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6 tips for a successful family road trip

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The Amenson family takes road trips almost monthly. On one memorable road trip in April, the family of four were driving from their hometown in Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Utah. They were about three hours from home when they heard about a snowstorm in Colorado on the route they planned to travel.

“We just had to go with the flow,” Shayna Amenson said in an interview with the Deseret News.

Their road trip was delayed by several days, but it was one of Amenson’s favorites.

“The minute we pulled into the mountains (in Colorado) … our daughter just looks out the window and says, ‘This is the best ever!’” Amenson said.

She said moments such as that remind her of why she takes her family on road trips.

Amenson and her husband, Marc, are wedding and commercial photographers, and they frequently take their two children, Maverick, 8, and Amelia, 6, on road trips.

For the Amensons, their road trips are to explore, see new sights, meet new people and try new things.

“We feel like life is meant to be … explored,” she said. The family has been to 16 different states, and Utah is one they really enjoy.

“We love Utah,” she said, adding that Utah has lots of family friendly activities.

Utah was ranked the No. 1 travel destination in the world for 2016 by Fodor’s Travel, and road trips can be a great way to see the state.

Nanette Hakanson, the travel counselor for the AAA Foothill office, said road trips are great because they are often close to home and great for families.

“There’s just so much beauty and so much entertainment right here in our own backyard that you don’t have to go across the world to see,” she said.

Road trips can vary from a daytrip to a destination only a few hours away to cross-country trips that span several weeks. Hakanson said trips should depend on what individual families like to do. The Utah Office of Tourism and Utah.com have some suggestions for Utah road trip itineraries, but there are some general tips for having a successful trip regardless of the destination. Here are six road trip tips for planning a road trip — especially with children.

Prep your car. Hakanson recommends servicing your car before you leave to get tires and fluids checked.

“Make sure that your car is road worthy before you take off,” she said.

In addition to packing a spare tire, it is advisable to pack an emergency kit in your trunk. A list of tips compiled by Travel Channel suggests including a tire iron, bottled water, fire extinguisher, first-aid kit and reflectors/flares.

Hakanson recommends AAA for safety because it covers the person rather than the car. Her teenage son has AAA because if he is with friends and they break down, he can get help.

Have a plan. “Make sure you know where you are going when you go from Point A to Point B so you don’t get lost,” Hakanson said.

When planning the trip, also consider age-appropriate activities. Hakanson said teens might enjoy a trip to Moab for hiking, or rafting could be appropriate; for young children, she said a trip to drive around Yellowstone could be a better fit.

“We like to involve our kids a little bit on the planning as far as we’ll give them options of would you rather do this or do this,” Amenson said. For their current trip, the Amensons have started to do a nightly voice recording where they record their favorite parts of the day. Amenson said it helps her know what her kids like.

When making a plan, Emily Moench from the Utah Office of Tourism said, parents should "try to experience the trip through your children’s eyes.” She noted that sometimes children will say their favorite memory is seeing a lizard or eating a snack.

Be flexible. “Be ready to be spontaneous,” Amenson said. “Talk to locals and find out what’s good.” She emphasized the importance of keeping an open mind.

Also, be aware of children’s moods and energy levels.

“If the kids are tired and not enjoying a hike, consider cutting it short and stopping at a museum instead,” Moench said in an email to the Deseret News.

Moench added, “Prioritize activities and have a general idea of things you really don’t want to miss, which you might need to swap with less-important activities if time runs short.”

Bring healthy snacks. “Your kids want snacks,” Amenson said. While chips and cookies might taste good, it is important to bring healthy snacks.

“Healthy treats can work wonders and provide energy needed to get through an activity,” Moench said.

Amenson’s family tries to eat healthy, and that can be tricky on road trips. For snacks, she brings chopped fruits and vegetables.

Also be sure to pack plenty of water for the whole family, and be aware of the climate because Utah can get very hot in the summer, Moench said.

Keep kids busy. “Most of the problems of complaining with kids come when they’re bored,” Amenson said.

Amenson keeps her kids busy with a variety of car games. Some of their favorites are the sweet and sour game (where you wave at passers-by and rate their response) and the license plate game (where you try to find license plates from all 50 states). These simple games, she said, can keep her kids occupied for a long time.

Amenson also brings tape. Her kids play with duct tape and masking tape and make things with it.

“They have a lot of fun with that,” she said. She also checks out audio books at the library.

Hakanson noted that watching movies can also be a good activity to keep kids occupied. She added that her teenage children like to occupy themselves on their phones. But for her, driving time is talking time.

“I turn off the radio, we turn off our phones, and that’s our time to (converse),” Hakanson said.

The Amensons also try to get to know each other better on trips by asking each other questions.

On long road trips, Amenson packs little wrapped gifts to give her kids at 200-mile marks.

They are simple, usually dollar store gifts, or sunglasses they can use for the trip, or snacks.

The family also likes the Junior Ranger program — an activity-based program put on by the National Park Service in most national parks. The family works through packets to learn about the parks they visit on their trips.

On adventures outside of the car, the family plays “I Spy” and “Facts,” a game in which they try to memorize different facts about the places they visit.

Slow down and enjoy. “Slow down and don’t try to do it all with kids,” Amenson said. Figure out what your kids like to do the most and “just take it in,” she said.

“Just go out and have a really good time,” Hakanson said. “Make sure your car is ready, make sure you’re mentally ready, make sure you know how to get from Point A to Point B, and enjoy the ride.”

Email: mmcinnes@deseretnews.com