Summer means road trips, and while packing the bags is easy, keeping the children entertained on a long car ride requires more effort. A small amount of planning goes a long way when the whole family is captive in the car.

Summer means road trips, and while packing the bags is easy, keeping the children entertained on a long car ride requires more effort. A small amount of planning goes a long way when the whole family is captive in the car.


“Family road trips offer an out-of-the-ordinary opportunity for kids to learn the joy of travel,” said Mark Sedenquist, the publisher and managing editor of RoadTripAmerica.com who was born on the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park. “Engaging (children) in planning the trip and what to take will not only make the trip more meaningful and memorable, it will reduce the number of ‘Are we there yet?’ moments considerably,” Sedenquist said.


Ideally, family road-trip planning should start a month or two before the trip, and the Web is a good place to begin. It’s also fun to get a wall map of the United States. Use colored pens to draw the route, and add pictures of attractions printed from the Web. If the children are old enough, Sedenquist said to have them do some research about the places they will be seeing.


He also suggests creating a “go kit” for each child. Small backpacks or nylon lunch bags work well. Pack them with age-appropriate games and a first day’s travel allowance. Every morning, add that day’s allowance and something new for the kids to discover when they get in the car. A road atlas or paper map is great for a child old enough to follow along. Consider adding a compass, too.


Good on-the-road activities are ones that include everybody in the car. Teach the kids all those old songs you sang at camp. Choose the ones that get everybody singing, and the miles will fly by, Sedenquist said.


While it’s tempting to silence kids with DVDs and electronic games in the back seat, try storytelling for a change, or audio books that everyone can listen to together. To capture a feeling of Americana, think Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill and Native American folk tales.


Here are six games to keep the family entertained in the car on long trips:


License plate game


Print an outline map of the United States for each child. To play, they check license plates on passing vehicles. As they spot plates from different states, they color in the corresponding states on their maps. (A list of states works fine, too.)


Geography


Start with any place in the world — Kansas, for example. The next person has to think of a place that begins with the last letter of “Kansas,” such as “South Africa.” Whoever goes next needs a place that starts with an A. You may not use the same place twice in a game, and it has to be a real place.


What my bear did last summer


Choose a teddy bear, doll or other portable creature as your road trip mascot. Whenever you stop at a landmark or attraction, take a picture of your mascot that shows it was there. After your trip, make a slide show or scrapbook of the mascot’s trip.


Fortunately-unfortunately


Help your children learn to think positively with this game. One player begins with a statement like, “Unfortunately, there is a bat in the car.” The next player has to counter with something more fortunate like, “Fortunately, I brought along bat repellant.” Continue this way until you’ve exhausted a topic.


I spy


For kids, run through the alphabet, such as “I spy something that begins with the letter A.” For adults, up the challenge with a line like, “I spy something German.”


Road trip scavenger hunt


Make a list of items to spot on your trip. Print the list for each player. As the items are spotted, players cross them off their lists. A good list combines easy-to-spot things, such as “a white picket fence” or “a red flashing light” as well as things unique to your trip, such as “a tree you can drive through” or “a place where you can be in four states at once.” For older children, you can require photos of the items.