Are we there yet? Readers give road trip tricks of the trade

May 28, 2012 at 10:33 AM ET

Road-tripping with the kiddos this holiday weekend?

Trust us, you won’t be alone. A recent TripAdvisor survey of more than 1,800 Americans found that 34 percent of Americans are traveling for Memorial Day weekend (up 8 percent from last year), and of those traveling, 70 percent are getting there by car.

Makes for a rousing chorus of “99 bottles of (root)beer on the wall,” doesn’t it?  

So what do you do to keep the kids occupied (and your own sanity in check) while your minivan’s rubber meets the road?

Anne Taylor Hartzell, founder of Seattle-based, has a whole A-to-Z list of things that help entertain daughters ages 4 and 8 while traveling.  While they routinely take hours-long car rides to visit family in Oregon, Hartzell has honed her road-trip skills on the hour commute she makes each day to her child’s school.

“Being in the car a lot is standard protocol for us,” Hartzell says, but on daily hauls she tries to go as tech-free as possible, with items like drawing materials, beads for making necklaces, journals for writing and small tins of clay.

For longer, vacation-style road trips, Hartzell’s smoking gun is what she calls the backpack of surprise. For every trip, her girls get a backpack filled with snacks, age-appropriate toys (which she often finds in the $1 aisle at Target) and other knickknacks.  Hartzell uploads new movies to the family iPad and makes special music playlists for the girls.

Related:8 gadgets to keep kids busy while traveling

 The key, says Hartzell, is that they aren’t allowed to look in the backpack until they are on the road. “They always get excited,” she says. “It’s the element of surprise that gives them something to look forward to.”

We asked TODAY Moms Facebook readers to share their own car-trip tricks and while some are all about letting kids plug in to DVD players and headset (can you say blissful silence?) others like to kick it old school with family sing-alongs and travel bingo.

Related: Best travel apps for kids (and parents)

Candace Wiseman Alper says her family likes to do it all. She writes:

…We do a bit of everything when we're on the road. We do have the DVD player for my daughter for the long-haul trips. The time together in the car is a great way for us to connect and we've used the opportunity to introduce our daughter to new music. It's the most captive an audience as you'll ever have.

Melissa Sperry is all about letting the kids watch DVDs on long trips.

If I had to sit in the car with two noisy kids demanding my constant attention for 4+ hours, we may never make it. Sit back, relax, watch your movie and we'll play when we get there.

Nicole Kutchaisays her family just drove to Yosemite, logging five hours each way and “went old school, singing and playing goofy games.”  (But when plane rides are involved, Kutchai admits it’s DVDs most way.)

Christina Baglivi Tinglof despises DVDs on car rides because “Mom and Dad have to whisper in the front so the kids in the back can hear the movie playing in the back.” Instead her family opts “for books on tape or podcasts (there are thousands out there!)… The good news is that it opens up a family dialogue within the car. We can all participate in the conversation.”

Sharon Covelli-Wysong might have the most creative idea for a peaceful roadtrip of all. She writes:

We give our son a set amount of money to spend on the trip. We also decide how much of that will be deducted each time he says any version of "Are we there yet?"  At the end of the car trip he gets what's left to spend on souvenirs.

How do you keep your kids entertained on long car rides?  Tell us on our TODAY Moms Facebook page.

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