The Ultimate Road Trip Activity Bag

Nothing derails a family road trip faster than bored backseat passengers. A well-stocked activity bag can mute the "Are we there yet?" melody from the rear and help you log some serious miles in peace. How elaborate your activity bag should be depends on the length of your trip, how many children you'll need to entertain, and their ages and attention spans. These parent- and kid-tested supplies will help you motor without meltdowns.

Books on tape or CD: Nothing makes the miles fly by faster. Fairy tales and other familiar stories are your best bet for keeping toddlers' attention. Starting at about age 3, most kids can follow a more complex story line, and books-on-tape become a great way to pass time on the road. You can all listen together to family favorites like Harry Potter, or the kids can listen on individual portable audio players with headphones, allowing the adults in the car to rock out or listen to something more sophisticated. Check your local library for free rentals.

Portable CD or tape player(s): Remember headphones and plenty of AA batteries.A cheap 9" x 12" baking sheet: Use as a playing surface so crayons, Matchbox cars, Legos, and other small items don't roll away. (Repeatedly retrieving dropped toys gets old really quickly.)

Magnetized letters, numbers, and shapes: Use these with the baking sheet to make words, spell names, or create pictures.

Sticker books, activity books, and stick-on plastic picture sets: Particularly great for toddlers — they allow your child to express creativity without using pens on the upholstery.

Crayons or markers: Markers are best for kids 3 and up, crayons for kids under 3.A trip notebook: A great way to capture memories of your family's road trip. Your child can draw and place stickers en route, and you can help by adding a few notes about the trip at the end of the day.

Sticker cameras: These zippy little cameras (like the I-Zone) spit out miniature instant photos with adhesive backing. You can really burn some rubber while your kids wait for their photos to develop. They can add these images to their trip notebook.

A few gift-wrapped surprise presents: Hint: if you wrap them in several layers, they take longer to open. You can even recycle old toys — several months before a trip, find a few small toys that your child enjoys, but hasn't played with in a while and pack them away. Then wrap them and give them to your child on the road.

Colored pipe cleaners: Make animals, people, jewelry, or just crazy shapes.

Soap bubbles: Don't worry about the upholstery; you can wipe it down later (with soap!). Blowing bubbles keeps kids of all ages busy. Blow them out the window and have one person keep watch for the reactions in other cars.

A small flashlight: Useful for rest stops at night, but also fun to shine out the window (as long as it's not pointed at other drivers). Can also make it easier to read or draw in the back seat without bothering the driver.

A miniature battery-powered clip-on reading light: Absolutely essential for older kids, allowing them light for reading, card games, and other activities without distracting the driver.

Educational "talking" toys: Be careful not to bring along anything with too many annoying sounds.

Portable electronic games: Keeps older kids occupied for hours on a long trip.

A portable DVD/video player: A surefire sanity-saver on a long trip. If your car isn't equipped with one, you can rent a portable player online and they'll ship it to you.

Restaurant fun box: Put crayons, pens, and coloring books or paper and some plastic animals, cars, or blocks in a separate box or giant sealable plastic bag that you can bring into restaurants with you to make wait time go faster