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Sometimes I wish we could flash forward and talk to our grown children asking them about their favorite family vacation memories. Then go back into real time and do more of that.

It’s not always the big things that are the most memorable. Sometimes we create the most awesome memories when we allow ourselves to leave an event early that is not working for us and just head back to the pool or to give ourselves more time when the planets have aligned and everyone is relaxed, laughing and having a good time.

One of our favorite family memories was a day spent in a tropical rainforest. On that vacation we spent a lot of time body surfing in the ocean and swimming in the pool. We played ping-pong, ate great food, and had a lot of laughs. One day we rented a car and went out to explore waterfalls and botanical gardens. This was the day that I thought the kids would have to just endure because it was something that my husband and I wanted to do. But we didn’t want to make it too painful for them so we figured we would just stop by, check these places out and then we could get back to the water.

It turns out we had picked a less frequented garden on the off season. We got to the entrance, paid our fee and the person at the gate quietly gave us a map. My daughter took the map and immediately went into tour guide mode. The kids pretended they were the experts and explained every plant we passed. Most of the information was either on the map or on a plaque located near the plant. If there was no information about something we were looking at, then the kids would just make it up.

They followed the map as it guided us up a steep hillside to what was supposed to be the ruins of the Old Fort. When we finally reached the top of the hill I looked around and saw what looked like some old volcanic rock that sort of ( sort of ) formed the outline of what could have been a house. The rocks didn’t go up any higher than 6 inches at any one place. In my mind I was thinking “Ugh! We have just walked all this way and there is really nothing here. The kids are going to hate this”. All of a sudden my son says in an enthusiastic voice “This is Great! Look at this! They had to carry everything by hand all the way up that hill. This must have been their lookout point. Wow! No one could get past anyone here.”

We spent hours that day at the Botanical Garden. It was completely unexpected. It was beautiful. It was educational. It was a ton of laughs. It was everything a parent could want out of a day on vacation. And there was ice cream.

Our favorite travel memories have been the most unexpected. Our happiest travel memories have been on those adventures when the kids imaginations were our tour guides.

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Join the fun on Monday November 28 for another amazing TravelingMom.com Twitter Party.

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– By Mary Heston

(NOTE: Join #TMOM on Monday August 22 on Twitter for a fun Twitter party all about our cars.)

The summer road trips are coming to an end and so it seemed like a good time to put together the What we Learned List.

Top 5 tips for parents on how to avoid the “AreWeThereYet!” Syndrome.

1. Start Early

Make “Super Fun Summer Road Trips” part of your child’s earliest memories. Once they get it into their heads that this is just something that you do then the next road trip will be easier and easier.

2. Make the back seat a kid friendly zone

On one particularly long road trip I gave the boys a roll of toilet paper and they threw TP all over the back seat. It was a bit of a mess when we got to our destination but inexpensive harmless fun. Another wonderful time waster is a roll of masking tape. Making masking tape balls got us to the next rest stop without any crying or whining.

If you are going to get tense about kids getting crumbs on your nice leather seats then rent a car or get another car that is ok for kids to ride in. Kids are messy. Just count on it.

Randy Pausch wrote in The Last Lecture about a situation where his horrified sister starting yelling at her kids after they spilled something in the back of his car. His response was to spill something else in the back seat right in front of the kids and to let them know that it was only a car. They were what was most important.

3. No Apple Juice or Chocolate Milk

We know kids will make messes so the best thing to do is to avoid anything that will be sticky or icky to clean up if they do make a mess.

Additionally, Chocolate milk can get warm and icky really quickly on a long road trip and in Murphy’s law of road trips your kids will drink the old warm chocolate milk just before you reach the stretch of the trip with the most winding roads. The resulting car sickness will not be pretty. Just avoid this unnecessary and avoidable situation from the start by being proactive. No Chocolate milk. Avoid Strawberry milk too – its just not worth it.

4. Don’t just plug them in

Kids will follow your cue. So make sure you are having fun too and make the trip an interactive experience. Of course you have to keep your eyes on the road but you can teach them new songs or new games like the license plate game or which one is my car game (play this by picking a number between 30 and 60 and then count cars coming in the opposite direction and when you reach that number that is “your” car.

Make going on a road trip a special time with Mom and Dad when there are no phones and no distractions – just fun.
Don’t just turn on the Portable DVD player and have then tune out for the next 135 miles.

5. Let them know what to expect

In advance of your trip let them know about various landmarks you’ll pass along the way so that they can be looking for specific milestones. “We will cross a river and then go through a long valley and pass by 3 mountains” give them specific things to look for.

Giving them a map to color and mark down things they see along the way can be another way to help them understand how far you are going and what to expect the rest of the day.

Be prepared with stories of pioneers that traveled along these parts before there were even cars.

Those are the top tips for the kids. Just a quick reminder for the driver.

1. Make plenty of stops and get out and stretch. Don’t drive if you are tired.
2. If listening to the Wiggles or Barney or some other musician who is your child’s favorite, for hours on end, is going to make you crazy then don’t even allow it to start in the first place. Sure it might make them happy for awhile but it will make you want to leap out of the car and that’s no good.
3. Make sure everyone is buckled in securely
4. Have a cell phone charger and AAA to call in case of emergency.
5. No Distracted Driving: Make sure you have a co-pilot who can read text messages and respond to them for you if it is really that important. Better yet just put your phone in the glove compartment while you’re driving and just check messages at the rest stops.

You have important cargo. Not only do you want to get to your destination with your sanity in tact you also just want to get there.

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