Because '99 Bottles of Beer' doesn't entertain like it once did.
Face it, singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” doesn’t entertain children on long road trips. Slug Bug inevitably turns violent and Beetles are becoming scarce these days. Don’t even get me started on the License Plate game.
There are plenty of ways to keep the kids engaged during the long haul to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. Some of them are expensive, others are quite reasonable.
The most extravagant way is a new road trip-friendly vehicle. For a family room on wheels, the Chrysler Pacifica van is pretty much unbeatable. For moms and dads it’s a stylish and comfortable rig, eating up miles like toddlers to Goldfish crackers. With the Uconnect Theater, mid-row occupants get two large LCD screens that fold out from the front seatbacks. These touch units provide entertainment like Backseat Bingo, Tic-Tac-Toe, Math Flash Cards and yes, the License Plate game. Kids can watch Blue-ray movies, too.
Also, the large cavity that the mid-row Stow-’n-Go seats seldom fold into can store games, blankets, pillows and books. Remember books? Go with the panoramic roof and kids can spot clouds that look like SpongeBob. To tidy up on those especially long excursions, a built-in vacuum cleaner is available.
Honda Odyssey can also be had with the van vac. Its ceiling-mounted screen entertainment system is so elongated, two separate shows (or video games) can be displayed to appease the younglings.
These systems have wireless headphones so parents can separately rock out to Lynyrd Skynyrd up front. (A bonus: you can cover miles explaining to the brood that the band was actually named after the members’ gym teacher.)
Any car can be kitted out to reduce boredom on long treks. Operating under the assumption that trips are a special occasion for indulgence, devices like the Apple iPad, Kindle Fire and Samsung Galaxy Tab are the perfect anesthesia for numbing hundreds of miles in a car.
Most modern vehicles these days come with multiple power ports to charge electronics, even USB ports. An Acura MDX I drove recently had seven USB ports scattered throughout the cabin. Really amping it up are 115-volt household-style outlets that can power laptop computers and game consoles.
Even traveling north, being unprepared for electronics will cause things to go south fast. Stock extra charging cords and headphones plus a 12-volt power port plug with USB ports. Do not skimp on the quality of the adapters. Poor ones can ruin your electronics. Tablet mounts that clip onto the front headrest keep sleepy kids from dropping an expensive iPad after nodding off.
Headphone splitters allow two or more to use one tablet. Remember, sharing is a good life lesson.
Many automakers are installing high-speed Wi-Fi hotspots in their cars. Nice but it’s another monthly charge and coverage can be spotty in the boonies. Here’s a twist for streaming movies to laptops, tablets and phones anywhere: a Wi-Fi embedded hard drive. Companies such as Western Digital and Seagate make them with up to 3 terabytes of storage.
A built-in 10-hour battery and fast Wi-Fi speeds let everyone in the car simultaneously access the game, music and movie content stored on the drive. They can also act as a phone charger plus vacation photos can be uploaded for a backup (wirelessly if your camera has that feature).
It’s wise to rotate activities during the trip to keep things fresh. And don’t assume that old-fashioned activities like card games and word games will be met with rolled eyes.
Before our kids were allowed access to their electronics on trips, we started off with a philosophical book of questions called “If…” by Evelyn McFarlane and James Saywell (and years later we still talk about some of the questions). Don’t forget audio books. My kids once demanded we stay in the car to finish the last 15 minutes of Harry Potter even though we had arrived at our destination.
Scheduling interesting stops, lunch breaks and potty pit stops are important. And don’t forget food. A choice of snacks and a small cooler of drinks can diffuse potential meltdowns.
While good planning can reduce the constant “are we there yet?” queries, don’t expect things to go always smoothly.
Heck, there’s a fight about which ball of twine is larger, the one in Darwin, Minnesota or the other in Cawker City, Kansas. Considering you can’t keep twine-obsessed adults from arguing, it’s best to cut the kids some slack.