3.) Bring a secret stash for the kids. Cheap, potentially disposable and heretofor unseen toys -- have a sack of ‘em stashed away. This is actually the best advice you'll ever get in life. I don't know where my own mother came up with it, but I remember the invisible ink travel trivia books and the plastic slide picture puzzle of all 50 states more than whatever stretch of highway we were on. When things get ugly, you go to the stash. Construction in Chicago? Here, have you seen this hot wheels transformer? Forty-five more miles to dinner? May I interest you in this stuffed monkey with magnetic hands and feet? The toys need not be terribly nice -- I get most of my stash from rummage sales and the like -- the key components are for it not make too much noise (for reasons too obvious to mention, and yet you will make this mistake, and curse yourself and the entire state of Illinois for it, re: talking Elmo phone), it should not have to many parts that can get lost under the seat, and if it should perhaps be thrown from the back of the van to the front, it should not be solid enough to kill the driver.
I picked up Hulk Hands for our 1,600 mile trip to Portland, Oregon, last summer -- big stuffed forearms that made a smashing noise and repeated Hulk-y phrases whenever they made contact with anything. "Hulk Smash" as 3- and 5-year-old boys beat the daylights out of each other in the back. Too loud, yes, but then my husband wore them for the last 75 miles, and it helped him arrive feeling fresh and ready for adventure. It's all about the stash.
4.) Bring a secret stash for you, too. You can't always rely on Hulk hands. Forty hours of "This American Life" downloads kept us in a relatively "normal" mental state on a cannon ball run to my grandfather's Floridian funeral when I was too pregnant to fill up on pre-flight valium and beer.
Deviance can always perk up a highway. Chocolate-covered raisins the kids didn't know we had when they (HAH!) had carrots for bedtime snack kept us going through a ridiculously severe thunderstorm. "When the lightening flashes, you check for tornadoes." "I don't think you can see them in the dark." "That's why I want you to check when there's lightening!" We didn't pull into Louisville, Kentucky, until 1:30 in the morning, but we were already laughing about the storm. There was less laughter when a man was being arrested for vagrancy in the lobby of the hotel, but I have no pithy strategy for that.
5.) Eat breakfast in the car. If you're driving, say, 800 or 900 miles each day, you can't get around the fact that you're going to be spending a good amount of the day in your car. And the car can be boring. Breakfast in the car won't solve all your problems, but it's a community event that will actually solve some of them. On the plus side, it's messy and slow. On the down, it can require a cooler with fresh ice, not one with cool water and slushy, do-you-feel-lucky string cheese. But by the time you've gotten everyone's granola mixed into their yogurt, distributed spoons, collected the sticky napkins and passed out juice boxes you've knocked out the first 50 miles. And hey, was the free continental breakfast under the bored gaze of the hotel staff going to be that much more pleasant? Or less sticky?