13 Things That Can Help You Survive a Road Trip With Kids This Summer

If the thought of hours in the car with your kids doesn't thrill you, here are some tips that can make your summer road trip downright enjoyable.

My family is getting ready for our very first vacation as a family of four. We’re so excited. But our five-year-old is already complaining that we’re driving instead of flying. (And we haven’t even packed the car yet!)

Tackling a seven-hour road trip with a five-year-old and an eight-month-old is a little daunting, I’ll admit. But I’ve been looking at some ways to hopefully survive the trip without spending a fortune on new toys and games. Here’s what we’re planning:

1. Relax!

First off, understand that your trip is going to take way longer than Google Maps says it will. That’s just part of road tripping with kids. My husband can normally drive seven solid hours without stopping even once. I’m preparing him for much more frequent stopping on this trip.

If you need to get out and let the kids walk (or crawl) around so that they’re less fussy for the next hour, go for it.

2. Plan for Some Fun Pit Stops

Don’t make your end destination the only thing you’re looking forward to, especially on a long road trip. We’re personally planning a lunch stop at a very cool dairy farm about a third of the way through our trip. It gives us something fun and delicious to look forward to.

Check your route ahead of time on Google Maps. Find a city a few hours in, and look for something fun to visit there. Bonus points if that something lines up with a meal you’ll need to eat anyway.

3. Spend a Few Bucks on New Apps

Even parents with strict screen time rules are likely to relax the rules a bit on long drives. We certainly do!

Our daughter will be using the shared family tablet for some of the trip. I’m giving her a $5 budget to spend on new apps. She’s got some old favorites on there, but new options will keep her engaged for longer.

4. Invest in Comfy Kid Headphones

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to actually hear all those new apps my daughter will be using. When her tablet is on, her headphones get plugged in. We had a hard time finding ones that work for her, but settled on the kind that are embedded in a fleece headband.

Luckily, you can get decent kids’ headphones (with volume control!) for well under $20 on Amazon. They’re an excellent investment, but if money is tight, you could consider using a cash back rewards credit card to pay for them. Use that same card to pay for your gas, food and lodging on your trip, and they’ve paid for themselves. Of course, you’ll need good credit for most cash back rewards cards. If you don’t know where your credit stands, you can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com. (Also check out some of these great electronic gifts kids love.)

5. Put Together a Coloring Kit

Most little kids can color for ages on end. My vacation coloring kit includes coloring books, plain notepads and crayons galore. I’ll also pack her some of the stickers from our seemingly endless supply in the art cabinet.

The trick here is to keep the coloring stuff accessible. Put everything in a bag or backpack that will slide beside the colorer’s car seat during the drive.

6. Check out Reusable Sticker Kits

If you don’t mind spending $5 on extra entertainment for the trip, check out reusable sticker kits. You can find them on all sorts of themes on Amazon. We bought a fairy one and a cupcake decorating book for our trip. I swear the five-year-old is more excited about opening these than she is about going on vacation.

7. Pack a Cooler

You probably already know snacks are indispensable on a road trip with kids. But packing a small cooler can give you more options, especially for healthier snacks. Just be sure the cooler can fit between your kids’ seats and the front seats. That way you won’t have to stop the car every time your kids need a snack.

Our snack list includes bottled water, string cheese, grapes, apples, small oranges and mixed nuts. We’ll also throw in some usually forbidden unhealthy snacks because we’re on vacation, after all.

8. Strap on the Pacifier

Traveling with an infant who likes a paci to sleep? Invest in a pacifier strap and strap the paci to the car seat. We keep ours strapped to the side of the car seat near the front passenger seat. This makes it way easier to find when the baby is ready for a nap, but can’t reach his pacifier.

9. Drive Over Nap Time

This is a simple one that just involves planning. If you can, drive when your kids would normally be sleeping. Even our five-year-old, who doesn’t always nap these days, will knock out in the car under the right conditions.

Some parents prefer to leave late in the evening and drive overnight. I’m too old for that now. But we’ll be leaving for our road trip around the baby’s morning nap time.

10. Pack Blankets & Pillows

With that in mind, pack blankets and pillows. We’re always warmer in the front seat than the kids because of the sun coming through the windshield. So we crank up the A/C and then the kids get cold. Pack some lightweight blankets and small pillows so kids can make themselves comfy.

There are all sorts of pillow-like gadgets on the market for kids. But check out your car seat’s instruction manual before you use anything that attaches to the seat!

