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ROAD TRIP!!!!

There've been movies made about them, snarky comments about the frayed nerves that may emerge from them and even entire product lines and vehicles developed to make them more comfortable. I'm referring, of course, to road trips. It's summertime and therefore open season for the open road. A distinctly American pastime, road trips have become a cultural experience that accompanies our discovery of the "home of the brave and land of the free." While we tend to have a preconception about what a typical road trip looks like and is comprised of, no two road trips are ever the same!

A self-proclaimed expert road-tripper, I've had the chance to do all sorts of trips with all sorts of people, yielding memories that are equally varied, perplexing and indelible. So, I've learned my fair share and have some tips to help you truly enjoy your own time on the road and leave those Griswold-esque memories stranded at the rest stop and not with you.

Safety first Check the tire pressure, oil level, coolant and washer fluid. It may seem obvious, but few people actually do it. Unless your idea of travel is impromptu bird-watching from the shoulder you're stranded on, a few minutes of prep can go a long way. This ensures you're ready for record temperatures, rain, sleet and whatever the Interstate gods throw at you!

Welcome to the "wheel" world Rotate drivers whenever possible. If you're making a stop every couple or few hours - bravo! If you can't spare the time, you'll have to get creative (like a friend and I did once on a long weekend drive from Minneapolis to New Orleans...and back...yep, you read right!) For this, create a schedule to ensure that each driver can stay alert while the co-pilot gets some sleep. Set a timer to go off every 90 minutes (approx 1 full sleep cycle) and switch. Remember: sleepiness won't go away. So, while loud music, cold air and other tactics may temporarily help, they're a dangerous game to play - capisce?

Refilling your tanks Let's be honest, the importance of snacks should never be underestimated. It's good to have a few options to choose from depending on whether as driver or passenger you're looking for a bit of something sweet or savory. Plus snacking makes road trips more fun! I always advocate having a cooler with a little bit of bagged ice, so not only do drinks stay cool, but the mandatory stash of peanut M&M's remain un-melted. On a healthier note, freshly cut veggies work great for a crisp, tasty snack, while granola, nuts and seeds round-out the choice of starches that aren't as drowsiness-inducing as a bag of chips or cookies. The quintessential road trip food to me, though, will always be jerky. It may be tough, it may be somewhat of an acquired taste, but it's a protein-filled gift of flavor that keeps on giving.

Rock on I'll keep this one short, since it's so particular to who's driving and who's in the car. Remember to balance keeping your driver happy, while making sure to keep your road-tunes-tact and mixing it up from time to time. You're going to be in the car for hours, so you might as well ensure that you don't instigate a mutiny if you're in charge of the beats. The adage "my way or the highway" ironically doesn't work here. Also, everyone enjoys kicking back and singing along and a bit of "road-aoke" is completely legit, but maybe don't break into too many solos for the sake of your fellow passengers. Remember, play it cool, DJ Drives-a-lot.

Let the games begin MASH, Mad Libs, I Spy and punch buggy (a.k.a. "Slug-a-bug") are the classics, but other sources like Edmunds and HowStuffWorks have made it easy with some guides to the top road trip games out there. So, study-up and get ready to lose track of how many miles have rolled by.

These are just a few suggestions to make your road trip plans a bit more fun for all, whether drivers, passengers and kids alike. After all, once a road trip begins there's always a bit of the kid in all of us that can barely keep themselves contained. So, put some air in those tires, check the dipstick and grab some snacks...road trip on!

What tips and techniques do you use or have become your favorites for passing the time in the car and enjoying the ride? We're looking for suggestions, so pass them our way!

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