because they're more organized and have places to run around.
What do you do when you get bored? Go to sleep.
Favorite place to stop: Wall Drug. They have good ice cream and raccoon fur hats.
What would make your road trips better? Having a bigger car to drive, like a huge camper so we wouldn't have to stop for the bathroom and could just get there.
How long is too long to spend in a car? Six days in a row.
Advice for amateur road-trippers: Get a lot of sleep the night before you leave, because you're going to want to see all the action. Pack a lot of snacks, because you'll always be hungry.