Road Trip! How to Stay Sane When You're Cooped Up in a Car

Whether it's a family trip or an adventure with friends, here's how to stay sane while traveling to your final destination.

Road trip
No matter how excited you are about going on vacation, the long hours in the car to get there aren’t always fun. But with a little prep work, you can turn a road trip with family or friends you can still have a little fun. Here’s how:

Be realistic

First off, don't pile any expectations on this road trip. It doesn't need to be the perfect trip, just get there safely and (mostly) sane. “Of course you’ll annoy each other,” says Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., author of The Dance of Anger. “Humans don’t do well in tight quarters. But you know your family [and friends] and can predict where the intensity will land. If you’re all ambulatory and breathing at the end of the day, that’s a small success.”

Get your car ready

Take as much stress out of the trip before you hit the road. Get a quick once-over by your mechanic so you don’t have to worry about ending up on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck. According to AAA, even super-simple maintenance like replacing the windshield wipers and fluid, and checking tires for bald spots or bulges go a long way toward preventing an accident.

Pack a road kit for unexpected stops: Flashlight, paper towels, toilet paper, first aid kit, and jumper cables. Don’t forget to pack an old-fashioned paper map (remember those?) -- GPS is not foolproof.

Bring what you need to stay sane

Think about what will make you comfortable and pack accordingly so you aren’t imposing your will on everyone else in the car (and resenting them for not acquiescing). Do you need a blanket so you can avoid an AC war with the driver? How about your own music and ear buds for when you need “alone” time? Put it all in your bag. “The only person you can control in the car is yourself,” says Lerner. “Get a grip on your own emotional intensity and reactivity so that you can be your best self when another family member [or travel buddy] is behaving badly.”

Load up on snacks

Snacking keeps blood sugar on an even keel to fight off crankiness, which is something everyone in the car will appreciate. (A car full of cranky is not fun). Plus, getting overly hungry sidetracks healthy eating, which throws you back into the off-balance blood sugar trap. “When you’re hungry, every roadside eatery is tempting,” says Marisa Moore, R. D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Find some healthy snacks to pass around between meals, like wasabi peas, roasted chickpeas, hard cheese, whole grain crackers and your favorite nut butter. Fill the cooler with yogurt, fresh fruit, grape tomatoes, water and homebrewed iced tea -- even if you add a little sugar, it’ll be far less than a sweeten tea from a store. Make stops for regular meals, too. “Snacking can only get you so far,” says Moore.

Take a real rest stop

Occasional stops break up the monotony of driving and give everybody a temporary respite from each other. Get out and stretch every couple of hours or every 100 miles and switch drivers so you get don't drowsy.

Plan something fun

Because you can play only so many rounds of 20 Questions before everyone gets bored, make the journey part of the adventure. Check out http://www.roadsideamerica.com or http://www.pitstopsforkids.com to find interesting (and sometimes just plain weird) sites for quick side trips to break up your drive and have little fun. And of course, pack the portable DVD player, e-reader and games for a little veg out session.

Arricca SanSone writes about health and wellness, gardening, travel and consumer issues. Follow her on Google+

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