11. Try a Family Audiobook

We’ll be listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone together for some of our trip. Other excellent chapter books that will please a variety of ages include the Chronicles of Narnia series, the Boxcar Children books, and the Little House on the Prairie books.

We get many of our audiobooks from our library’s app, so they’re free. Other options include Audible and Playster, which are both subscription-based services. Both have free trials, though, if you just want to give it a shot for your road trip.

12. Pack a Potty

If you’re in the early stages of potty training a toddler, put on pull-ups just in case. If your child has been potty trained for a while, he’s not going to want to wear a diaper, but little kids also aren’t great at holding it.

The best way to solve this problem is to pack a small portable training potty in the back. You can pull over just about anywhere for a kid to use this potty. It’s gross but better than having to find a laundromat to wash your car seat cover after an accident.

13. Go to the Library

We just picked up a huge stack of books from the library yesterday. They’ll live in the car while we’re vacationing so none get lost. Reading aloud from the front seat is an easy way to keep the kids entertained, though showing off pictures could be more complicated if yours are still rear-facing.

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The 10 Best Roadside Attractions in America

What better way to celebrate our country than by visiting its run-down, kitschy roadside attractions? 

It’s summertime, which means if you aren’t planning your next road trip, you should be. With Fourth of July on our radar, now is the time. Given that there’s no better way to celebrate our country’s pioneer spirit than by paying homage to some of its quirkiest and kitschiest roadside attractions, we’ve rounded up 10 of our favorites, based on cursory research. Read on for 10 roadside attractions you won’t want to pass by.

1. Bamahenge, Elberta, Alabama

Bamahenge may not be Stonehenge, but for us Americans, it’s close enough. You’ll find this incredible replication of the prehistoric monument, built in late 2012 by a man named Mark Cline, in the woods off the marina entrance road in Elberta, Alabama. There are only four different stone shapes, but Cline repositioned them all to look different. They’re also storm-proof, thanks to interior concrete and telephone poles. Admission is free.

2. General Sherman Tree

They don’t call this giant sequoia the General for nothing. Standing 52,500 cubic feet tall and weighing 4.2 million pounds, the General Sherman Tree in California’s Sequoia National Park is something you have to see to believe. Located at the north end of Giant Forest, one of Kings Canyon National Park’s five sub-regions, the tree can be reached by trail or via the free Sequoia Shuttle, which runs daily from May through September. Theoretically, the General could be turned into almost 120 miles of standard sized lumber planks, but what heartless soul would want to cut down a nearly 3,000-year-old tree?

3. Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue

OK, so maybe it isn’t the finest testament to a living former president, but does it matter? The Jimmy Carter Peanut statue in Plains, Georgia, still makes us smile, and at 13 feet tall, it’s easily one of the world’s largest nuts. Crafted from plaster and mesh, the peanut pays homage to Carter’s past life as a peanut farmer and features a similar wide-mouthed grin. Today, you can find it near Route 45 outside Carter’s hometown.

4. Leaning Tower

If a trip to Pisa, Italy is not in the cards, check out the Leaning Tower of Niles in Niles, Illinois. True, the Midwestern version is half as tall (94 feet versus the Italian’s 177 feet), but your friends will still like it on Instagram. Built in 1934, it was anchored in concrete so its lean stayed consistent. It was originally a utility tower, though a plaque at its base says it was built in honor of the Italian polymath Galileo, who conducted scientific experiments at the original Pisan monument.

5. The Spud Drive-In

Not every drive-in theater went the way of the dodo. Since the summer of 1953, the Spud in Driggs, Indiana, has been showing flicks — almost as long as Old Murphy, the 1946 Chevy truck with a two-ton potato on the back, has been parked in front of the screen. Though the potato is nothing more than a hunk of painted concrete, you probably won’t be able to resist snapping a photo of it.

6. World’s Largest Light Bulb

Keep your eyes peeled for this 134-foot tower in Edison, New Jersey, home to Thomas Alva Edison’s greatest invention. The man perfected the first commercially viable incandescent light bulb right here, so it’s no wonder a 13-foot version sits on top of the tower. (Rumor has it it’s lit by LED, not Edison’s technology.) Built in 1939, the art deco building houses a museum that traces each step of the inventor’s fascinating journey, particularly his invention of sound recording.

7. Shoe Tree

Even if seeing a tree of shoes isn’t on your bucket list, you’ll still want to check out this oddity off U.S. 50 in Middlegate, Nevada. Tourists and locals come to drape their old footwear on the cottonwood tree’s branches, to the point where the tree looks like it sprouted the footwear itself.

