By Karen Ann Cullotta, Special to Tribune Newspapers
3:47 PM EDT, August 20, 2013
With the kids back in school, or about to be, the long, leisurely road trip is probably a thing of the recent past. Still, legions of intrepid travelers are expected to be taking to the interstate over Labor Day weekend, including families making the most of summer's last hurrah.
"Road trips are benchmark moments in a family's history," says Jon Adolph, executive editor of FamilyFun Magazine.
Despite high gasoline prices, they're increasingly popular too. Adolph cited a recent national survey conducted by his magazine and Choice Hotels International that found that more than 4 out of 5 Americans polled — 83 percent — said they planned to take an overnight leisure trip of more than 100 miles round trip this past summer, a figure that's up from 78 percent in 2012.
Parents planning a trip, even a shorter one, must keep their children's ages in mind when deciding how long to drive on a given day, said Michele Harris, director of traffic safety culture at AAA's Auto Club Group in Tampa, Fla.
With less time allotted, a long-weekend trip might make drivers anxious to reach their destination sooner, but that's a mistake.
"Try to relax and not be in such a hurry to get to the final destination," she said. "It's not worth the stress, and by slowing down you are a safer driver."
She recommends road trips be less focused on arriving at one particular destination but instead mindful of the journey itself, such as the natural scenery and diverse cultures unfolding just outside the car window.
"Plan ahead to stop for meals in scenic and interesting places," Harris says. "And if you're taking a potty break, pull over to a rest area that offers a safe place for the kids to get out of the car and run around."
Likewise, don't try to outsmart your time constraints by driving long stretches through the night when the kids are sleeping. Harris warns that this is potentially dangerous, and, at the very least, can upend the family's normal sleep patterns.
"It's much better to stop at a hotel along the way where everyone can get a good night's sleep," she says. "That way, you can all start fresh and safe in the morning, and the driver is not drowsy and in a rush."
The wisdom of being sensitive to children's travel needs during family road trips, be it providing plenty of snacks in the car or remembering that the surest way to create a back-seat brawl is asking two kids to share one digital gadget, is all too familiar to Jodi Grundig, a mother of two young children, a Boston-based blogger and creator of familytravelmagazine.com.
Grundig has a slew of practical tips for parents, including her Golden Rule of Travel: "When you're in the back seat of the car together, you keep your hands to yourself."
"Any large amount of together time as a family can be challenging, especially when you're in a small space like a car," Grundig says. "One of the most important lessons children learn on a road trip is cooperation: We're part of a team, and we're all on this mission together."
AAA's Michele Harris reminds families to ensure the safety of their car and passengers before hitting the road for any trip.
•Families with young children need to ensure that the kids are riding in the appropriate car seat for their size and age. Make sure that, once buckled, the device is secure and does not slide from side to side.
•Everybody should be wearing their seat belts.
•Be sure that luggage and other items stored in the back of the open hatches found on most of today's SUVs and minivans are secured with a net to prevent them flying forward into the vehicle if suddenly jarred, Harris said.
For more safety tips, go to aaa.com.
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