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Road Trip Vacations Made Easy with Toys and Games

There is one phrase in use at this time of year that can cause heart palpitations among parents. And no, it’s not “Millennium” or “Y2K crisis.” It’s “Road Trip.” Give me a plane or a train or even a bus trip with little bouncy kids hyped up on holiday sweets and the expectations of the season. I’ll deal with it. But put me into the navigational front position of an automobile heading to Grandma’s or Auntie’s or Great Uncle Bo’s with three kids in the back seat, and I know that there will be whining, fighting, complaining and tantrums. And that’s just from the front seat. The sounds coming from the back seat will undoubtedly be even worse.

Apparently, there will be a lot more of us out there during this year’s extended-into-January holiday. Families who normally wing south to Florida or the Caribbean are opting for trips to Niagara or Montreal. To help make the ride smoother, here are some essentials for that road trip cope kit. Any of the following would make ideal Chanukah, Christmas or Kwanzaa presents for the kids. And even families who take to the open road with glee will appreciate any assistance to help the miles glide by.

MUSIC: We used to plan drives around Side One and Side Two of story tapes. Little ones should enjoy the Rabbit Ears Series of classic stories read by famous celebrities. How about The Story of John Henry—the huge King of the Railroad Camps—told by Denzel Washington or Jack and the Beanstalk recorded by A Fish Called Wanda star, Michael Palin ($7.99 CD at Indigo)? If you’re traveling before the big Santa night, let Meryl Streep recite ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas followed by famous carols. Canadian kids know the excellent Classical Kids Collection of stories about kids meeting up with famous composers. Their latest is Song of the Unicorn, a tale of magic from King Arthur’s time narrated by actor Jeremy Irons with music by Mozart, Bach and Beethoven and Celtic tunes. A wonderful gift for a family would be the boxed Classical Kids Collection ($37.20 for four tapes at Indigo).

Three is a great age to work your own tape recorder in the back seat. The Fisher-Price model, with large buttons for little fingers and a sing-along microphone, will provide many hours of peace and good will ($59.99 at the Bay). Radio Shack offers two versions of their colorful Sing-A-Long Cassette Recorder with detachable microphone ($29.99 and $39.99 currently on sale).

GAMES: There are a lot of magnetic board games available but who can find the small pieces? Better to get a game that the whole family can play. Are We There Yet?, invented by Calgarian Kerry Powell, is a travel card game in a box that has won five parenting awards in the U.S. It now comes in three languages—English, Spanish and French—as well as an airplane version and has been endorsed by both Rand McNally and the American Automobile Association. Be the first to collect items on your cards, such as “an animal eating or drinking” or a “black and silver colored vehicle” and you’ve won! We bought this game for our younger kids but the older ones wouldn’t stop playing it (available at Toys ‘R Us and most CAA outlets or visit www.arewethereyet.com).

BOOKS: FamilyFun’s Games on the Go offers 250 travel games and tips from author Lisa Stiepock and the experts at FamilyFun magazine. Some of the suggestions from experienced parents are wacky such as creating crazy characters from your road trip Polaroid photos. Others are plain silly such as “Tell your kids they’re not allowed to laugh.” The book offers a treasure-chest worth of activities and is the perfect size for the glove compartment. We also loved the old-fashioned illustrations ($13.95 at Indigo).

If you know a brave family who’s heading for Florida, treat them to the new 2000 edition of Along Interstate 75 by Dave Hunter. They’ll find it’s indispensible. Cleverly designed in 25-mile-per-page illustrated strips, it’s easy for kids to follow the route. Hunter’s useful and entertaining information includes fast food outlets with children’s play areas and intriguing attractions such as Civil War battle sites or the carousel animal carving workshop in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Once you’ve used this guide from Detroit to the Florida border, you’ll wish every journey was likewise guided by such an enthusiastic expert ($24.95 at major bookstores).

Finally, if you need inspiration, check out WOW Canada!, Exploring This Land from Coast to Coast to Coast from Owl Books written by Vivien Bowers. Twelve-year-old Guy narrates the family adventure of driving more than 6,000 kilometres across Canada and up to the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and the Yukon. Could this be a true story? The book offers excellent photos of “cool” tourist sites, interesting facts from Mom and “exceedingly weird” reports from Guy. Certainly every picky eater will relate to his “Food I was Introduced to for My Own Good” entries such as this one from P.E.I: “Grown adults wearing bibs! Dad, of course, had to explain the anatomy of the crustacean before he could eat it. No way that I was going to eat a boiled-alive lobster after that! Instead, I had authentic PEI spuds in the shape of french fries.” ($19.95 at Coles/Smithbooks). Happy Holidays and Happy Driving!





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