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Making the most of road trips with children

See the ends of the earth — deep in Patagonia — with your kids.

brian irwin for the boston globe

See the ends of the earth — deep in Patagonia — with your kids.

When I was 10, my parents piled me, my sister, and three weeks’ worth of camping equipment into our 1979 Malibu and headed from suburban Maryland to the idyllic fishing village of Tober Morey on Georgian Bay, Ontario. I armed myself with a fishing magazine, a Walkman, and a small pillow. And although days of driving followed, it was one of the most memorable road trips of my life.

Times have changed. Minivans are loaded with high-definition TVs. Seats recline — electrically. Hand-held, portable gaming systems command the thumbs of many children.

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While these distractions keep kids busy, family chatter and awe at passing sights are all too often replaced by sheets of pixels and dying batteries.

A road trip doesn’t have to be this way. It can be fun, and arguably richer, with a few simple steps and a slice of imagination.

 Kids love to be involved. Lay out an actual paper map and show them where you’re going. Better yet, copy the section that pertains to your trip and highlight the route. Give a copy to each child so they can follow along during the drive, staving off the dreaded “are we almost there” chime from the back seat.

 It helps to break up the trip, even a tiny bit. If you’re headed to Grandma’s in Maryland, stop at the Delaware Watergap for a dip. Give the kids a short-term destination they can look forward to. It’ll pay off long term.

 On long trips we pack goodie bags. A trip to the Dollar Store yields all the pocket puzzles, fill-in-the-blank Mad Libs, and a small selection of edible treats any child could want. Reading in the car often induces motion sickness, but if your children tolerate it books are a godsend. Pack Dramamine just in case.

 Thirst will strike sooner or later. Steer away from sticky drinks. Get them their own water bottles with a pull-top to minimize spills. A wad of stickers will allow them to personalize each bottle.

 If your trip involves a great distance, but one that can be tackled in a single leg with two drivers, consider leaving the night before. My family lives in Ohio, so when we launched for Thanksgiving from New Hampshire with our four kids we left after dinner two days prior. The kids rode in their pajamas, each with a small pillow and blanket. My wife and I took turns driving and sleeping during the night, allowing the little ones to awaken rested in the Buckeye State.

 A music playlist of everyone’s favorite songs keeps our brood content when the light falls and they can’t see the scenery. Goodie bags and books are illuminated by disposable lightsticks or headlamps (the latter with one rule: They must be pointed down so as to not distract the driver).

Brian Irwin can be reached at irwin08.bi@gmail.com.
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