8. Porter Sculpture Park

Twenty-five minutes west of Sioux Falls, in the small town of Montrose, South Dakota, you’ll find Porter Sculpture Park, a smattering of recycled metal structures made by Wayne Porter. A self-taught artist who says he’s lousy at math and drawing, Porter ditched law school to return to the town of St. Lawrence, where he was raised, to work on sculptures in his father’s blacksmith shop. Today more than 50 of his works can be seen in the pet-friendly park. Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for teens 13 to 17 and free for children 12 and under.

9. The Lost Sea

After taking a guided tour of giant caves more than 100 feet below ground in Sweetwater, Tennessee, you and the rest of your 12-person group will board a glass bottom boat to explore “The Lost Sea.” It’s cool down here — the temperature is a constant 58 degrees Fahrenheit — and filled with strange rock formations, some of which were passed by an ancient jaguar. Don’t forget to bring a good flashlight with extra batteries. Admission for adults is $19.95; children ages 5 to 12 are $10.95 and children 4 and under are free.

10. Cadillac Ranch

Standing up like a series of headstones along Route 66, just west of Amarillo, Texas, the Cadillac Ranch has been luring visitors since 1974, when a group called The Ant Farm created a piece of public art to baffle the locals. The Caddies face west in a line, from the 1949 Club Sedan to the 1963 Sedan de Ville. Though they’ve been in the ground longer than they were on the road, the ranch is a must for anyone traveling The Mother Road. Tourists are always welcome, so bring a can of spray paint. Admission is free.

How to Save on Your Road Trip 

Before you pull out of the driveway, make sure you’ve got a plan for your travels. Budgeting is useful, as is swiping with gas rewards credit cards when you fill up your tank. These handy pieces of plastic can earn you kickbacks for spending as you normally would, which can cut down the cost of your road trip. Just remember to track your purchases so you don’t lose your rewards to high interest or rack up unwanted debt. (You can see how your behaviors are impacting your credit by viewing two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

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12 Places You Could Visit for Free This Summer (With the Right Credit Card)

Because who wouldn't want to travel for free?

[Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

Vacations can be expensive, but that doesn’t stop us from taking them. A 2017 AAA survey found that 42% of Americans plan to take a vacation this year, and about 30% said they are more likely to go on vacation this year than they were in 2016. Most participants said those trips would be to warm locales throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Paying for These Vacations

Getaways usually require advance planning and saving, but you may be able to fund these trips with something other than a cut of each paycheck, thanks to rewards you gather from credit cards.

Some travel rewards credit cards offer sizable signup bonuses that can help pay for a large portion of your trip. Take the ever-popular Chase Sapphire Reserve. This card rewards you with 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. That’s equal to $750 toward travel, when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Plus, you’ll get a $300 annual statement credit for travel purchases every year.

Add in rewards for purchases you make with the card (three points on travel and restaurants, one point everywhere else), and you’ll be on your way to funding your next vacation.

Before You Sign Up …

You should read the fine print for any card you’re considering to make sure you know what you’ll be getting. To earn high bonuses or other perks, you have to reach a certain spending threshold in a set amount of time (like $4,000 in three months, as we mentioned). You’ll want to make sure your budget allows for this kind of spending.

There’s often a price tag tied to these cards in the form of an annual fee. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is $450 each year, so you’ll want to account for that in your budget. There are rewards cards that don’t come with such a hefty annual fee that you may consider. The Chase Sapphire Preferred has no annual fee for the first year and is $95 thereafter.

You also want to think about your spending habits. Do you tend to carry a balance? A rewards card may not be right for you. Not paying in full each month with these cards means you’ll just lose all those rewards to interest charges. Are you easily motivated by rewards? If collecting points or miles causes you to spend more than you can afford, you may want to steer clear of these kinds of cards.

Rewards credit cards tend to require high credit scores, so it’s a good idea to take a look at yours before applying to see if you’ll qualify. (You can see a free credit report summary, which includes two of your credit scores, for free on Credit.com.)

With that in mind, where can these plastic perks get you? Here are a dozen possible destinations.

1. Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Strip may be your perfect getaway if you’re looking for never-ending energy, sunshine and good eats. (Pro tip: Mon Ami Gabi is a must try.) Try to visit during the week when hotel rooms tend to go for a lower rate.

