1. Schedule carefully!
No one wants to start off their trip feeling rushed and harried; and kids pick up on it when Mom and Dad are feeling annoyed. Know what time you want to leave (and what is your absolute MUST leave by time), and count back to figure out exactly how much time you need to get ready and out the door. Then add some extra time for the inevitable delays.
2. Build in lots of stops.
Fingers crossed you won't been 10 bathroom breaks in a a 5 hour ride, but if you anticipate and build in one an hour, then you'll feel ahead of the game if you don't need them. Check your route out too; is it a big road with visitors centers and rest stops right on the road? Or is it a smaller road which will require a little bit of searching. Knowing what's ahead is half the battle. For those with smart phones, download the Sit or Squat app and always be able to search for a nearby restroom! Make sure you build in a food stop too if you'll be traveling over a mealtime. Its a great way to get some leg stretching in too.
3. Know your travelers.
Driving over nap time? If your kids will sleep in the car, its a great way to get some quiet on your drive. Do your kids need a special stuffed animal or blanket to be able to sleep well? Make sure you have it in the main part of the car, not packed in a suitcase in the trunk! Don't have a napper? Make sure you have some books for your voracious reader, or a pad of paper and some colored pencils for your budding artist.
4. Stock up that Mom's Bag of Tricks!
We always pack a little bag of things for Gwen to take on longer vacations. Some books, some toys, little things to keep us entertained on rainy afternoons or quiet evenings. But separately I always put aside a few things that she doesn't know I'm bringing to break out in the car. This is a great time to get creative and create some special "road trip games." Depending on the age of your child, that could be: spotting license plates, car bingo (where you create cards beforehand with things you might spot on your trip), special cue cards that might help them learn about new ecosystems or areas you are passing, or a simple counting game (how many red cars, etc). Other things you want to be sure to have (unless you want extra pit stops): some healthy, filling snacks; a refillable water bottle (freeze it half full the night before, then top it off before you leave to have nice cold water); some great music.
5. Show a little extra consideration.
Recognize that this is a unique situation, and that special considerations can go a big way to making the ride a happy one for everyone. Remind yourself all the running and playing your kids normally get to do in the time you will be spending on the road. We aren't big on TV in our house, but Gwen does enjoy an occasional Sesame Street or something similar. We do not have a DVD player in the car, and normally Gwen does not get my iPhone or Kindle. However, I will make an exception during our 7+ hour car ride. I loaded 2 episodes onto my Kindle, which she will get to partake in towards the end of our trip. If you don't do TV at all, then this isn't for you, I'm sure... but a little leniency in some way, can go far in keeping everyone happy.
What are your tricks for happy travel?