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One month alone in a car with four kids teaches a man many things. Here are a few hints, tips I picked up and pass on to any reader foolish enough to attempt what I have done:

Bring games. Department stores sell miniature versions of popular games like checkers and Clue that can help pass the time. Gameboy, or any hand-held electronic game is a good one, and card games like Uno can help break the boredom.

Buy tapes. Audiotapes of Western tales by Louis L'Amour and other authors were a godsend. Once we discovered them (about halfway across the country) we couldn't get enough of them. Even the most television-addicted child will be compelled to use his imagination as the narrator tells his tale.

Keep journals. Every night before bed, we all wrote of the day's adventures in our journals. It's amazing how different people can view the same scene so differently, and today, almost two years after the fact, it's great fun to open up our journals together and compare notes.

Money rules. Decide beforehand how you're going to handle the kids' cash. Money, or the spending of it, was never much of a problem on the trip because the rules had been set beforehand.

I wasn't going to buy anything except food and drink for them. If the kids wanted something, they used their money to buy it. They did each receive four weeks' allowance before the trip, but that was all. Any other money they had, they had saved.

Speaking of money, bring about 30 percent more than you think you'll spend. You'll spend it.

Food. Food was a bigger problem than money. We started out with a cooler full of food and another full of drink, but they didn't last too long. The ice melted and the food was soon floating around, and spoiling, in the water.

The best alternative to restaurant meals we found was stopping at grocery stores early in the day and stocking up on sandwiches, fruit and snacks from the deli. The sandwiches stayed fresh, produced a lot less trash than home-made sandwiches, and the grocery store bag served as an excellent garbage container easily disposed of at the next stop.

Utensils. Bring a few sets of plastic utensils. We didn't. Eating Chinese take-out without utensils ain't fun.

Medicine. Bring a first-aid kid and include sun screen and mosquito repellent.

The route. If you're going to drive up the West Coast, take the southern route out West and the northern route home. That way, you'll be on the land-side lane driving north up the coastal highway, and will be less likely to drive off the precipice into the Pacific.

Bring a tent. Just in case.

Check your insurance. Some medical insurance plans don't cover you if you drive out of the area without telling them.

Take it easy. Part of the reason for vacationing is to relax. Don't put too much pressure on yourself (or your kids!) to get up early in the morning or drive late into the night.

One of the rules for our trip required us to find lodging before dark. It was a good rule for three reasons:

First, we wanted to see the country and you can't see a thing after dark; second, I was the sole driver, and early stops prevented me from getting overly tired; third, stopping before dark afforded everyone the opportunity to relax and have a dip in the motel pool before dinner.

Lodging. A motel with a pool is essential when traveling with children. It was a reward for enduring the rigors of the road, and it was something that preserved everyone's sanity.

Have fun. A car vacation presents one of the few times in life that parents have their children as a captive audience. It is, therefore, a time to be cherished and enjoyed and, indeed, remembered with great affection.

-- Kevin M. Doherty

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