2. Nassau, Bahamas

Pull up a beach chair on one of the pristine beaches in the capital city of the Bahamas and enjoy the sunshine. If you’d rather be out in the water, get your snorkel gear and enjoy some of the most beautiful coral reefs around.

3. Rome

From the art and architecture to the wine and pasta, Rome has it all. Enjoy seeing iconic sites like the Colosseum and the Pantheon, then kick back with a cappuccino at one of the cafes.

4. Puerto Rico

The bright and colorful buildings in Old San Juan, as well as the fortresses, are must-sees if you’re coming to Puerto Rico. Your taste buds are sure to thank you for enjoying the local cuisines, like plantain burritos and arroz con dulce.

5. Key West

The southernmost point of the U.S. has great fishing and diving opportunities. Plus, you can see the famous six- and seven-toed cats at the Ernest Hemingway Home.

6. New York City

Once you’ve seen the tourist spots, you can check out the architecture and boutiques in NoHo or wrap up the day enjoying the nightlife in Greenwich Village.

7. Seattle

Enjoy the breathtaking views of Puget Sound from the Space Needle or take a ferry to Bainbridge Island and visit the local wineries.

8. Bermuda

Enjoy pink sandy beaches on the main island, like those at Astwood Park. There are also several shipwrecks and reefs that are perfect for scuba divers to explore.

9. Sedona, Arizona

If your idea of warm weather destinations doesn’t include beaches, this desert town in Arizona may be perfect for you. The beautiful red rock cliffs, accompanied by trails leading to some of the most alluring picnicking spots, will have you admiring the West.

10. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Kick back or enjoy the waves at the Playa del Amor and then grab dinner and drinks at one of the many outdoor bars and restaurants along the water. If you want to bring your clubs, there are many gorgeous golf courses in town you won’t want to miss.

11. Hawaii

While here, you can explore volcanoes like Mauna Loa or historic sites like the USS Arizona Memorial or Pearl Harbor. And there are the beautiful beaches and the ocean that are great for surfing or sailing.

12. San Diego

With seemingly perfect weather year-round, there’s never a bad time to visit this California city. Carlsbad, in northern San Diego, boasts some of the most stunning beaches. And the Victorian-style Hotel del Coronado is worth visiting, both for the view and for brunch at the Crown Room.

Want more ideas on where to travel using your credit card rewards? Check out these 50 places to visit before you turn 50.

At publishing time, the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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The Best Dates to Take a Last-Minute Summer Vacation

summer_travel_destinations

If your Instagram feed is full of your friends’ fun summer adventures and the only change of scenery you’ve had lately is when you updated your computer background at the office, it may be time for a vacation.

There’s still time to get a good deal on a summer getaway, according to the latest issue of the Hotwire Travel Inspiration Indicator, a quarterly travel-trend guide. In fact, based on the display rate for Hot Rate Hotels, Hotwire discovered that summer travel will be the most affordable during the last two weeks of August, with the lowest hotel rates in mid-September.

Most Popular Destinations

If you don’t quite know where you’d like to go, Hotwire has some suggestions. Based on last year’s numbers, Hotwire discovered these 10 cities offer hotel rooms with three- to five-star rooms starting at $67 a night.

  • Las Vegas
  • Houston
  • Atlanta
  • Orlando, Florida
  • Dallas
  • San Diego
  • Minneapolis
  • New Orleans
  • San Antonio, Texas
  • St. Louis

And if you’re thinking of utilizing that last weekend of summer for a getaway, these are the seven cities they say are the best places to travel during Labor Day weekend (based on these cities having three- to five-star hotel rooms starting at $70 a night over Labor Day weekend 2015).

  • Phoenix
  • Orlando, Florida
  • Dallas
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • New Orleans
  • Tampa, Florida

Try Not to Overspend

No matter where you decide to visit, in addition to considering travel deals, you may be able to cut back on some of the extra fees with airline credit cards and even get rewards points that help you pay for your next flight. (You can read about the best airline credit cards in America here.)

But keep in mind that, while these credit cards offer some perks you may enjoy, getting into credit card debt to save on checking a suitcase simply isn’t worth it. (You can see how your credit card balances are affecting your credit score by reviewing your free credit report summary for free each month on Credit.com.)

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7 Car Maintenance Tips for Safe Summer Travel

car-maintenance-for-a-road-trip

If you are planning to travel by car this summer, take steps to help avoid ending up on the side of the road. Make sure your car is in good shape so it won’t break down.

A properly maintained car gets you where you want to go, and saves you money getting there. Here’s what you need to check.

