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Surviving Road Trips

You would think that by the time kids hit adolescence, car travel would be a snap. No more "when are we gonna get there?"; no more stops by some ditch for queasy stomachs; no more tapes programmed to replay over and over Bert's ode to his paperclip collection. But judging from last weekend's road trip to the Bruce Peninsula, travelling in the car with any age is fraught with perils. Ernie and Bert had somehow metamorphisized into competing renditions of Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise. When we adults wanted to stop for the world's best butter tarts at the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Arthur, we were the ones getting lectured. Yet there was still whining at every sighting of the Golden Arches to stop for a combo. It's no wonder that a 1967 Chevrolet Family Travel Book warns that doing road trips with teens is like "riding a roller-coaster, only less predictable."

This summer, I've met more parents than ever before who are travelling long distances with their teens-to Cape Cod, the Laurentians, Cape Breton, even a 20-hour drive to Kansas City, Missouri-all exchanging advice on how to weather the drives. One family always carries a soccer ball, baseball and frisbee. Anytime the kids are getting fidgety, they pull off the highway and head for a local park for an impromptu sports session. Another mom devised a system of colored beads on a string stretched across the car. After every 20 kilometres of the 600-km trip, the kids took turns moving a bead from one end of the string to the other end. Every fifth bead (a white one) signalled 100 km and a treat. We always carry extra maps and hand them to the kids with markers. They can chart along as the consession roads pass by and learn something about map-making. Luckily, other people have also been working on car survival tactics for those summer driving vacation blues.

ARE WE THERE YET? is the name of a terrific new driving game invented by Calgary dad Kerry Powell. Each of the 500 cards in the boxed set names an object to find as the miles slip by: a vehicle with a bent antenna, a person waving at you, animals nudging or touching each other. Play with a five-card hand in teams or as individuals, turning in your found "dented, scraped, broken, bent or missing guard rail" for a new one that could be anything from "someone changing a flat tire" to a "sign using both symbols and letters." Since the game was introduced last year, it has been such a hit that there are plans to translate it into French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Japanese. Indeed, when seven of us of all ages played it on a long drive last summer, the older kids were the ones begging to continue. As Powell says, "The only problem with the game is getting the kids out of the car." It's available for $19.95 at CAA offices, Dufferin Game Room stores or call (403) 240-1544.

THE GRAND RIVER TOY COMPANY is another Canadian success story, hatched by Toronto mom Sandy Callahan. Many of the good quality toys and books in her mail-order catalogues are geared for long car trips such as the Travelling Trivia tapes, made in Canada so that you don't get questions about American presidents and the Grand Canyon. There are two hour-long tapes, one for ages five plus, one for ten and up; $12.95 each. Also recommended are the hour-long Storytelling tapes with such age-proof tales as King Arthur or Sherlock Holmes, $11.95, or backseat toys such as Pinokio, wooden blocks attached by elastic threads, or Stopwatch, a super hand-held clock that can time how long it takes to get from A to B. To receive a free catalogue, call (416) 469-1946.

ROADSIDE LENDING LIBRARIES are a huge success at Cracker Barrel Restaurants in the U.S. At 260 restaurants from Maryland to Texas, families can eat and then rent as many tapes as they need for the car stereo, $2 each. Turn them in at another Cracker Barrel down the road. The service has been so popular with travelling families that the chain is expanding the program. During July, one central Florida restaurant rented out more than 180 titles. After the kids fall asleep listening to James Herriot's "Cat Stories," slip in "Clear and Present Danger" guaranteed to keep you awake until you hit the motel. Canadian chains-take note!

Hotels such as Holiday Inn are also getting in on the act. This summer, each kid receives a Family Fun pack with games for the car, coloring books and Pog packs. Companies know that happy children in the backseat keep the family trucking. Last year, Budget Car and Truck Rental in Orlando, Florida were renting minivans equipped with television sets, VCR and Nintendo games. It was a huge hit with parents. The only problem? The kids apparently grew so attached to the entertainment centres that the vans were coming back empty! Ah, it's amazing what some people are reduced to do in times of stress. The program's been temporarily halted. Those whose kids can't travel any other way will unfortunately have to hook up their own electronic fun.





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