1. Radiator

Overheating is the number one cause of summer breakdowns, according to the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Make sure your radiator is adequately filled with coolant at the right concentration — usually a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze, but check your car’s specifications.

The radiator should be flushed every two years. If it hasn’t been serviced, do so before you hit the road. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, make sure the engine has cooled before you open the radiator cap to avoid being scalded by boiling coolant.

Check your dashboard temperature gauge while driving. If it moves into the red, you’re going to have to turn your motor off or risk damage. If your engine temperature starts creeping up, try turning your air conditioning off and your heater on — all the way up. You may get hot, but you might save your engine while on your way to get a professional’s help.

2. Hoses

Your coolant is only as good as the hoses it flows through. Look for leaks, cracks, peeling or separation. While the engine is still warm, squeeze along the hose’s length — it should feel firm, but not hard. If the hose is spongy or soft, even in one section, consider replacing it before it fails and causes bigger problems.

3. Oil

The hotter the weather gets, the more important oil becomes. Oil helps prevent overheating by lubricating many moving parts. However, oil additives break down over time.

Oil change recommendations are as frequent as every 3,000 miles, but makers of many modern cars say to wait until a maintenance-reminder light brightens your dashboard.

According to the Car Care Council, “Though having to only change your oil every 7,500 miles is something we would all prefer, 3,000 to 5,000 miles are numbers more representative of actual driving conditions. By erring on the side of caution, you’ll help to extend the life of your car.”

Check your oil between changes and add a quart or two of your car manufacturer’s recommended grade, if needed.

4. Battery

Hot weather can strain a battery. Test the battery if it’s older than 3-years or if you see one of these telltale signs of a failing battery:

  • Lights dim at starting
  • Power drain when turning on the air conditioning
  • Slow cranking when you start the car

Many auto parts stores offer free battery testing. Check your battery to make sure the posts and connections are free of corrosion, a white powdery residue. If it’s not a maintenance-free battery, make sure its cells have plenty of water.

5. Air Conditioning

A marginally operating air-conditioning system may fail in hot weather, according to the ASE. Put a thermometer in your car’s vent while the air conditioner is running and see how cool the air is getting.

If it’s not cooling properly, you may try replacing cabin air filters that clean the air entering the heating and air-conditioning system in newer cars. Check your owner’s manual for location and how often they should be replaced.

However, if your air-conditioning system is suffering from a bigger problem — like a leak or loss of refrigerant — it’s likely time for a mechanic.

6. Tires

Your four tires offer a critical connection to the road, according to the Car Care Council. Check them at least monthly. Low tire pressure adds rolling resistance, making it harder for the engine to move your car.

Proper tire pressure, which should be posted on your car door, improves gas mileage by 3.3%, or about 10 cents a gallon, the council says.

Underinflation stresses a tire’s internal fabric and steel cord so they flex beyond designed limits and lose their bond to the rubber. The result can be a blowout.

Don’t wait for your car’s tire pressure monitoring system to light up, as it may be too late to save the tire. Instead, check air pressure when the tires are cool — summer weather and friction can cause the pressure inside to rise, giving you a false sense of security.

Also, check the tire tread by inserting a penny: If you can see all of Abraham Lincoln’s head, it’s time for new tires. If the tires look unevenly worn, have your wheel balance and alignment checked.

7. Other

Here are a few more tips to get your car road-ready for summer.

  • Consider a tuneup. Fouled spark plugs cause the engine to lose power or misfire, wasting fuel and lowering gas mileage. However, check your owner’s manual before scheduling a tuneup. Many newer cars don’t require a tuneup for more than 100,000 miles.
  • Check the brakes. If you notice pulsations, grabbing, noises or longer stopping distances when braking, it may be time for repairs.
  • Change the wipers. Windshield wipers deteriorate faster in sunny weather. If you get caught in a summer shower, you’ll want to be able to see where you’re going. Many auto parts stores offer free installation when you buy new wiper blades.
  • Wash and wax. Sunlight, UV radiation, acid rain, salt, dirt and air pollution can damage your car’s exterior. Help protect the paint and finish by washing and waxing your car regularly.
  • Keep a safety kit. In case your car does break down, be prepared with supplies, including water for yourself and the radiator, jumper cables, a flashlight and batteries, and a first-aid kit.

And if you car is beyond repair, remember to check your credit before you go shopping for a new vehicle. A good credit score generally qualifies you for the best terms and conditions on an auto loan and can save you a lot of money on interest. You can see where you credit currently stands by viewing your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.

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